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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Tax Day: Overcoming Stress

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 15th 2009

piggy bankHere we are again, like every year. It's tax day and with that for many people that means heightened stress around getting everything prepared to get in and send out. Tough economic times make it hard for some to pay their tax bills. When thinking of money owed, your mind can drift off to worries about a dwindling bank account, falling investments, and the general state of the economy. People will gather around the water cooler at work and start sharing war stories and catastrophic projections about what may be coming. Before you know it, while at work, it's almost impossible to focus on the work that needs to get done and easier to surf the internet and pick up unimportant calls and sift through emails.

It's really amazing how easily this can happen to us. Our overwhelming fears and worries about future get kicked into auto-pilot and create a state of mind where it is difficult to function. We become scattered and unfocused and therefore less able to handle the challenging tasks in front of us.  We may even become less effective at work and home leading to errors that have consequences. Then you might say, "I knew things were spiraling down."  In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you are feeling like things in life are spiraling down in connection with worries and fears around money and the economy, what can help is cultivating the ability to come out of the future and become more present. From this place we can begin to take stock of what we do have control over and what we don't have control over.

So when you find yourself getting overwhelmed, see if you can bring your attention to the sensations in the bottom of your feet on the ground. Noticing tingling, warmth, coolness, itchiness, whatever is there. Be aware of sensations from the bones, to the muscles, to the skin of the feet. The purpose of focusing on the feet is to become present and get some distance from your overburdened mind.  

When you feel yourself becoming present and a bit calmer, then ask yourself, "what do I have control over and what don't I have control over?" Make a list side by side. The things you do have control over, begin to make baby steps to work with those. Things you don't have control over, understand that is not your focus right now and redirect your attention to working on the things you do have control over. This is a fundamental key to stress reduction. We often increase our stress by worrying about things that we have no control over and can't do anything about. The more you can learn how to come down from your worrying mind into the present moment and understand what you do and don't have control over, the more calm and effective you can be in day to day life.  

Try this exercise and see how it works for you and as always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Great advice! - kaudio - Apr 16th 2009

I learned a similar process to what is described in the article from Getting Things Done, by David Allen. The book encourages the reader to process all of the things he wants to do by answering two questions in advance: What is the goal or outcome desired? What is the next action to bring the goal or outcome closer to completion? In theory, by processing all of one's tasks in this way, the reader will be able to trust in his or her choices regarding what to do at any given time, and that all of the tasks are properly captured in lists for future reference. Regarding the first question, from personal experience I find that thinking about a goal or outcome can sometimes also lead to a vague, gnawing sense of anxiety. Before I read Allen's book, I was constantly rushing from task to task mainly out of fear of the consequences for not completing them. I suppose I lived in the so-called “squirrel's cage” Allen mentions in the book. I thought if I somehow focused more intensely or thought harder I could keep working through my tasks. But, this approach did not work very well. After steady efforts in following the GTD process, if I focus on just doing the next action, I can ease this anxiety in a noticeable way. Also, I have occasionally focused on my senses to become present, but only while I am driving. I will have to apply this suggestion of yours in other contexts more consistently from now on.

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