Is the IRS Taxing Your Patience?
These health tips will help you make it through tax-season crunch time.
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Reviewed By Michael Smith
Got plans for next week? Most of us will be spending some quality time with our less-than-favorite relative, Uncle Sam. It's that last-ditch effort to meet the tax deadline. But are your emotions getting taxed, too?
Money is indeed a "hot-button topic" for many people, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at the Grady Health System, both in Atlanta. "Money is not just related to taxes, but related to life. There can be emotional issues tied to our finances -- the death of a loved one, divorce. Tax time brings up all those unresolved feelings, pain."
Other issues crop up, Kaslow tells WebMD: "Am I as philanthropic as I should be? What are my priorities in life? Why don't I get paid better? Why didn't I get a bigger raise? And we all have feelings about how much money we give to government -- there's a big discrepancy for all of us. It's hard to keep in mind what you're getting for that money. People feel resentful."
The burden of it all -- the significant consequences -- makes us feel the pressure, says Julie Weghorn, a professional organizer in Wisconsin who specializes in helping people manage paper clutter.
"It's not only the financial consequences," she tells WebMD. "There's the fear of legal ramifications. What if we do it wrong?"
Getting organized is key, says Weghorn.
Set up a workspace. A spare desk or even the floor will do, she says. "Setting up a card table is the best solution for taxes. Then you'll have a space designated just for that."
Start sorting. Just do a small portion of the stack; at least it's a start. Or take the entire stack, and do an initial sort. Group things into categories -- one pile to file, the other categories with just the tax information. Then deal with the categories one at a time.
Decide whether you need an expert's help. Or investigate preparing your tax forms online. The online TurboTax service suits Weghorn just fine, and she's a business owner a fairly complex financial picture that includes foreign-earned income and royalties.
Kaslow, on the other hand, says she believes in tax specialists. "Some people are so reluctant about getting help," she says. "I can't imagine doing it without my accountant, and I'm organized. I do the best I can, but he's simply an expert and I'm not."
Don't struggle with the honesty issue. "Just make a decision that, no matter how hard it is, you're going to be honest," says Kaslow. "The amount of emotional time it takes to struggle about that is not worth it. Unless you're somebody who's really organized ahead of time, you may not get absolutely every detail taken care of. As long as you're not doing anything wrong, it won't hurt you. Do your best, and if you miss a few deductions, you miss them."
Don't fight. "All sorts of problems about money in the relationship come up at tax time," Kaslow tells WebMD. "One person has stuff organized, the other doesn't. One wants to do it early, the other doesn't. At crunch time, you have to put aside those struggles and conflicts and do the best you can as a team. If you spend half the time fighting, it's not going to be productive."
Don't panic. "You can always file an extension," says Weghorn. "But you do need to take steps to take care of your issues now. Taking action in itself is stress-relieving."
Reward yourself for doing a task you don't like. "I think it really helps, " says Kaslow.
You'll end up fatigued -- have difficulty concentrating -- if coffee and chips are your main food groups, says Cynthia Sass, a spokesperson for the American Dietetics Association and a senior dietitian in the health education department of the University of South Florida. Her advice:
Drink coffee, but add a little milk to it. "You'll get a bit of protein and other nutrients."
Drink a lot of water, too. "Hydration has a lot to do with your energy level. If you are dehydrated, you can get extra fatigued. So it you're tired to begin with, you'll feel it even more."
Eat for brainpower. "Nutrient-rich foods benefit your brain cells. Empty calories don't. When you eat a heavy meal, too much blood flow goes to your digestive system -- and not enough to your brain."
Tip: Order a pizza, but don't load with meat and extra cheese. A lighter pizza -- veggie, light on the cheese, but with extra sauce -- gives you extra Vitamin A and C, and extra brainpower. Or order ethnic foods, like Chinese, Thai, Indian. "Those tend to be very rich in vegetables and lighter, so they give you lots of nutrients and more energy than, say, barbeque."
Munch on healthy snack foods. "When people are stressed, they crave crunchy things," Sass tells WebMD. Baby carrots, whole-grain cereal you can eat with your hands, whole grain pretzels, grapes -- they're much better than chips or high-fat snack foods like cheese puffs. "They have more nutrients, and tend to give a more sustained feeling of energy vs. that heavy, sluggish feeling."
Don't let more than five hours go by without eating something. If your blood sugar goes too low, you'll have trouble concentrating. Eat some dried fruit, a banana, or get a glass of milk. Eat an energy bar that has carbohydrates and protein.
Get some exercise. Get up periodically to stretch, move around, circulate the blood. "If you take five minutes to walk around the block, take in some oxygen, get the circulation going, you'll feel more like getting back to it," says Sass.
And to Make Next Year Easier ...
Set up a better system, says Weghorn. Just do it. "The biggest problem is maintenance. Like anything else we do that has long-term benefits -- our health, our exercise schedule -- you can't one time exercise and be healthy. You have to do it on a continual basis. The same is true with being organized. Maintenance -- always do a little bit, and don't let it pile up."
What works best: A tax-filing "bin" with files for each deduction. "Instead of organizing by the month, when it comes time to do taxes, that doesn't help you. Instead, you set up a file for each deduction -- if you can deduct medical or travel or business expenses, set up by category of deduction. Then they're easier to add up. Or give it all to somebody who can take care of it for you."
"Sometimes all you have to do is change one little thing, and it can make everything so much easier," says Weghorn.
Originally published April 8, 2002.
Medically updated April 8, 2005.
©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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