Advice & Best Practice

An accountants guide to managing work-related stress

A certain amount of pressure in our lives can be a good thing. It can push us to react quicker to tasks, encouraging us to act rather than procrastinate. In this way, pressure can help us to achieve our goals – both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

Accountancy is a fast-paced industry which can naturally cause employees to experience feelings of pressure from day to day. However, too much pressure can contribute towards unhealthy levels of stress. Research by CABA, the charity supporting the wellbeing of chartered accountants and their families, found that 31% of chartered accountants feel stressed on a daily basis, while only 2% stated they were unaffected by stress.

Ongoing stress can impact your health and overall wellbeing. Recent research by the charity found that almost half of workers are close to breaking point, so it’s crucial we know how to identify and understand these feelings early on. Working out what triggers our stress is a step in the right direction to learning how to manage these emotions. While we often can’t avoid these situations, we can approach them feeling prepared.

Deadlines and exams are both stress triggers which can play on our minds and cause us additional pressure. Whether we’re feeling stressed because of our workload or our personal life, there are several things we can do to try to make sure coming to work is not a stressful experience. In this article, the experts from CABA share their advice on managing these career-related stress triggers.

Deadlines

Whether you’re a student trying to juggle exam revision with your normal workload or an experienced accountant at a busy firm, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt as though there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Tight deadlines can be an extreme source of stress for some people. But there are practical things you can do to help you stay calm and focused.

  1. Prioritise: Write a list of the things you need to do and put them in order of importance. Start by working on the most urgent and important task first. If you’re unsure, ask your manager to help identify what your priorities should be
  2. Be assertive: Don’t be afraid to say no or push back on new requests until you have more time
  3. Don’t put things off: To help avoid procrastination, try setting deadlines for the tasks on your to-do list. If you’re avoiding a particular job divide it into smaller chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to maintain focus and motivation
  4. Know your best time: We all have a part of the day when we’re naturally energised and focussed. For some it’s first thing, for others it may be later in the day. Use this to your advantage so that you can complete more taxing and time consuming tasks when you’re feeling focussed and alert
  5. Take a break: When you’re up against strict deadlines it’s tempting to try to work through the day. But taking time out can actually boost your focus and productivity. Go for a quick walk to boost blood circulation to your brain, or take a short break to eat a balanced lunch or snack. Not only is this good for your physical wellbeing, but it is also good for your mental wellbeing. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well

Exams

With exam season just around the corner for some of you, it can be easy to feel worried that you’re not spending enough time on your studies, or feel that you’ll never be able to remember everything you need. Exams can be very stressful, particularly if your job depends on you passing.

  1. Get organised: Don’t leave your revision until the last minute. Planning ahead and spreading out your revision will mean that you’ll have time to revisit anything you need to
  2. Sleep tight: Establishing a good sleep pattern in the run up to your exams will mean that you’re refreshed and better able to retain the information you need
  3. Remember to relax: Practicing breathing exercises or trying a quick 10-minute meditation can help calm your nerves and keep you focussed
  4. Tune in: Listening to classical music when you’re working or studying has been shown to improve focus and attention and also helps to elevate your mood
  5. Take some alone time: During the exam period tensions can run high, so it may be best for you to enjoy some alone time. The breathing techniques and yoga exercises can offer an excellent way to soothe the body and mind. Regularly practicing yoga has been linked to increased memory and focus, making it an excellent way to combat stress.
  6. Start a rewards fund: Rewards don’t have to wait until after exams and it may be time to recognise your hard work. By starting a rewards fund – which you can generate by adding money each time you hit a target – you can purchase ‘small pleasures’ to keep motivation and morale high.

Keeping stress at bay

Establishing the triggers that are causing feelings of stress will help you to determine the best strategy that will help ease feelings before they become overwhelming. If it’s your increasing workload, taking a breather away from your desk may help. If it’s rising conflict with a colleague or employer, carving time out for yourself will help you put things in perspective.

  1. Be active: If you’re feeling stressed, physical activity can help to clear your mind, so that you can identify the cause of your stress and deal with your problems more calmly.
  2. Make connections: A problem shared is a problem halved. Having a good support network is a cornerstone of wellbeing in times of stress.
  3. Make some ‘me time’: Carving out some time for yourself is essential. Try to set aside some time at least a couple of nights a week for socialising, relaxation or exercise.
  4. Be positive: Try to be ‘glass half full’ instead of ‘glass half empty’. Start by writing down 3 things at the end of each day that went well, or that you’re grateful for. You should find it helps you to look at your situation from a more positive viewpoint.
  5. Stick to your office hours: The key to finding this balance is the setting of strict boundaries between work and home life. If you can, try to leave your work phone and laptop at work or set yourself a curfew for checking them when you get home. This will help you to properly relax and unwind at the end of each day and give you more time to spend with friends and family or on hobbies and passions outside of work.
  6. Talk: it’s vital for your own mental wellbeing that you open up to your support network and talk about your thoughts and feelings.

Final words of wisdom

We will never eradicate stress, it’s inevitable and can come out of the blue at any moment. But having these helpful tips to hand will ensure that if and when it does begin to build, we can work to relieve these feelings.

Contributed by CABA, the charity supporting chartered accountants’ wellbeing

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