April 7, 2008

Economic Worries Tax Out Americans as April 15 Nears

WASHINGTON-- With cash-strapped Americans already worried about the effects of an economic downturn, the April 15 deadline to file federal income taxes may seem overwhelming or frightening, especially for those who fear that they will owe the government money. The American Psychological Association (APA) cautions that while this time of year may seem excessively difficult, relying on harmful behaviors to alleviate stress may contribute to physical and emotional health problems in the future.

"The nation's troubled economy is causing a strain not only on wallets but also on how stressed we feel," said Dr. Stephanie Smith, a Colorado psychologist. "Many of us bury our heads in the sand because our finances are so overwhelming. This can just make the problem -- and ultimately our anxiety about the problem -- worse. Start small and start somewhere. Think of tax-filing time as an opportunity to evaluate your financial situation and money habits and figure out ways to change."

Money is a leading concern for most Americans. According to APA's 2007 Stress in America poll, nearly 75 percent of Americans say work and money are two significant stressors in their lives. And as the nation faces a possible recession, more Americans may feel panicky about their future, leading to an increase in stress about their finances and job.

The survey also reveals that many Americans choose unhealthy ways to cope with their stress. More than 40 percent say they overeat or eat unhealthy foods during stressful times, 48 percent have lost sleep, and two-thirds of smokers report they smoke even more.

"It's tempting to turn to bad habits, but stress and health are so strongly linked that it's important for people to take care of themselves," said Dr. Nancy Molitor, a Chicago-area psychologist. "Engaging in unhealthy behaviors usually makes things worse and then distracts you from making the necessary changes in your financial situation that could ultimately make life better."

APA offers these strategies for managing financial stress:

  • Identify your stressors and make a plan. Take a look at your particular financial situation and what causes you stress. List specific ways you can reduce your spending. Although this may seem daunting, putting things down on paper and committing to a plan can reduce stress.

  • Examine your priorities. Ask yourself what your money goals are. If your priorities are not matching up with your spending habits, this can be a source of anxiety and conflict, especially between partners.

  • Talk about your worries. We tend to be secretive about our financial situation, especially when things aren't going well, and this can lead to more stress. Open up to your partner, a trusted friend or family member about your concerns.

  • Recognize how you deal with stress related to money. Some people deal with stress by comfort eating, smoking, drinking or gambling. Pay attention to how you manage your stress, and consider the damage that negative coping methods can do to your health.

  • Substitute unhealthy for healthy ways to manage stress. Healthy stress-reducing activities can be inexpensive and quick -- like taking a short walk, meditating or talking things out with friends or family. If you're feeling overwhelmed by talk of the economy on the evening news, turn it off. Remember that unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time and can be difficult to change, so focus on changing one thing at a time.

Credit counseling services, tax advisors and financial planners are available to help you take control over your money situation. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or the unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your financial worries, better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors. Psychologists are experts trained to understand the connection between the mind and body as well as the factors that promote behavior change. For more information on stress and mind/body health, visit http://www.apahelpcenter.org/.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.