Did you wake up this morning sweating and realizing that you’re in debt over your head? Or has it been a slow accumulation of costs that you’ve tried to ignore, only to come to the realization that you can’t ignore them? Either way, you’ve realized that you’re in debt and you have to do something about it quickly, or risk severe consequences.

The first step is to take a deep breath. Often, people in debt feel overwhelmed, like it’s impossible to get out of debt or they’re drowning. It’s very possible to be free of your debt and live a normal, happy life! Thousands of people before you have done it, as evidenced by personal anecdotes, blogs, and newspaper stories. It takes commitment and persistence, yes, but the rewards are more than worth it, and the average person can do this if they put their mind to it.

Before you start to get out of debt, you have to see how much in debt you are. This means you need a complete financial picture, scary though it might seem. It’s worse to be unaware of your circumstances – when it comes to money, ignorance is never bliss. You’ll be able to figure out how best to get out of debt, and it helps you you regain a sense of control over your financial situation so you don’t stress out or panic even more.

Write down a complete list of all the debts you have right now – credit cards, mortgage, student loan payments, anything at all. Organize it by writing down the source of the debt, who you owe it to, and the terms and conditions for the loans (interest rates an minimum monthly payments). That way, you can get a better idea of exactly how far in debt you are. Don’t panic at this stage… some people have paid off large house mortgages, student loans, or huge credit card bills in just five years before. You just have to learn how!

If you don’t have a budget already, the next step is to make one. You need to make sure you’re not spending more than you earn, or more than you need to. Some people are in debt because they’re simply out of touch with how much they’re spending. If you’re one of those people, actually looking at each expense and what it’s for, how much you spend per month, and how much you really earn, can help already. Cut down on unnecessary expenses and get rid of all your credit cards. (If you need to, keep one for emergencies, but keep it with your emergency paperwork and not in your wallet.) Start living on cash immediately.

Now, you need to put any extra money you’ve reclaimed towards your smallest debt. This gives you the motivation to continue and a bit of extra money from the minimum monthly payment you no longer have to make to put towards your next-highest debt, and so on until you’re paying down the biggest debt (usually a mortgage or student loan debt).

You can get much more technical about how exactly to pay down debt, but following these simple steps  will help you start to get out of debt today.