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Mental health is an important topic any time of year – especially considering the strain and isolation so many of us have felt as a result of the pandemic.

Mental health in the accounting industry is both a very serious concern (with 98% of accountants stressed – even before the coronavirus outbreak) and possibly one of the industries with the most resistance to receiving support for it.

For example, when discussing a caba survey, mental health expert Kirsty Lilley explained that “Vast numbers of accountants aren’t using the mental health support that’s currently on offer. Some are even worried about how their employers would respond to hearing that they’re struggling.” This suggests a misalignment between the support services that are on offer, and the culture that you experience on the ground.

The kind of pressure has ripple effects too. Your family and friends feel it, creating long-term rupture to important relationships. Your body takes a beating with high doses of stress, limited sleep, and surviving on take-aways (especially during tax season). All this puts you at risk for burnout and illness, and frankly, they limit your ability to do your job well too.

But short of quitting, selling everything, and starting a new life in Bali, what else can you do?

Here are 5 tips you can use to create more headspace:

1.   Admit that you have a problem

This may not be an AA meeting, but in some instances, it may as well be. After years of living with stress and anxiety, it can be difficult to tell when the stress you’re dealing with is abnormal. After all, for many of us, a bit of pressure is exciting, but it’s important to know where the line is.

Luckily, there are symptom checkers that can guide you, explaining what too much stress can feel like, how it can present itself in your body, and how it can make you behave.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, it’s a lot easier to find solutions that work for you, whether it’s changing your lifestyle, chatting to a professional, medication, or even alternative therapies, like acupuncture or hypnotherapy. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it – the sooner you address it, the easier it’ll be to manage.

2.   Find and hold your boundaries

Often, you can feel stressed because you just don’t know where your boundaries are. You don’t know when to say no, you struggle to know when it’s okay to stop working, and you feel guilty about taking time for yourself. This often bleeds into many areas of your working life, like:

  • Working way more than the standard 40 hours a week,
  • Taking on more clients when you’re already at capacity,
  • Doing everything yourself rather than delegating, and
  • Not saying no when you already feel like you’re drowning.

To address this, sometimes it helps to set rules for yourself – like never working beyond an additional hour or two per day or limiting your working hours over the weekend (or not working at all). You can also free some of your time by automating repetitive tasks with cloud accounting software.

It also helps to delegate. We know how seriously you take your work, so we realise it can be hard to delegate to less-experienced professionals – especially since it takes time to train them up and there may be teething issues on the way. While it may feel like an uphill climb in the beginning, the relief you’ll feel in the long run is worth it.

Lastly, you may not know this, but you don’t have to take on every client that wants your services. Be discerning about what you have capacity for and the kind of clients that you don’t mind squeezing in. When someone with a box full of receipts walks in when you’re already working 10-hour days, refer them to someone else.

3.   Plan out your working hours

You know what helps to reduce stress? Not ‘carrying’ all your tasks in your head all the time. One of the best ways to do this is to write them down, either in a traditional to-do list or using clever digital versions, like Monday.com or Asana. When everything is written down, you’ll have headspace to think without fear of forgetting something.

If you want to give yourself even more peace of mind, plan your week in advance every Friday. Allocate time for regular tasks, like checking emails, taking phone calls, and having meetings. Then allocate hours to all the tasks you know will need to be addressed during the week. You can even schedule a ‘no-meeting day’ once a week to give yourself at least one day of uninterrupted focus time. Encourage others in your practice to do this too.

4.   Make time for your health

This one isn’t rocket science. You know that eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly is important to keeping yourself strong mentally and physically. But when you sit at a desk all day doing the work that you do, moving your body and cooking a healthy meal isn’t always appealing. After all, you need to rest!

We get it. It’s a juggle trying to be super-you. And sometimes you just can’t juggle all those balls at once. Something’s got to give. But think about it this way: does it always have to be you, your peace of mind, your family, and your wellbeing that gives? The answer is no.

And anyway, you’re a far more productive and pleasant accountant when you’re not drowning. So, looking after your health is a win for everyone.

5.   Make space for you in your life

So much of your life is spent working and getting things done. How much of your life is actually yours? You need to give yourself more room for you.

Start by committing to at least five minutes a day doing something that feels good just for you. It can be anything. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what feels best. The things you resist the most (like regular exercise, writing in a journal, dancing, or art) can often leave you feeling better than you have in years. .

Your wellbeing is your responsibility

If your mental health is a concern for you, do something about it. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can. Things like this seldom resolve themselves on their own and nor would you want them to – especially when a far more enjoyable (and productive) way of living is possible instead.

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