The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers tips for avoiding the stress of procrastination.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - March 20, 2013 - If you have not yet filed your tax return, you have plenty of company. Every year about 30% of taxpayers either file their returns within a week of April 15, or apply for an extension. This year even more people may wait until the last minute. As of March 1, 12% fewer returns were filed than the same time last year.
Procrastination is a popular topic for joking. But continual procrastination can be harmful to your mental and physical health.
"Thinking about an unpleasant task causes anxiety," ways Dr. Pauline Wallin, a licensed psychologist in Camp Hill, PA. "You can feel better almost immediately by promising yourself that you'll do it later. Unfortunately, your relief is temporary because the job is still waiting and each time you think about it you'll feel increasingly stressed.
Stress can affect your mood, your sleep patterns, and your ability to focus and concentrate. You're also more likely to overeat, drink too much, or engage in other unhealthy behaviors. Prolonged stress, like the anxiety that comes from repeatedly procrastinating on your tax return, is linked with headaches, muscle aches and sometimes chronic illness.
As April 15 approaches, your stress level from procrastination intensifies. Scrambling to meet the deadline at the last minute makes you more prone to errors and can even put your life at risk. A 2012 study of 30 years of data found a 6% increase in traffic fatalities on tax day, which may be a attributed to the general distraction and irritability associated with stress.
Breaking through procrastination
"The hardest part of conquering procrastination is overcoming your emotional resistance," says Dr. Wallin. "If you can commit to working on your taxes for just 15 minutes, you'll likely break through your anxiety, and it will be so much easier to continue."
The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers additional tips for avoiding the stress of procrastination, for taxes and other unpleasant tasks.
- Set a 15-minute period of time when you will work on your task. Treat it as a non-negotiable appointment with yourself. That is, you will do it regardless of how you feel.
- Expect some initial discomfort, but know it will probably lessen within a few minutes of getting started.
- Say, "I will do it," not "I have to do it." (Notice how much stronger you feel when you say "I will.")
- Break your project into smaller tasks and make a list of them. Pick any task - you don't need to go in order - and cross it off your list. Do the same with the other items. As your list gets smaller you will become more motivated to finish.
- File for a six-month extension only as a last resort. The job isn't going to be any easier next October, so you might as well get it over with now.
To learn more about behavioral health, managing stress and emotional well-being, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's website, www.papsy.org, or the American Psychological Association's Consumer Help Center at www.APAhelpcenter.org.
The Pennsylvania Psychological Association is a member-driven organization dedicated to promoting and advancing psychology in Pennsylvania, advocating for public access to psychological services, and enhancing multiple dimensions of human welfare while supporting the development of competent and ethical psychologists. Our mission is to educate, update and inform the public and our membership on cutting-edge psychological theory and practice through training activities and public policy initiatives.
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