Accountants and Anxiety
While stress and overwhelm have always been the norm in the accounting profession, I think it’s important to address this issue from a fresh perspective.
First, consider the following questions:
Have you ever felt overwhelmed or anxious in your role as an accountant?
Have you or your colleagues ever felt pressure to conform to certain expectations or norms within the accounting profession?
How do you personally manage stress and anxiety in your professional and personal life?
The truth is that no matter how much we’ve normalized stress and anxiety in our lives, mental health is a vital aspect of our well-being, and in the accounting profession, it’s a challenge that needs attention.
Each October, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Health, takes the lead in shedding light on mental health issues. Its mission is spreading awareness, fighting stigmas, and providing support across the nation.
So why does this matter for accountants? Because mental health issues are more common than we might think, especially among accountants.
Let’s face it, accounting is a profession with unique pressures, and I’m here to explore the impact these challenges have on our mental well-being.
In fact, In one study, 30.4% of accountants admitted to suffering from mental health issues and 51% admitted that depression and anxiety leaves them dreading going to work. When you add the anxiety accountants feel in our professional life to the pressure we feel in our personal lives, you have a recipe for disaster for accountants that is often suffered in silence.
While studies like this are important for shining a light on issues, it’s also important to point out that the 30.4% of the accountants were willing to admit they suffer from mental health issues. I’m going to bet there was a high percentage that either didn’t want to admit it, or had normalized or justified it so often that it doesn’t seem like a problem.
When you add the pressure of the work we do as accountants to the natural skepticism and resistance that we have towards change, it’s no wonder we’re having so many issues.
As we navigate through this discussion, keep in mind the efforts of organizations like NAMI to address mental health concerns and support those going through them. Together, let’s uncover the layers of accountants and anxiety, understanding the intricacies that make it a prevalent topic in the accounting profession.
Mental health is a topic gaining recognition globally, and NAMI’s October initiatives are crucial in breaking down barriers and fostering a supportive environment. The accounting profession, despite its often-stoic image, is not immune to the challenges of mental health.
This episode aims to peel back the layers of why anxiety is a prevalent concern among accountants. From demanding work schedules to societal expectations, I’ll be exploring the factors contributing to this issue.
By shedding light on these challenges, I hope to contribute to a more open conversation about mental health in the accounting profession.
Anxiety is like a built-in alarm system in your body that’s designed to keep you safe. It’s a natural response, just like feeling scared when you sense danger.
In simple terms, your brain is trying to protect you, and anxiety is its way of saying, “Hey, be alert, something might be up!”
But what is it that sets off this alarm for accountants? It turns out, the world of accounting has its own set of stress triggers.
It could be a looming tax deadline, a surprise audit, or even a delayed train. These situations make your brain react as if you’re facing a real threat, similar to how our ancestors felt a saber toothed tiger was waiting outside their cave to pounce on them.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The way we are trained as accountants plays a role in how our anxiety levels can shoot up. Think of it like this: from the time you started learning accounting, your brain has been wired to think in very specific ways.
These thinking patterns, while great for solving accounting problems, can sometimes make your brain see problems where there aren’t any. The constant exposure to problem-solving situations in the accounting profession, combined with these thinking habits, can make anxiety a regular companion for accountants.
That’s why there’s no shame in the fact that you experience anxiety as an accountant; over time, your brain has become wired for it.
The Overworking Dilemma
So how do accountants tend to deal with anxiety? Ironically, we often find ourselves caught in a cycle of working extra hours, as if we’re using work as a way to cope with stress.
Overworking to deal with anxiety is like self-medicating – we believe the idea that putting in more hours somehow helps manage the anxiety that comes with the demands of the accounting profession.
The catch-22 is that when the strategy to combat anxiety involves relentless overworking, it often results in burnout. Burnout is like hitting a wall – you find yourself physically and mentally drained, with the very work you thought was a solution becoming a source of exhaustion.
This unhealthy relationship can silently creep into your professional life, affecting your overall well-being in ways that might not be immediately apparent.
The issue for a lot of us is that the accounting environment is like a pressure cooker. There’s this constant external pressure to excel – to do more, learn more, and be more.
It’s not just about balancing debits and credits; it’s about meeting expectations, adhering to deadlines, and keeping pace with the ever-evolving landscape of rules and regulations.
This relentless atmosphere can turn the workplace into a hotbed for stress. The external pressures, combined with the innate complexity of accounting tasks, can lead to burnout and exacerbate anxiety levels.
Fitting Into The “Accountant Mold”
Now let’s talk about the concept of the “accountant mold.” It’s essentially an invisible set of expectations and norms that society, and sometimes even ourselves, place on accountants.
This pressure to conform to a specific image can give rise to imposter syndrome. It’s that lingering feeling that, despite external recognition, you might not be as competent as others perceive you to be.
Trying to fit into this predefined mold can lead to self-doubt, creating a sense of being an imposter in your own professional life, adding another layer of anxiety.
For example, you might downplay your achievements. Let’s say you successfully completed a challenging project at work, but instead of celebrating your accomplishment, you attribute it to luck or external factors, dismissing your own competence.
Or maybe you focus excessively on errors or perceived shortcomings, often overlooking the numerous successes you’ve achieved in your career. I’ve seen this time and time again with my coaching clients, especially around year-end review time.
Another issue that is common among accountants and can create a lot of anxiety is catastrophizing. Catastrophizing involves blowing things out of proportion, transforming simple situations into major disasters.
With catastrophizing, your brain automatically leads to negative conclusions. For example, you might leap to conclusions such as the client being dissatisfied, the possibility of them terminating your services, and the looming blame from your boss.
It’s a mental magnification of issues that can needlessly intensify anxiety.
Here’s the thing – we are taught to be on the perpetual search for inconsistencies and problems, therefore, seeing problems becomes second nature for us. Unfortunately, this continuous problem-solving, while crucial for the job, also has a tendency to spill over into our personal life, making it challenging to switch off from the analytical mindset.
The consequence? Elevated stress levels, as the brain is persistently engaged in identifying and addressing potential problems, whether they are genuine concerns or mere figments of imagination.
Being surrounded by other people’s problems trains your accountant’s brain to actually see more problems. Since your brain is already a problem-solving machine, when you add that capability to the accounting profession’s pressures and expectations it’s no wonder over 50% of accountants feel anxiety and overwhelm.
The good news is that you can use your accountant’s brain and its critical abilities to actually reverse your anxiety and feel better fast.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant: Practical Steps for Anxiety Management
The first step for managing anxiety is you have to become aware that you’re feeling anxiety. It might sound too simple, but it’s incredibly important.
You want to begin to imagine anxiety as a little signal your body sends when it senses something isn’t quite right. It’s like a gentle nudge saying, “Hey, pay attention to this!”
The first crucial step in managing anxiety is to become aware of its presence. It’s like turning on the lights in a dark room – by acknowledging and understanding that anxiety is there, you set the stage for change.
Without this awareness, it’s challenging to navigate the maze of emotions. Becoming aware is like creating a roadmap; you see what’s going on and can start to figure out where to go next.
The second step is to normalize the feeling of anxiety and allow it. Don’t make yourself wrong for feeling it; it’s part of the human experience.
Rather than viewing anxiety as an unwelcome intruder, consider it as a friend offering a helpful signal. By normalizing anxiety, you’re acknowledging that it’s okay to feel this way.
It’s similar to accepting that, just like hunger or tiredness, anxiety is a regular part of life. This shift in perspective takes some of the power away from anxiety, transforming it from a enemy into a manageable companion.
The third step is to manage your mind by putting pen to paper. Writing down your thoughts is like putting order to chaos.
It’s the process of externalizing what’s happening inside your mind, making it tangible and more manageable. By physically writing, you shift your focus from the abstract realm of thoughts to the concrete act of putting them on paper.
This act of mind management allows you to step back, observe your thoughts, and gain valuable insights. It’s like taking control of the narrative of your own mind.
And the last step is to take a look at each of the thoughts you’ve written down that are creating the feeling of anxiety and you want to ask yourself a powerful question “Can the opposite of this thought be as true or truer?”
For example, let’s say one of the thoughts you wrote down is “I’m never going to get this finished on time.” When you think that thought you naturally feel anxiety.
Now I want you to question that thought and see if the opposite is true or truer.
Instead of “I’m never going to get this finished on time” the opposite thought could be “I can get this finished on time” or “It’s possible that I can get this finished on time.” Now how do those thoughts make you feel?
I’m going to bet you feel less anxious because it’s only ever your thoughts that create your feelings. If a Smarter Accountant wants to feel less anxiety, they know they have to create more awareness of what their negatively biased brain is thinking and challenge it with the opposite thought.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant means becoming aware, normalizing, engaging in the act of writing, and then shifting your thoughts to manage anxiety. These simple yet powerful steps form a mini toolkit for taking conscious control of your mind and, in turn, supporting your overall well-being.
Well, that’s what I have for you. Thank you for joining me as I discussed accountants and anxiety. I hope you’ve gained valuable insights and practical tools.
If you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.