When Your Work Is Affecting Your Health
In today’s episode, I’m going to explore the impact of work on accountants’ health. Let me start by asking you how you’re doing, healthwise? Are you struggling physically, emotionally, or mentally? Is stress and overwhelm taking a toll on you?
As accountants, we’re often praised for our attention to detail, our analytical skills, and our ability to navigate complex financial landscapes. We pride ourselves on our dedication and commitment to delivering accurate and precise work.
Yet, beneath the surface, there can be a hidden cost to our professional success – our health.
This episode is dedicated to shedding light on the challenges accountants face when it comes to our well-being. I’m going to be sharing some stories, insights, and strategies to help you navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of the accounting profession while prioritizing your health and happiness.
In a minute I’ll be sharing Heather’s story, a hardworking accountant and devoted mother. Heather seemed to have it all – a promising career trajectory, a supportive family, and the appearance of work-life balance.
But beneath the facade, she was grappling with health issues that she kept hidden from those around her. Heather’s journey will resonate with many of us who have found ourselves silently struggling while putting on a brave face.
Heather’s story will serve as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving. In the accounting profession, where precision and perfection are valued, the pressure to perform at our best can take a toll on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
The demands of long hours, tight deadlines, and the constant need to stay updated with ever-changing regulations can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
In this episode, I’ll dive deep into the truth about accountants’ health. I’ll explore eye-opening statistics and studies that reveal the prevalence of mental health challenges, burnout, and substance abuse within our profession.
It’s an important conversation that needs to be had, as the first step towards finding solutions is acknowledging the problem.
But this episode isn’t just about raising awareness; it’s about empowering you to take control of your own health and well-being. I’ll be discussing what it means to become a Smarter Accountant – a mindset shift that will help you develop the skills and strategies needed to thrive both professionally and personally.
By becoming a Smarter Accountant, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how your thoughts and beliefs impact your health and overall happiness. I’ll share practical techniques to manage stress, avoid burnout, and cultivate a healthier work-life balance.
Together, we’ll challenge the notion that sacrificing our well-being is the price we must pay for professional success.
So, whether you’re an accountant seeking ways to prioritize your health or someone interested in gaining insight into the unique challenges faced by those in our profession, this podcast is for you. It’s time to have open and honest conversations about work-related health issues and collectively work towards creating healthier and more sustainable work environments.
My goal is to empower you to rewrite the narrative of your professional life – one that celebrates success, well-being, and personal growth.
Heather’s story: Health issues
To shed light on this topic, I want to share the story of Heather from my book, “The Smarter Accountant.” Heather was a hardworking accountant and dedicated mother who found herself caught in the relentless cycle of work and its impact on her health. .
Heather was known for her ambition and drive. She had set her sights on becoming a CPA and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve her career goals.
But her aspirations extended beyond her professional life – she wanted to excel as a wife, daughter, sister, friend, and active member of her community.
From the outside looking in, Heather seemed to have achieved the perfect work-life balance. She managed to balance her work obligations with her family commitments, earning admiration from her colleagues and loved ones alike.
Her boss valued her contributions, and her family loved her. Heather appeared to be the epitome of success – a shining example of how one could seamlessly navigate the world of motherhood, accounting, and personal fulfillment.
However, beneath her composed exterior, Heather was grappling with serious health issues. Heart palpitations, sleep issues, poor eating habits, and a lack of follow-up on medical check-ups were just a few of the signs that something was wrong.
Yet, she kept these challenges to herself, unwilling to burden others or admit that her health was suffering. Heather’s commitment to her work often took precedence over her well-being.
She would brush off her symptoms, attributing them to the demands of her profession. Whenever concerns arose, she would reply with, “I’m an accountant. I just don’t have the time. I’ll get to it after this deadline.”
Unfortunately, in the world of accounting, there always seemed to be a deadline looming, leaving little room for self-care.
To cope with her mounting anxiety, Heather resorted to unhealthy practices. She relied on prescribed medications like Xanax for emergencies, popped energy drinks like Red Bull to combat sleep deprivation, and used distractions such as binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through social media to temporarily escape from her stressors.
Heather had become adept at putting “Band-Aids” on her health issues, hoping they would magically resolve themselves.
However, one fateful day, Heather’s health reached a tipping point. She found herself in the emergency room, experiencing symptoms that resembled a heart attack.
Although it turned out to be a false alarm, the doctor on call delivered a sobering message – cardiac issues were becoming increasingly dangerous for women who neglected their work-related stress.
As Heather’s husband drove her home from the hospital, she couldn’t help but question herself: “If I’m so smart, why is work affecting my health?” This moment of introspection marked the beginning of Heather’s journey to uncover the truth about the impact of work on her well-being and seek a healthier, more sustainable approach to her profession.
The truth about your health as an accountant
If you can relate to Heather’s story, even on a small scale, I want to shed light on an often overlooked truth – the impact of work on accountants’ health. I believe it’s something that has been swept under the rug for too long.
In 2013, the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) reported survey results showing that around 30% of participants admitted to a drinking problem. The key is the word “admitted”; if 30% admitted to having an issue, imagine how many were unwilling to.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just an issue for accountants. In a 2016 study of lawyers, nearly three out of four participants reported problematic use of alcohol and drugs to cope with stress, starting as early as at law school.
It doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant, a lawyer, or in any other field of work because stress, long working hours, and an imbalance between work life and family life can be a breeding ground for overusing things to cope. It could come in the form of sitting with a pint of ice cream once everyone’s gone to bed or needing that second glass of wine after dinner; the inability to handle stress has become a bigger issue than ever.
The truth is that mental health has become such an important health crisis that every year during the first week of October the National Alliance on Mental Health participates in raising awareness of mental health issues all across the country. They work to educate the public, fight mental health stigmas, and support those with mental health issues.
While the conversation about mental health is becoming less and less taboo, it’s still an issue for many people. The subject of workplace health and well-being is being addressed more because it’s becoming an even bigger issue in the accounting and finance professions.
In one study, 30.4% of accountants admitted to suffering from mental health issues and 51% admitted that depression and anxiety leave them dreading going to work. When you add the anxiety accountants feel in their professional life to the guilt, anxiety, and exhaustion most feel in their personal life as well, you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Your accountant brain’s role
Since there can be a lot of confusion and shame when dealing with anxiety, it’s important to understand why you feel this way. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel anxious or overwhelmed—you just haven’t been aware of how your problem-solving brain has been creating your life.
One of the big issues when it comes to how work affects your health is that you may have become so accustomed to feeling anxiety and overwhelm that it can become just a normal part of life. Unfortunately, you may have normalized the symptoms or, worse, ignored them altogether.
Depending on how long you’ve been working in the accounting profession, you may have also experienced the normalization of anxiety from most of the people you work with. Attending an in-person continuing education seminar with other overwhelmed, anxious accountants can seem like a “we’re all in this together” club.
The good news is that anxiety is a natural response that your primitive brain has when it senses fear, and it uses this response for your survival. There is nothing wrong with you when you feel anxious because your brain is only trying to protect you from perceived danger.
The bad news is that your brain interprets danger in many more non-dangerous situations than you realize. A tax deadline, a client email, or a change in the tax code can create the same feeling of danger that a saber tooth tiger did when humans lived in caves.
The real problem for accountants is that, from the time you went to school to study accounting, you have been trained to think in very specific ways, and these ways can often create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Your “accountant brain” has been trained for the problem-solving work you do and, when it goes unchecked, it can become your default way of thinking about everything.
If you’ve ever been told that you are thinking, talking, or arguing like an accountant, that’s what I’m talking about. You have been trained to think in ways that non-accountants don’t think and don’t understand.
The issue is that being surrounded by other people’s problems trains your accountant’s brain to see more problems. Because 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 that over 50% of accountants feel anxiety and overwhelm.
No matter how work has affected your health, it can be improved by learning how to manage your brain better. When you become a Smarter Accountant, you can have the awareness of how work is affecting your health and be able to do something about it before it becomes an even bigger problem.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant
The irony when it comes to work affecting our health is that many accountants resort to overworking as a form of self-medication for their anxieties. They believe that it fuels their productivity or demonstrates their dedication to their work.
As I shared in a previous podcast episode on the overworked accountant, the accounting environment, with its external pressures and expectations, often perpetuates this unhealthy mindset. The need to conform to the “accountant mold” in our thinking, behavior, and even appearance can exacerbate the pressures and expectations we face in our personal lives.
Before we know it, we find ourselves reaching for that extra glass of wine, succumbing to imposter syndrome, and catastrophizing even the simplest tasks.
It’s crucial to recognize that catastrophizing, a cognitive distortion where we envision worst-case scenarios, does not make us more careful or meticulous. Instead, it creates additional stress and anxiety, leading to distraction, oversight, and mistakes.
The very thing we believe will help us succeed ends up hindering our progress.
However, the good news is that by becoming Smarter Accountants, we can develop healthier ways of thinking and approaching our work. It starts with understanding the power of our thoughts and their influence on our emotions, actions, and results.
For example, let’s imagine a scenario where you open your email inbox to find 50 new unread messages. You might think, “There’s no way I can get all this done.” This thought then triggers anxiety, leading to a range of unproductive actions and feelings, such as complaining, feeling overwhelmed, procrastinating, and even snapping at loved ones.
The end result? You make it less likely that you can accomplish everything.
Now, consider the alternative – the Smarter Accountant way. Faced with the same scenario, you might think, “I just need to focus on one message at a time.” This thought cultivates patience and a more proactive approach.
You prioritize important emails, delegate when necessary, allocate dedicated time for responding, and create a plan to tackle the remaining messages systematically. By managing your thoughts and emotions, you’re able to focus and get things done more effectively.
By adopting a Smarter Accountant mindset, we can gain control over our reactions, reduce stress, and improve our overall health. It’s about shifting our perspectives, questioning our default ways of thinking, and embracing strategies that promote balance, well-being, and productivity.
Remember, as accountants, we have been trained to think in specific ways that others may not understand. But it’s essential to recognize that being surrounded by problems all the time trains our brains to see more problems.
By embracing a managed mind and adopting a Smarter Accountant approach, we can navigate our professional lives more effectively, reduce anxiety and overwhelm, and foster a healthier, more balanced existence.
Accountants and burnout
No discussion dealing with health issues for accountants can avoid the elephant in the room—burnout. As a profession, we are in big trouble when it comes to burnout, especially in the post-pandemic world that we live in.
Because accountants tend to normalize their struggles, here are some of the signs of burnout that you might want to be aware of:
- Beginning to feel a lack of energy.
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Lack of focus or forgetfulness.
- Prone to catching whatever cold is going around the office.
- Feeling on edge.
- Feeling hopelessness.
- More tense and irritable than usual.
- Loss of enjoyment.
- Noticing a good deal of negative self-talk.
- Isolating yourself.
- Not able to be as productive as usual.
For all the highly intelligent, often high-achieving, perfectionistic accountants listening to this podcast, the road to burnout can happen at any time in your career, whether you are in public or private accounting. For those of you who are afraid to acknowledge that you’re getting burned-out, it’s okay: it doesn’t need to be a dirty little secret any longer.
There is no shame in the fact that you are experiencing burnout, but I also want you to know that it doesn’t have to be as normal as you may have been led to believe. There is a way to reduce burnout so that you can live the happy, balanced life that you desire and deserve, without having to give up on the career you’ve worked so hard for.
Thankfully, the coaching clients who go through the Smarter Accountant Program learn hands-on that, when they believe something or someone is going to be the solution to their feelings of burnout, they’re setting themselves up to fail because it isn’t anything outside of them that’s creating the feeling of burnout. Therefore, by getting a better handle on what causes burnout, they can avoid it.
The truth is that, because your body is only doing what it’s supposed to do, which means that it’s responding to your brain—all those beliefs about how accountants are supposed to be busy, and all those conversations and justifications for why you feel burned-out, are wrapping you up in a tight web of what I like to call “burnout advocacy”. Whenever you or others legitimize burnout, you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain, causing your brain to look for more reasons why you should feel burned-out.
I promise you that, although burnout appears to be normal, it’s unnecessary.
In order to reduce burnout, you first need to pay attention to how you think about the people, places, and things in your life, and question what you are indulging in, in your mind. What is the story that is on a rinse and repeat cycle in your brain?
The second thing that will help you reduce burnout is to stop avoiding and procrastinating in making decisions, whether they’re big or small. Nothing is more draining to you both mentally and physically than a lack of decision-making skills.
The third thing that will help you reduce burnout is an expression I heard on a podcast – “overworking in an unproductive effort”. What it means to overwork in an unproductive effort is knowing you have things you need to get done but then allowing yourself to get distracted by other things.
And the last way that will help you reduce burnout is to have better boundaries. When you’re overly available, overly accommodating, or trying to please everyone, you are the one who suffers in the end with burnout.
So, no matter how work is affecting your health, just know that, by becoming a Smarter Accountant, you have much more control in managing your brain.
If you have difficulty with how work is affecting your health, let’s talk. Schedule a quick, free coaching session with me and I’ll help you understand what to do.
Sweeping health issues under the rug, especially as an accountant, isn’t helpful or useful. I can help.
Just go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
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.