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How You Can Handle Tax Day Stress

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Author: Jeannette Samanen PhD

With the IRS tax deadline quickly approaching on April 15, more Americans are experiencing financial stressors and may be dealing with them in unhealthy ways.

Stress related to tax deadlines can increase reliance on the unhealthy behaviors many people already use to cope with everyday stressors related to money, work, personal and family health matters and raising children. Increased reliance on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress can lead to serious, long-term health problems.

When you cope with stress in unhealthy ways, you may alleviate symptoms of stress in the short term, but you end up creating significant personal health problems over time, which, ironically, creates more stress.

If you identify specific times of the year, such as tax season, that cause increased stress in your life, you can take a proactive approach to stress management. During such high stress periods you can be especially conscious of engaging in healthier coping behaviors.

A 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association found that money and the economy are the top sources of stress for adults. For many, these interrelated issues become emphasized during tax season. The survey also found that, overall, people engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as eating to alleviate stress. They attempt to manage financial and other life stressors by making poor diet choices, smoking, and drinking.

Here are some more adaptive strategies you can use to manage financial stress:

Become aware of patterns of stress in your life.

Everyone experiences stress in different ways. How do you identify stress when it occurs? Do you notice a greater stress level during tax filing season or when making financial decisions?

Identify money stressors.

What situations or events trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to meeting tax deadlines, paying bills, financial responsibilities, or money decisions?

Recognize how you handle financial stress.

Some people deal with stress by using unhealthy behaviors such as over/under eating, smoking, or drinking. Determine if you're using those types of unhealthy behaviors to cope with financial related stress. Is this a behavior you rely on year-round, or is it specific to tax filing deadlines or other money decisions?

Notice if the ways you handle stress in general create financial stress for you.

Do you turn to unhealthy financial behaviors such as overspending, misuse of credit cards, neglecting your bills or constantly borrowing money in an effort to deal with other stressors in your life, only to create financial stress down the line?

Understand what does money means to you.

Money can be symbolic of emotional issues that may seem unrelated to your personal finances. Becoming aware of these underlying emotional issues empowers you to deal with them. By addressing and resolving these issues, you lessen their impact on the financial decisions you make. What does money represent to you? How might that increase your level of stress?

Find healthy ways to manage stress.

Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities -- taking a short walk, exercise,meditation or talking things out with friends and family. If you make these healthy stress management behaviors a habit, when you're in a financial crisis, you'll have these strategies available to help you effectively reduce stress.

Keep in mind, unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time and can be challenging to change. Don't take on too much at once. One should focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Seek professional support.

Accepting help from family and friends who care about you and will listen to you about your financial challenges can improve your ability to manage stress. There are financial planners available to help you take control over your money situation.

If you continue to be overwhelmed by financial stress, you may want to talk with a psychologist or life coach who can help you address the emotions behind your money behaviors, manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

About the author: Drawing on skills and expertise developed over 30 years experience, psychologist Jeannette Samanen PhD provides effective life coaching, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and couples counseling. Learn more by visiting

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