Spring is the season when the cherry trees and cottonwoods bloom. For
Barbara Halpern, spring is also the season when her workweek blooms to 80 hours
or more. Accompanying those long work hours are the colds, migraines,
dizziness, and weight swings that plague Halpern and her colleagues at her
small accounting firm in suburban Connecticut.
"Everyone is rundown and susceptible," Halpern, owner of Halpern
& Associates, tells WebMD. "We hate the spring and nice weather. It's
not supposed to get warm until April 16."
When she needs relief from the grind of delivering major proposals, Dana Marlowe, 33, of Washington, D.C., makes some noise. "I cruise right into my toddler’s playroom, and I just jam out with his toys -- the xylophone, the baby piano. I almost have 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' down," says Marlowe, a technology accessibility consultant.
This kind of casual music-making can short-circuit the stress response, research shows, and keep it from becoming chronic. Stress starts in the brain and then...
Tax preparers like Halpern may bear the brunt of tax-time stress. But nearly
everyone has a reason to dread the 1040 tango. Some hate the math; some hate
the feds. And yet others hate having to grapple with one of the great mysteries
of life: Where did the money go?
Money and Stress
"Money is a major source of stress on people, and what tax season does
is shine a great big spotlight on the issue," Michael McKee, a Cleveland
Clinic psychologist and president of the U.S. branch of the International
Stress Management Association, tells WebMD. "Money takes center stage at
tax time, even if you might have been able to push it to the wings the rest of
A 2004 survey sponsored by the American Psychological Association found that
nearly three-quarters of Americans cited money as a significant source of
stress. Money is also consistently among the top causes of marital contention,
says Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist and financial self-help author based in
The Emotional Toll of Taxes
Often, one partner in a marriage is a spender who avoids any discussion of
money, while the other partner is a saver and a worrier, Mellan tells WebMD.
The result is resentment at tax time, when both partners must examine how their
habits are affecting progress toward their financial goals.
Fear of the government also emerges at tax time. Some clients of financial
counselor Karen McCall are so afraid of the IRS that they won't take even the
most innocuous deduction. "They're paralyzed because the IRS is an
authority figure, and if they have unresolved issues around authority figures
in their lives, that can cause a lot of fear."
For some unlucky taxpayers that fear is understandable. McKee says people
who have been through audits can suffer from posttraumatic stress syndrome for
years afterward during tax season.
Herewith, a few tips for stressed-out taxpayers:
To avoid last-minute stress, file early and break up the job into little
pieces, Mellan suggests. Do your taxes while listening to music or whatever
else makes you feel relaxed.
For filers with math anxiety, Mellan recommends hiring a preparer or
investing in tax software. Tax software typically collects information through
an "interview" and the computer does all the calculations.
Fractious couples should strategize on ways to avoid chronic money fights,
Mellan says. For example, try communicating financial information through notes
or other modes that won't carry an accusatory tone.
McCall suggests channeling tax-time stress into a resolution to track your
finances more carefully. Better money management is the best way to avoid
unpleasant surprises each year, she says.
Finally, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you can turn to your buddies at the
IRS. Options include filing an extension or setting up an installment plan for
tax payment. For more details, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov.