Recovering from the Grief of Student Loans – 5 Steps to Help You Cope
July 2, 2013

Ever heard of the Kübler-Ross model? No? Maybe you know it by its more common name – the “five stages of grief.” The model is actually a behavioral hypothesis developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist who worked extensively with terminally ill patients. Although the five stages of grief are more commonly associated with impending death or the loss of a loved one, in fact her hypothesis was intended to apply to any situation where you may be facing an “extreme or awful fate.” Seems to me, if you’re saddled with a big pile of student loans, you may interpret your circumstances as an awful fate.

We write here about how depressing student loan debt can be. One of our readers commented to us about their student loans, “I feel SO overwhelmed!” This is completely understandable – debt is stressful – it goes hand in hand with depression and can leave you feeling hopeless. This is why Kübler-Ross’ theory is so valid when it comes to your outlook on student loans. Her hypothesis has been applied to children’s stress during divorce, relationship break-ups and substance abuse recovery. Consider how the five stages of grief apply to student loans and how you can cope and recover from your debt dilemma:

Stage #1 Shock and Denial

After you graduate and get your student loan balance statement and see just how much you owe for college, shock is the appropriate response to a five digit debt bill. Denial makes sense as well. You may assume that there must be a calculation error made by your lender. Surely those four, five or six years you dallied in college couldn’t have cost that much, right? Alas, the calculation is probably accurate and your sticker shock is entirely valid.

Stage #2 Anger and Blame

Once you realize that you are truly and deeply in debt, you may be really mad – mad enough to protest the government. From there, you’ll likely look to assess blame. Sometimes we blame ourselves and sometimes others. You may be angry at your parents: “Why didn’t they save up for my college?” or “Why wasn’t I born rich?” If you turn your ire on yourself, you may muse: “Why did I change majors twice?” or “Why did I blow my money on beer and pizza instead of borrowing less?” or even “Why did I dig myself into this debt to start with?” This step is helpful only in so far as it moves you along the process, but I wouldn’t ask your parents those questions while you’re mad.

Stage #3 Bargaining

Bargaining is the phase where you try to reach a compromise rather than facing the inevitable. In a death situation, it’s more like: “If you’ll spare my Dad, I’ll never miss a day of church again” and with a break-up it may be: “I can change if you won’t go.” These bargains don’t work in these cases and won’t help you with your student loans. There’s no bargaining with a large faceless student loan servicer and trying won’t be anything but a waste of time. This stage shouldn’t take too long before you realize your debt is a fait accompli and there’s no escaping it.

Stage #4 Depression

Unfortunately for some student loan borrowers, they get stuck in this phase and don’t (or feel like they can’t) move beyond it. While stuck here, you may cycle back through stage one and two for a refresher on denial and blame. The simple fact is that your debt is inescapable, anger won’t help and blame offers no solutions to your reality. Moving beyond this phase is the only way to get out of depression – and out of student loan debt!

Stage #5 Acceptance and Coping

This is the stage where you acknowledge where you are and realize you have to find a way to cope. This is also the stage where hope emerges. For student loans, this means developing your strategy to shed this debt for good. We recommend first that you use our free student loan tool to get an accurate snapshot of all of your student loan debt in one easy-to-use interface. Then, we recommend you check out our blog for in-depth information on repayment plan strategies and forgiveness programs. Control your student loan debt – don’t let it control you!

To help you develop your strategy to deal with your debt head-on please enjoy these and other recent blogs designed to help stressed student loan borrowers cope with their debt:

Student Loan Repayment Series – Part I – Married with Kids and Student Loans

Student Loan Repayment Series – Part II – Single with High Debt and Low Income

Student Loan Repayment Series – Part III – Married Soldier with Student Loans

Is Pay as You Earn for You?

Top Resources for Student Loan Borrowers

Cherry Picking Student Loan Payments – How to Save Big and Pay Down Your Loans Faster

5 Drastic Tactics to Vanquish Student Loans for Good!

Last Ditch Student Loan Measures – How to Choose Deferment vs Forbearance

5 Tactics to Avoid When Paying Off Student Loans