Americans stressed about money more than anything else this past year (and the six years before that), according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report. Nearly 90 percent of Americans are just as stressed or more stressed over money now than they were last year, and we aren’t getting any better at managing our stress.

Whether it’s the complicated filing process for business owners, financial strain of owing the government money, or having to take a deep look at what you spent your paychecks on last year, tax season shines the spotlight on our finances and heightens the stress that comes along with it. Over half of U.S. adults (56 percent) say the tax-filing process is stressful and 18 percent consider it “very stressful,” according to a Zogby Interactive Survey.

With tax day approaching, consider the impact tax-time stress has on your health:

  • You are more likely to die in a car accident on tax day (due to a spike in driver stress levels).
  • Consequences of financial stress include: depression, sleepless/poor quality of sleep, relationship problems and higher instances of heart attacks, migraines, ulcers and back pain.
  • People who are very stressed about money are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, drinking, binge TV watching, to cope. 

So with tax day nearly here, what can you do to better cope with the tax-time stress pandemic? Throughout my clinical career I have encountered too many patients who have had extra difficulties during this time of year. Luckily, there are proven ways to shift the way you think about tax day so that you come out on top.

Step 1: Pivot your perspective

Because your chance of feeling daily stress is the same if make $40K per year versus $160K per year, realize that more money does not make you less stressed--but your attitude about money can. Those living in lower-income households who also say they have extreme stress about money are more than twice as likely as those living in lower-income households with low stress about money to rate their health as fair or poor (44 percent versus 17 percent; APA).

Because your chance of feeling daily stress is the same if make $40K per year versus $160K per year, realize that more money does not make you less stressed--but your attitude about money can. Those living in lower-income households who also say they have extreme stress about money are more than twice as likely as those living in lower-income households with low stress about money to rate their health as fair or poor (44 percent versus 17 percent; APA).

Step 2: Look forward, not back, to stop the stress cycle

For many couples, conflict arises during tax season because one partner tends to spend more while the other saves more. Rather than looking back at what each of you did in 2014, use tax time to make 2015 financial resolutions.

Stress leads to an unhealthy cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) techniques focus on disrupting that cycle to help you manage emotions and choose healthy and productive actions. A first step is to notice your thoughts and “rework” negative or catastrophic thoughts into factually accurate ones. Sticking to the facts and removing the “emotional thinking” from your conversations will help you troubleshoot more productively and decrease your stress.

Step 3: Focus on what you can control and set small and achievable goals

Because money-related stress is often related to a feeling of helplessness, choose a simple action (such as selling an old item on Craigslist) that you can implement immediately to start positively impacting your savings. Make a list of things you can and can’t control and show it to another person to see if they come to the same conclusions-because they might see it more objectively than you can. When you set financial goals that you have control over it will help you feel confident in meeting them. Focus on short-term, small, and achievable goals first.

Step 4: Seek social support

Embarrassment or shame about financial problems may cause you to avoid acknowledging them and asking for help-leading to the problem becoming worse or spiraling out of your control. Acknowledging your fear of judgment can take power away from this worry and help you take action to improve your situation and reduce your stress levels. When our brains are under the influence of intense emotions (like anxiety, worry, shame) we can’t problem solve as effectively. That’s why talking to someone who isn’t impacted by your money problems can help you put things in perspective and make a plan for how to change course.

Step 5: Reward yourself to avoid frugal fatigue

You can’t be thrifty all the time. After saving all week by having dinner at home treat yourself to a weekend dinner out with friends. When you do choose to spend discretionary income make it count by focusing on activities that are primarily social in nature. If you build up a special night out too much and are disappointed with the outcome, it can undermine your goal of enjoying yourself and inadvertently create stress. If the goal is to spend time with friends and loved ones you won’t care as much if the service at a restaurant is bad.

All of these steps are based in the proven approach utilized at Lantern, where users engage in daily Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that examines self-destructive thinking patterns and behaviors to improve emotional health. As with any habit, you’ll get better at bypassing and coping with money stress the more you practice these tactics. Be proactive and get started on building habits now to feel ready to take on the next tax season.

Published on: Apr 14, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.