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Coping with Tax Anxiety

Trauma is a kitschy term these days but financial trauma is a commonly missed symptom. In the past several years working as a therapist I have noticed a trend every January as tax season begins. It doesn’t matter what tax bracket, the anxiety, fear, rumination, negative self-talk and worst case scenario planning begins like clockwork.

Taxes are hard enough but the emotional toll is something you don’t have to experience on your own. A therapist can help you safely challenge your fear thoughts with skills such as check-the-facts or help you soothe your anxiety with mindfulness and emotion regulation skills.

Using these skills gets us out of the midbrain where emotions occur and helps us feel grounded. When we are calm and present, we can use our frontal lobe, where our executive functioning like doing math occurs, more effectively.

Here is a list of skills to try to soothe your anxiety and stay in your frontal lobe:

  1. Drink ice cold water, eat sour candy or splash your face with cold water. These actions will shock your vagus nerve and help you stay grounded.

  2. Square breathing. Take a deep breath for four counts, hold your breath for four counts,  breathe out for four counts and hold for four counts. Repeat four times or more if needed.

  3. Grounding with the 5 senses:

  4. Smell: Pick a smell you like and have it available for grounding while you work.

  5. Sight: notice the colors and shapes around you in the room. Simply name them without judgment.

  6. Touch: wear comfy clothes, cuddle your pet, bundle up in a soft blanket

  7. Taste: get your favorite coffee or tea, chew gum or eat some sour candy to help you stay soothed and grounded.

  8. Sound: play soothing music or bilateral stimulation soundtracks.

  9. Schedule breaks. This will help you stay in your window of tolerance and reduce dysregulation leading to fight, flight or collapse. 

No one wants their tax preparation to be longer than it needs to be so using these skills before, during and after working on your taxes can help set you up for success. 

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