The Accountant’s Guide To Stress Reduction
Welcome back to the Smarter Accountant Podcast. So, what’s the deal with accountants and stress? Why are we so stressed and on the brink of burnout so often?
Well thankfully, stress and overwhelm are some of my favorite topics to discuss. When I’m doing a presentation or talking one on one with accountants and I ask them to tell me the last time they felt stressed, it’s typically within the past 24 hours (if not 15 minutes ago!).
We all know that accounting is a demanding and complicated profession that often comes with high levels of stress and overwhelm. Whether you’re in public or private accounting, we frequently find ourselves working long hours, particularly during tax seasons and various year-round closing periods.
But in recent times, it seems like we’re experiencing more stress than ever with the pandemic creating unprecedented challenges and uncertainties for accountants. The sudden shift to remote work, the economic impact on businesses and individuals, and the ever-changing government support programs have added additional layers of complexity to our already demanding roles.
The problem is that, if we’re not careful, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, impaired decision-making, and increased susceptibility to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Recognizing the significance of addressing stress in the accounting profession is essential not only for the well-being of individual accountants but also for the overall productivity and success of our industry.
That’s why in this episode, I want to teach you about the brain and its role in how and why we feel stress. I’ll also share some tips on how to manage stress and make it easier for you to handle all the challenges you face.
Once I learned what I’m going to share with you, I not only began to decrease my stress, but I was able to eliminate stress during tax season. Yes, you heard me correctly – I am a CPA in public accounting, I have some of the biggest and complicated tax returns in the office, and I do not experience stress during tax season.
How is that possible? Let me explain what every accountant needs to know but no one is teaching you.
Where stress comes from
I asked the Smarter Accountant community what they wanted me to talk about on this podcast, and stress was the most popular topic. Many accountants are feeling stressed and overwhelmed on a daily basis.
Just like you, I used to think that things like the job itself, the IRS, clients, the pandemic, and deadlines were causing my stress. I’ve been through decades of tax seasons, so it felt like the stress would never end.
But I’ve since learned that those things are not the real causes of stress. The true cause of stress is our lower, primitive brain.
This part of our brain has been with us since humans lived in caves, and it’s responsible for keeping us safe from danger. It makes us alert and tells us when to run or stay still.
For example, it’s the part of our brain that makes us feel urgent and check emails even when we’re not supposed to or makes us feel overwhelmed when we have a long to-do list. Our primitive brain is always on high alert, looking for threats.
The problem is that our primitive brain sees many things as threats now, even though they’re not life-threatening. It gets triggered by things like work emails, notifications, and deadlines.
This triggers a stress response in our body, preparing us to fight or run away. Our heart beats faster, and our body gets ready for action.
But it’s important to understand that it’s not the actual work or deadlines causing the stress. It’s our primitive brain perceiving them as threats and setting off our body’s stress response. Our brain reacts as if we’re being chased by a lion.
Unfortunately, as accountants, we’re often told that stress is normal because of our work and deadlines, but that’s not true. We need to learn how to use our higher brain, the executive functioning part, to communicate with and manage our primitive brain. We need to find a way to turn off the stress response.
Changing jobs or circumstances won’t solve the problem because wherever we go, our brain goes with us. The key is to understand that more work doesn’t mean more stress. The only thing causing stress is our lower, primitive brain thinking there’s danger everywhere.
If you want to reduce stress and be more productive, you need to learn how to be aware of and manage your lower brain.
The importance of brain management
Managing your brain is super important, especially for accountants dealing with stress and overwhelm.
Brain management means figuring out how to stop your brain from creating the feeling of stress and overwhelm. In my coaching program, I teach my clients a simple but powerful formula called The Model.
It helps them understand what their lower, primitive brain is doing and how their higher, executive functioning brain can take charge. The great thing about learning this formula is that once you know how your brain works and how to manage it, you can significantly reduce your stress and overwhelm.
When you’re able to control your brain better, you become a much Smarter Accountant. Stay tuned for future episodes where I’ll share more about The Model and how it can help you, but for now, just know that there is a simple but powerful formula that will help..
The truth is that when you can take charge of your brain more often, that’s when you can become a much Smarter Accountant.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant
While it’s normal for accountants to feel stressed and overwhelmed, it’s not because of things like deadlines or a long to-do list. The feelings of stress and overwhelm are actually caused by our brain’s interpretation of those circumstances.
We have a lower part of our brain that I call “The Toddler,” and it’s in control of our lives 80 – 90% of the time without us even realizing it. Because of this lower, Toddler part of our brain being in charge most of the time, it can make our lives feel out of control.
But here’s the good news: you don’t have to let the Toddler run your life. You have a higher, executive functioning part of your brain I call the “Supervising Parent,” and you can learn to use it more often and intentionally.
The most important thing to understand from this episode is that stress and overwhelm are actually optional. How? Because they are feelings, and feelings are only ever caused by our thoughts, not the circumstances around us.
Many of us believe that our circumstances, like tax season or a busy schedule, are what makes us feel stressed. But that’s not true. It’s actually our thoughts about those circumstances that create the feelings of stress and overwhelm.
For example, let’s say it’s April 1st and the tax deadline is approaching. A typical accountant might think, “There’s too much to do,” and automatically feel stressed. This leads to unproductive actions like spinning in confusion about what to do next, procrastination, and snapping at people.
But a Smarter Accountant can choose to think a different thought, like “Just one thing at a time,” which creates a feeling of focus. With this feeling, they can make a plan, use their time wisely, and take productive actions to make tax season easier.
The key is to be aware of the thoughts creating the feeling of stress and intentionally choose ones that create better feelings and results. Stress is not caused by the circumstances themselves, but by our thoughts about the circumstances
Becoming a Smarter Accountant means understanding that your feelings are optional. You don’t need anything to change in your circumstances to feel better and get better results. You can choose how you want to feel, even during deadlines.
It’s important to understand that we have over 60,000 thoughts a day creating a lot of feelings like stress and overwhelm. You need to become more aware of some of those thoughts so that you can use your higher brain to reduce stress and overwhelm.
Remember, stress is always caused by a thought from our primitive brain. And you have the power to choose better thoughts and feelings. Every single time.
My 3 secrets for having a stress-free day or a stress-free tax season
If it seems impossible to have a stress-free day or a stress-free busy season, I’m here to honestly tell you it’s not. Your resistance to the idea and your doubt is perfectly normal because you’ve probably never allowed yourself to believe that it was possible.
But that’s the first secret I want to share with you – you have to be open to the idea that it’s possible. That wonderful, smart accountant brain of yours will always show you proof of what you believe to be true, so if you believe it’s not possible, that’s all your brain will look to prove true.
It will offer you thoughts like “It’s a nice idea, but it’s not possible for me” or “It sounds interesting but it’s probably too complicated”. I completely get it because that’s what I thought at first as well.
Stress was such a familiar feeling, that being open to the idea that I could be stress-free and get more work done, be more efficient, and be happier, seemed like crazy talk. Since I wasn’t surrounded by examples of stress-free accountants, I had to show my brain it was possible by looking at other areas of my life where I had used the tool I learned, and had dramatically reduced my stress.
The second secret for having a stress-free busy season is that it’s easier than you think. Once I learned how to manage my brain, I felt better in many different areas of my life, but I never considered applying what I learned to something like my stress at work because I believed that stress was just part of the job of being an accountant; as if it was just an irrefutable fact.
Like many accountants, I made the connection between the feeling of stress and being able to get through deadlines, as if stress was the necessary fuel in order to make it possible to get all my work done. Thankfully, I learned that that’s completely false and that the truth is that stress actually wastes time and decreases productivity, making it a horrible fuel to use if you want to be productive and efficient.
It’s important to know that the lower, primitive part of your brain does not want to change anything that’s familiar because something like learning to think differently expends energy. Remember, that the lower brain is motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain and be efficient, so it will offer you thoughts that will resist the idea of changing a strongly held belief, like the belief that stress is just part of busy season.
The key with this, is having a compelling reason to want to override the toddler part of the brain when it doesn’t want to believe something different, and throws a tantrum. The most important thing is that you have a compelling reason, and that it needs to be more powerful than your resistance to the idea of a stress-free busy season.
If you are feeling resistance right now to this idea that you can have a stress-free busy season, that’s totally normal, but you should still come up with a strong, compelling reason why you want to feel less stress anyway. My compelling reason for wanting to reduce my stress during tax season was my family; I wanted to be there for my husband and my children in ways that stress had made impossible.
My suggestion is to start to think about all the ways that stress has affected you mentally, physically, emotionally and relationally, and open up to the idea that not only is it possible, but it might not be as difficult as you might have been led to believe.
The third secret for having a stress-free busy season is the tool I learned to use for managing my brain which is called The Model. I’ll be explaining it in more detail in an upcoming episode, but I can tell you it was a total game changer for me professionally and personally.
Like I said before, I was applying this tool to other areas of my life and had never thought to apply it to my level of stress during busy season because I initially didn’t believe it was possible, especially since I had 30+ years of proof at the time that busy season equals stress.
But once I started to apply the tool, The Model, I started to see small changes happening. I started to have more energy at the end of the day, not be so annoyed at my boss when he put more work on my plate, and I was able to manage my time so much better, getting much more done in less time.
By spending only 10 minutes in the morning using the tool I had learned, I was able to set the tone for the rest of the day. Working those extra hours that are required during busy season was no longer such a struggle and I was able to be much more focused and productive than I had ever been, plus have more time with my family.
I began sleeping better, my headaches went away, and even my chiropractor noticed a difference in how my body was reacting as I continued managing my brain. With each day, I was getting better and better at managing the lower, Toddler brain.
So just know that not only is it possible to have a stress-free busy season, but it’s actually easier than you think. You absolutely can have the stress-free life that I’ve been able to achieve, without things like meditation or medication, by just unlearning some things and then learning and applying the 3 secrets I’ve shared.
If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, thinking you’ve tried everything, don’t worry. There is a solution, but you need to let go of some limiting beliefs about what’s considered normal for accountants.
Stay tuned as I help you challenge those limiting beliefs. Also, if you’re curious about how your accountant brain measures up, I recommend taking The Smarter Accountant Quiz at www.thesmarteraccountant.com.
It only takes 5 minutes and can give you valuable insights.
Lastly, please help spread the word about this podcast among other accountants. The more accountants who learn about it, the more we can change the narrative in the accounting profession.
Remember, you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be even smarter.