Managing your mental health in a crisis

Lucy Cohen, co-founder of Mazuma, on how accountants can best manage their mental health

According to the World Health Organisation, mental ill-health will be the biggest burden of disease for developed countries in the next decade, and there is no doubt that the pandemic has played an instrumental part in the acceleration of this.

No one has been untouched by the strains and stressed of the past year, including accountants and finance specialists. Day in and day out, firms have had to manage their clients’ heartbreak, redundancies, insolvencies and sheer hopelessness as many businesses, especially SMEs, succumbed to the financial pressures the impact of the coronavirus has presented. 

While our jobs as accountants is to find viable options for our clients to help their businesses, it can be easy to overlook our own mental health and wellbeing. In this incredibly volatile time, the strenuous burden of managing other people’s worries as well as your own may all feel too much at times. 

According to the ICAEW, 32% of accountants currently feel stressed in their day-to-day lives, with nearly a quarter having to take time off because of stress. Additionally, nearly half of accountants have considered handing in their notice due to a decline in mental wellbeing, with one in seven doing so. 

So, how can we help battle this mental health crisis in the accountancy sector?

Mental Health First Aid

Whether you are a leader of a large firm or a sole trader, undertaking Mental Health First Aid is an invaluable tool during the current pandemic and beyond. The training will help you to spot the decline in mental health of your colleagues, friends and yourself and give you clear, concise guidance on how and when to act. 

Stamp out the stigma

Despite the numerous conversations that are taking place in our society around mental health and wellbeing, there still seems to be an overhanging shadow of stigma around admitting you are struggling and seeking help. As an employer, it’s time to lead by example and ensure open and honest conversations are had around mental health, as well as making employees feel safe and encouraged to come to you for support and guidance if need be.

Learn to say no

Currently, a large percentage of the population are working from home and as a result, employees and employers are working longer hours, taking fewer breaks and handling a lot more work than they would usually. Not only does this incessant working regime put standards of work at risk of slipping, but it is also leading to burn out.

If things are getting too much, it’s okay to say no to certain tasks. Understandably, in this volatile market it can be very nerve-wrecking to turn away work or risk upsetting your boss however, it’s better to have a manageable workload done to the best of your ability, than an overwhelming to-do list that is only half finished. 

Take proper breaks

However trivial it may seem, the benefits that can be reaped from leaving your computer alone for an hour a day in favour of nutritious food and fresh air are invaluable. This goes for your mobile phone, too. How many of us are guilty of leaving our laptops, closing the office door and immediately firing up our mobile phone? The absence of blue light and work-related worries for just an hour a day gives your mind and body time to rest and reset, which is crucial for your wellbeing. 

Set clear boundaries

Because of the immediacy of technology, it’s easy  to only be an arm’s length away from your email inbox or work WhatsApp group which, in turn, makes it easy to just have a ‘quick look’ at what’s going on once we’ve logged off for the day. This ‘quick look’ turns into an extra hour of work, which over the week, could equate to nearly and extra day of work. 

When you log off for the evening, be sure to set you out of office on so your contacts know that you will reply to their message the following day. Where possible, turn off notifications so you aren’t bombarded with non-urgent messages from work and set a limit to the number of hours you do in a day. 

Turn it off

An excessive intake of blue light from screens and mobile phones has been linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, not forgetting to mention that it really plays around with our circadian rhythms which can seriously impact the quality of our sleep. 

Practicing good sleep hygiene is key, especially now. Turning all technology off at least an hour before bed is crucial, instead opting for a book or magazine to calm and rest the body and brain. By doing this, you stimulate a healthy sleep pattern of light, deep and REM sleep which will boost your productivity and happiness during waking hours. 

We still have a long way to go in our battle against mental ill-health but, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to look out for those around us and work hard to keep each other safe and well in times of crisis and beyond. 

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