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Tax Anxiety Is Totally Real & Here’s How to Deal With It

If the words “tax season” or “Tax Day” immediately make your heart race, you’re in the company of many stressed-out, anxious people. Particularly this year, with tax day shifted to July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even before those dreaded W-2 forms arrive in the mailbox, anxiety about money is a constant companion for millions of people. According to Everyday Health’s 2018 Women’s Wellness Survey, 62 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Generation Xers worry about finances on a weekly basis.

Emily, a 27-year-old freelance graphic designer, tells SheKnows she’s procrastinated filing her taxes for two reasons: She’s nervous about making a mistake and she’s afraid she’ll owe money.

“This is my first year filing as a freelancer,” Emily says. “I was pretty accustomed to the forms from my old corporate job, but this year’s are basically like a foreign language to me. Plus, certain projects weren’t taxed when I got paid in 2017 so I’ll probably end up owing money and I really have no cushion in my bank account. I don’t know what I’ll do if I owe more than a few hundred dollars.”

Alicia, a 30-year-old marketing manager who relocated from New York to Oregon in 2017, also expressed anxiety over confusing forms. “I have to file for two different jobs, each in a different state, which I’ve never done before,” she says. “And I have a separate form this year for my health insurance, so that’s also new to me. I’m just really worried about making an honest mistake and then being audited.”

Emily’s and Alicia’s words will probably sound painfully familiar to many people.

Kayce Hodos, a licensed professional counselor, tells SheKnows that tax season evokes anxiety because it’s natural to be afraid of things we can’t control and things we don’t understand. “For most of us who do not have CPA training and expertise, strange terms like W-2, 1099, 1040, Schedule K and all the others send fear up our spines,” Hodos says. “It’s because we are extremely worried we have made some kind of major error throughout the year or we’re going to make some huge mistake or forget something important that will cause the IRS to come arrest us and throw us in jail.”

Hodos suggests taking a step back and assessing what we’re afraid of and why — because if we think about it rationally, the chances of the IRS arresting us over an error are basically nonexistent. Of course, it is fairly common to end up owing money, so this is a very valid concern. “[This] could be a big deal if you don’t have the money to pay the bill,” Hodos says. “But even if that’s the case, you can ask the IRS for some kind of payment arrangement.”

Heidi McBain, a professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells SheKnows that being as prepared as possible can alleviate some of the anxiety and stress. “If you’ve had changes from years past it can be helpful to talk to a CPA so you’ll have some warning regarding how much you might owe this year,” she suggests.

Educating ourselves (who are your dependents? what paperwork/records do you need in order?) and being prepared can make tax season a little easier, but there’s likely to be some level of anxiety no matter what. If your anxiety is intense and overwhelming, McBain suggests meeting with a therapist to learn new, healthy ways to deal with these feelings. Common coping techniques include learning to stay grounded, guided meditation and mindfulness exercises such as focusing on the five senses.

“Journaling can help [you] vent but also help [you] see where some of your negative reactions to money are coming from,” McBain says. “Gratitude journals can help people focus on what truly matters and help them feel grateful for all they do have.”

July 15 marks the end of tax season in 2020, so the end is in sight — and that’s definitely something to be grateful for.

A version of this story was published April 2018. 

Working on your financial literacy? Here’s info on how much money women actually make: 

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