How to Cope With Tax-Time Stress
Experts explain ways to avoid the emotional storms of tax season.
Accountants Tally Up the Stress
For David Dugan, tax season used to mean late nights in the office followed
by a McDonald's run. As deadlines approached, a twitch would develop in one
eye. "I used to eat my way through tax season," says Dugan, owner of a
small accounting firm in Los Alamitos, Calif. "That's how I handled my
Then, about four years ago, Dugan tried a different approach. He started
going to the gym at the end of his long days. And he started going to work
early, before the office got busy. Soon, he found himself sleeping better and
feeling less stressed during the day. Last year he modified his eating habits
and lost 40 pounds. He even ran a 10K race during February, well into the tax
"Fitness and proper eating is a better way of handling stress than
eating and alcohol," he says.
The stress of tax season contributes to a high burnout rate, especially
among accountants working at high-powered Big Four firms. Dugan's personal
fitness coach, Heather Moreno, was once a CPA herself. She joined a branch of
the high-powered accounting firm KPMG in 1990 and stayed six years -- long
enough to watch all of her colleagues who started that year drop out of the
firm, she says.
"I was an oddity because I made the time for exercise even if I had to
cut back," she said. "I saw a lot of intelligent, hardworking people
burn themselves out because they didn't take care of themselves."
Many accountants drink too much coffee to stay alert during the day and then
take tranquilizers or drink alcohol to get to sleep at night, McKee says. They
become irritated and anxious and suffer from headaches, colds, upset stomachs,
and sore muscles.
Studies performed on accountants have found a temporary rise in cholesterol
levels during tax time. Accountants sometimes complain of cardiac problems
during tax time, though it's unclear whether that translates into long-term
health problems, McKee says.
Taking It 'EZ' During Tax Season
To reduce employee stress, some accounting firms have offered gym discounts,
chair massages, catered meals, and team games. While applauding such programs
generally, stress experts say that each person must find the solution that is
best for him or her.
Common stress-reduction techniques such as meditation or massage may strike
people with so-called "Type A" personalities as boring or stressful,
says Paul J. Rosch, MD, president of the American Institute on Stress. For this
group, Rosch suggests therapeutic methods such as stress-inoculation
Stress-reduction techniques for accountants must also account for the
realities of life during tax time, says McKee. McKee makes relaxation tapes for
his clients that typically run 15 minutes or more. Those same tapes may run as
short as two minutes for McKee's accounting clients.
Many people -- not just tax preparers -- have an all-or-nothing attitude
toward wellness, Moreno says. This means that when a crunch time comes, all the
usual rules about healthy eating or fitness go out the window. But if you're
breaking the rules during busy periods, it's harder to follow them when things
slow down, she says.