Spring is here and the usual severe desert landscape in the Phoenix area becomes suddenly beautiful for a brief couple of weeks.
Entire hillsides are transformed with desert wildflowers — purple lupine, yellow bells – and the red desert paintbrush competes with the wildflowers for both space and glory.
But there are rattlesnakes that live beneath the desert flowers, providing a reminder that not everything associated with the arrival of spring is a good thing.
Rattlesnakes, like taxes, must be contended with each spring. Given my choice between taxes and rattlesnakes, I would pick the rattlesnakes. I know how to avoid getting snake bit.
Tax time is a “special time” in many marriages. The No. 1 cause of marital strife in America is boredom; and a close second is money stress. Tax time is definitely not boring, so home life can be very interesting.
I think few of us would argue that taxes are sort of the scorpion in the smooth balm of springtime. It is one of the more stressful times of the year.
Stress is an insidious cause for a number of serious health issues. Stress can give you the chance to try on a Type A personality for size. Most of us recognize that headaches, indigestion and insomnia can be related to stress, among other causes.
Many patients have looked for medical help, thinking they were sick. And more than a few medical providers have “barked up the wrong diagnostic tree” before figuring out these were stress-induced symptoms.
But stress doesn’t stop with these fairly obvious symptoms, it smolders along much deeper. Stress increases your blood pressure and that puts a strain on your heart. Stress also triggers some coping strategies that can further abuse the blood vessels.
Nicotine has tranquilizer properties (among less desirable characteristics), and smoking is common in stressed people. Stress eating is also a known phenomenon, and fresh steamed broccoli is usually not the preferred comfort food! Put these together and you get stress-induced heart attacks.
Many diseases and conditions are worsened by stress. Diabetes is harder to manage because stress hormones raise the blood sugar. Stress won’t give you an ulcer, but it will worsen any digestive problems you came in with.
Depression, anxiety and most mental illness are seriously worsened by stress. Even Alzheimer’s disease can be accelerated by stress.
If that isn’t enough, stress is believed to accelerate aging (now we’re paying attention). Genetic studies compared telomere length in stressed vs. unstressed people, and stressed individuals looked older genetically (shorter telomeres).
What do we do about this, besides getting motivated to do our darn taxes?
Spend some time quietly contemplating those wildflowers instead of focusing on the rattlesnakes. You can almost feel your blood pressure drop. Keep in mind you can always get an extension on your taxes, but not on the wildflowers.
Exercise away some of that edginess. Stress can literally be sweated out with some hard, physical activity.
Get some reality education to chase those stressors away. Note that the audit rate for the vast majority of taxpayers is below 1 percent. And most of us don’t have the income or the brains to figure out big tax hedges, so an audit won’t bankrupt you. And very few normal taxpayers end up in jail for long (now that’s a reassuring thought!).
But if all else fails, consider every symptom you have, a result of Tax Time stress, and a holiday in Tahiti would be just the cure.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Photos courtesy of Szucs Laszlo via Unsplash (clock on bench) and 401(k) 2012 via Flickr (calculator and tax forms).