Does your “To Do” list look anything like mine? Sandwiched between get groceries and take kids to practice is one little word that’s got me stress-eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and avoiding my desk at all costs:
I even use a CPA now so it’s not as if I have to go it alone. But every year, the process makes my heart rate go up, my throat tighten, and my mind play the “what if” game. You know that game, right?
What if I can’t find all the forms?
What if we owe a bunch?
What if I omit something, and we get audited?
What if the IRS shows up and drags me from my house kicking and screaming?
OK, I know that last one probably won’t happen, but late at night, I can escalate to Code Red Threat Level 10 anxiety thinking like the champion worrier that I am. You think I’m kidding, but I had to google “What happens if I make a mistake on my taxes?” to make me feel better since evidently, in my mind, tax man=bogey man.
This year, though, I’m using new thinking strategies from counseling to help with anxiety, whether over taxes or anything else, and they are a game-changer.
Do taxes trigger your anxiety, too? Or maybe the project at work has you at Code Red Threat Level 10? Perhaps you’re not prone to depression and anxiety like me, but you’re in a stress season that’s got you biting your nails and worrying about the future.
My guess is you can relate–I’ve never met anyone who didn’t stress out at some point. So I’m going to share my tax-freakout thought-cycle from earlier this week along with a strategy to soothe and redirect my thinking from Threat Level 10 to somewhere around Level 2. (Enough concern to keep me motivated but not enough to hijack my day.)
One of the biggest changes I’m practicing is a new way of looking at anxious thoughts. I’ve learned three words to say when an anxious thought bubbles up:
Bring it on.
I can’t tell you how many years I’ve spent trying NOT to think about the things that stress me out. I incorrectly believed faith meant I should simply “stop worrying and trust God.” When pushing fearful and worrisome thoughts from my mind didn’t come easily, I also added anxiety ABOUT my anxiety to the mix.
But did you know that learning to work though worries is something that has to be learned and practiced just like anything else?
For some, that comes easy in the same way that certain talents or abilities do. For those of us predisposed to anxiety, we can give ourselves grace, time, and tools (which may even include counseling and medication) to address worry and panic just as we would any other obstacle to our well-being.
For me, learning to say “Bring it on” to my anxious thoughts means I examine them without condemnation or shame and evaluate them in the light of truth. Counselors may call this evidence-based thinking and mindfulness, but it’s also the ancient process I see played out in places like the Psalms, where David honestly lays out his thoughts and emotions. (See last week’s “Searching Prayer” based on Psalm 139 for a great example.)
Let’s look at one of my late-night, tax-related anxieties in light of a “Bring it on” mentality. As the first “what if” anxiety creeps in, I start to ask a series of non-condemning, open-ended questions to help me examine my thinking:
Ugh. I still haven’t started the taxes. I don’t even want to think about them. What if I can’t find all the forms?
OK, what would happen if you don’t find the forms?
I won’t have the right amounts to input and I’ll be wrong on what I owe.
What do you think would happen then? What are you most afraid will happen?
I’ll get audited and in trouble with the IRS and they will make me pay a fine or something worse that I don’t even know about.
How many times have you done taxes now and has that ever happened?
22 years and no, I’ve always found all the materials I needed even if I had to hunt around or contact my bank or something.
So how likely is it that you will make a mistake and get audited this year?
Probably like less than 1% chance.
Even if you do make a mistake, who do you know that could help you?
I could talk to my accountant or some of my friends in finance. They would help me. I wouldn’t have to face this alone.
As I think through my anxious thought, my stress level drops. I’m neither shoving my concern aside nor telling myself to just stop worrying. I’m rooting out fearful thinking and replacing it with evidence-based thinking.
The evidence–my past track-record, a network of financial-savvy friends, and even the article I googled to debunk my view of the IRS as a monster under the bed–helps me avoid blowing things out of proportion or jumping to conclusions.
However, the process also uncovers two primal fears at the heart of a lot of my anxiety: fear of the unknown and fear of facing that unknown all alone. That’s where evidence of another sort comes into play: evidence of God’s faithful track-record and abiding presence.
Psalm 94:19 says, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” That means I can ask myself a few more questions.
Even if none of your friends could help you and you were all alone, who else is with you in this?
My Father God.
What does He say about being with you? What does He say about giving you the wisdom you need?