It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon.  The laundry is completed.  The bath tub scrubbed within an inch of its life.  The refrigerator has been cleaned and organized.  All the cans in the cupboard have been alphabetized.  This isn’t your typical OCD behavior.  Rather, in many homes across America, people are looking for any excuse to avoid sitting down to one’s tax return.  Income tax anxiety is running rampant in households everywhere.  Income tax anxiety is often accompanied with procrastination.

Income tax anxiety

Income tax anxiety isn’t found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.  Mental health professionals use the DSM 5 to diagnose psychiatric disorders.  Income tax anxiety and procrastination is no less distressing than other anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, or generalized anxiety disorder.  The weight of Turbo Tax or tax consultants’ organizers awaiting your attention can be extremely stressful.  Procrastination, as a way to postpone the negative feelings of income tax anxiety, seems like an adaptive strategy.  However, the anticipation of sitting down to receipts, W-2’s, and 1099’s may actually be worse than the event itself.

A form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people cope with the angst of income tax anxiety.

Ten CBT techniques to help with income tax anxiety:


  1. Develop an organized bookkeeping system. Hire a bookkeeper or accountant to implement a system.  Plan ahead and set up a system for the coming year.  Let the consultant know you have income tax anxiety.
  2. Breakdown large project into smaller tasks. Income tax anxiety takes root when we view a project as a huge and overwhelming.
  3. Set deadlines for specific tasks. Spread out tasks over days or weeks.  Set a timeline.
  4. Designate blocks of time for each task. Aim for no more than 2 hour blocks for each task.  Determine when you work most efficiently.  Schedule the time in your calendar.
  5. Plan a pleasurable activity after each task. Reward yourself with something enjoyable when you’ve completed the assigned task.
  6. Use the five-minute rule. If you are struggling to sit down, commit to working on the specific task for only 5 minutes.  Once the 5 minutes is up, you can continue to work on it if you wish.  Take a break and come back to it at a pre-designated time.
  7. Use accountability to stay on track. Get an income tax anxiety “buddy”.  Have someone to check in with about your progress.  This can be motivating.
  8. Pride yourself on accomplishments. Ask yourself how it feels when you achieved a goal.  Remind yourself of the good feeling when you sit down for the next task.
  9. Use mindfulness and breathing exercises. Calm your body and mind through slow breathing and mindfulness.  These techniques can help reduce anticipatory income tax anxiety.
  10. Change your thinking. Identify the thoughts that are fueling the income tax anxiety. Write thoughts down on paper.  Ask yourself what is the evidence for and against these thoughts.

Income tax anxiety is not an actual diagnosis.  It can be extremely distressing.  The procrastination that accompanies the anxiety leads to feeling badly about oneself.  It can also be difficult to relax while having it hang over our heads. Contact a mental health professional in extreme cases.  Therapists trained in CBT may be able to assist you.  The therapists at Pacific CBT are trained to provide this assistance.


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