How to Ease the Pain of Tax Season

April delivers perhaps the cruelest season—tax season. It’s not just the thought of relinquishing money to Uncle Sam (which is stressful enough), but the complex emotions evoked when confront- ing changes that occurred in the previous year. For some, filing taxes means facing significant debt or a recent divorce. Or the experience may tug at one’s heartstrings, like when an adult child moves out or a loved one is lost.

For disorganized filers, it might be too late to ensure that this year’s process is peaceful. However, it is a good time to analyze stress points that can be avoided next year. If, like Nancy (49) and Glen (51), you panic and scrounge to find necessary paperwork, resolve to make a change for the better. This year, I suggested they begin a very simple system for keeping all their paperwork in one place (a box).

Related Content: Your Guide to Discretionary Spending

If anxiety results from facing a negative financial situation, it is best to close the books on this year and move on. Commit to one or two ways to spend less in the next 12 months. When April arrives again, the problem may not be fully resolved, but you’ll be off to a good start. The goal is to make a small adjustment with a big impact; to reframe tax season as an opportunity for positive change.

For many, taxes serve as a reminder of difficult life adjustments. Margaret’s husband died recently and she struggled to prepare her taxes alone. “Taxes are so legal…and very black and white,” she told me. “It makes Benny’s death much more real than I think I’m ready to admit.” In contrast, Debbie is sad because her grown daughter is filing her own taxes for the first time. She is proud that Melanie is now a fully functioning adult, yet she feels melancholy confronting the fact that her job as a mom is over in so many ways.

In both situations, it was most helpful to acknowledge these feelings out loud (to me or to friends), separating them from the task at hand. For Margaret, talking things through made her recognize it was not preparing taxes that made her sad, but facing all the ways in which Benny was no longer with her. Now she can take positive steps towards mourning fully and creating a new life for herself. And Debbie discovered that perhaps she’s not quite done being a mom—Melanie called at least twelve times to get her advice for filing her own taxes!

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.