The human mind and body need precious little coaxing to respond when facing physical attack. The brain kicks in nearly instantaneously, triggering a flood of adrenaline and cortisol into the body and nearly as immediately determines whether to fight or flee. Faster than a body knew it could.
The liver then ratchets into action to manage the flow of hormones and rid the body of the excess when the imminent threat dissipates.
This biological phenomenon works well in terms of protecting us from the kind of acute danger and temporary threats our ancestors faced, but is far less efficient at coping with more chronic situations that arise in our modern lives. The saber-toothed tiger, alas, is no more and stress triggers of today are more likely to take the form of an approaching work or school deadline or a delinquent car payment.
Because these types of stressors do not suddenly explode and resolve themselves with the speed and terror of a wild animal attack that either ends in our escape or our demise, the human stress response does not operate as efficiently and the body is left to suffer the effects of chronic stress.
The negative effects of stress-triggered cortisol manifest in the body as lowered immunity, slowed bone growth and an increase in the desire for sugar and fat in the diet. All of which can lead to serious health conditions, a less than resilient emotional state, and an overall lower quality of life.
According to a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association, money worries are the greatest stress trigger in our lives today. A whopping 72 percent of those who participated in the study reported they’d experienced money-related stress within the past month, with 22 percent reporting extreme levels during that period and 64 percent saying it was a somewhat or very significant source of overall stress.
No other time of year, save Christmas, tickles the trigger of money-related stress woes more than early April and the onset of tax season. The effort involved in gathering documents and filling out forms or trusting professionals to do so invariably plays on the human psyche and leads to increased anxiety levels – even for those who pay on time.
There are effective ways to cope with this stress, however, and we are wise to listen to the call our bodies make when the cortisol begins to flow.
Sleep is our best first defense as it allows the body to recuperate from the current day’s stress and prepare for the inevitable stress we’ll face the following day. Additionally, lack of sleep results in irritability and inattention, which leads to preventable mistakes and mishaps, thereby increasing the day’s overall load.
Taking breaks during tedious tasks such as tax preparation are also effective in managing stress. Nothing like a pair of fresh eyes and a clear head when coping with the eye-crossing levels of calculation compounded by the fear associated with getting numbers wrong. Get up! Take a stroll around the block and take in the beauty of nature budding and blooming after a long winter sleep.
Communing with friends and confiding in loved ones is also an excellent stress buster. Spring is a great time to reinforce the ties connecting us to friends and family, so make a date for coffee or just a visit to catch up on important relationships and keep the communication flowing. And if that friend or loved one is someone who makes you laugh, then all the better, because in addition to being just plain fun, studies show it to be an excellent method to reduce stress.
Perspective is also key. If the task of tax preparation becomes overwhelming or unanswered questions surrounding tax forms becomes too much, there are a wealth of experts and free advice available online to help with nearly any tax-related quandary.
Finally, a reminder that tax season comes and tax season goes. It is a modern-day paper tiger as opposed to the pre-historic saber-toothed variety and navigating the season does not warrant nor need to result in the sacrifice of health and overall well-being … for if all else fails, there’s always the 11th hour Hail Mary to save the day.