Avoid Tax Day Tension

American Psychological Association and Ohio Psychological Association Offer Strategies for Managing Money Stress

With today’s IRS tax deadline, it’s not uncommon for Americans to experience financial stress. How you handle that stress can have an impact on your overall health. 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. The Ohio Psychological Association (OPA) warns that increased dependence on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress can lead to long-term, serious health problems.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2013 Stress in America survey found that money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent) continue to be the most commonly reported sources of stress, and these stressors are emphasized for many during the tax-filing process. The survey also found that less than half of Americans feel they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing their stress.

“People who cope with stress in unhealthy ways may alleviate symptoms of stress in the short term, but end up creating significant personal health problems over time, and, ironically, more stress,” OPA Public Education Chair Dr. Todd Finnerty said. “Research shows that stress, and the unhealthy behaviors people use to manage it, contribute to some of our country’s biggest health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s imperative that people take steps to address issues like financial stressors in healthy ways.”

APA and OPA offer these strategies for managing financial stress:

  • Identify your stress triggers — What types of situations set off feelings of stress for you? Do ordinary things like reviewing bills, completing tax forms or figuring out how to pay for expenses like home repairs and school tuition prompt you to feel stressed?
  • Understand what money means to you — Money is often symbolic of emotional issues that may seem unrelated to your personal finances such as power, control and love. What does money represent to you? How might that increase your stress when you are making financial decisions?
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress — Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as taking a short walk, exercising or talking things out with friends or family and avoid unhealthy behaviors such as overspending, misuse of credit cards or neglecting bills. Try to develop these types of healthy stress management behaviors so that when you’re in a financial crisis, you’ll have healthy strategies available to help you reduce stress. Keep in mind, unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
  • Ask for professional support — Accepting help from friends and family who care about you and will listen to you about your financial challenges can improve your ability to manage stress. Financial planners can also 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 who can help you address the emotions connected to your finances, manage stress and change money behaviors.

“My advice is that people identify times of the year, such as tax season, that may increase their stress. It is important to be prepared for periods of high stress and to create situations for yourself that promote healthier coping behaviors,” Dr. Finnerty said.

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