Thursday, March 29, 2012

Money worries tax out Americans as IRS deadline looms

Columbus, Ohio. March 29, 2012. According to the Ohio Psychological Association, the looming IRS tax deadline may be stressful for many Ohio residents, particularly those who may also be struggling to meet financial goals. Stress related to tax deadlines can increase reliance on the unhealthy behaviors, such as eating poorly, smoking, drinking and being inactive, that many people already use to cope with everyday stressors related to money, work, family and health matters. Research shows that increased reliance on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress can lead to long-term, serious health problems or exacerbate existing conditions.
"Many of us keep putting off dealing with taxes or bills because we may feel overwhelmed by financial obligations. This behavior can just make our financial situation—and ultimately our anxiety about t finances—worse,” says Kathleen Ashton, Ph.D. “Approach tax-filing time as an opportunity to look at your financial habits and see what changes you can make over the next year ”
The American Psychological Association’s recent survey Stress in America: Our Health at Risk found that money is a top source of stress for adults. Seventy five percent of people attribute their stress to money and 70 percent report that work is a cause of stress, interrelated issues that are emphasized for many during the tax-filing process. Many Americans set financial goals in 2012 –more than half (52 percent) said that they planned to save more money, and 37 percent reported a goal to pay off debt—yet more than one quarter said that willpower (27 percent) or time (26 percent) were barriers preventing them from making changes.
The Ohio Psychological Association offers these strategies for managing financial stress and improving your financial willpower:
Identify money stressors. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to meeting tax deadlines, paying bills, money decisions, financial responsibilities at work or home? Or something else?
Recognize how you deal with financial stress. Some people deal with stress by using unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drinking or overeating. Do you turn to unhealthy financial behaviors such as overspending, misuse of credit cards, neglecting bills or constantly borrowing money in an effort to deal with financial stressors?
Make one financial decision at a time. When people are faced with multiple, back-to-back decisions that test willpower, research suggests that willpower can easily be depleted. Space out your financial decisions to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
Track your spending. Research shows that tracking can be an effective tool. Keep a daily list of how you spend your money.
Save automatically. Set up bank or investment accounts that draw funds automatically from your pay check. This will prevent you from devoting limited willpower resources to deciding whether to spend or save money. Look for accounts that require you to wait a certain amount of time or reach a certain target before you can withdraw the funds. Research indicates that these accounts are effective in helping people save greater amounts.
Avoid temptation. Staying away from shopping malls and stores can help you manage spending. Choose an alternative social activity over shopping. Avoid opportunities for impulsive spending by leaving credit and debit cards at home and only carry the amount of cash you can afford to spend.
Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities — taking a short walk, exercise, journaling or talking things out with friends or family. Try to develop these types of healthy stress management behaviors so that when you're in a financial crisis, you'll have healthy strategies available to help you reduce stress.
Ask for support. Research shows that having a support system can help you reach your goals. Surround yourself with people you trust who will be supportive of your financial goals and willing to help you succeed. Consider consulting with professionals such as financial planners or accountants to help with taxes and money matters.

If you continue feel overwhelmed by stress related to finances or need help learning how to change money habits, talk to a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help people address the emotions behind unhealthy habits including financial behaviors and can help you identify ways to manage stress.
For more information on managing stress and on building willpower please visit Details of APA’s Stress in America survey can be found at

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can you learn "willpower?"

According to APA, "At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals." If we can accept short-term discomfort and practice this skill, we can develop better habits. In my practice with bariatric patients, we use this skill a lot. Patients with a long history of weight loss attempts are often discouraged and attribute their failure to "lack of willpower". They think they will never be successful because "I just don't have this trait called willpower". We teach them they can develop "willpower" with practice. We call it a "delay" technique, noting that cravings for food will seldom last more than 10 minutes. If patients can just distract themselves for 10 minutes, the craving will often pass. They can either endure the discomfort, or usually more helpfully, distract themselves with another activity or stress reliever. Patients are also encouraged to use cognitive strategies to enhance willpower such as referring to their long term goals: better health, moving better on a written card before eating each meal. This helps them to weigh short term versus longterm goals.