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How to Manage Stress and Improve Your Health and Performance

June 20, 2018

With the federal tax deadline just over a month away (and year-end closes looming for many CPAs in industry), work-related stress is at its apex for a large portion of the accounting industry. While it’s impossible to fully eliminate the workload concerns that trigger many CPAs, there are ways to mitigate the negative effects of busy season.

While you might wear your busy workload as a badge of honor, it’s important to mitigate stress for your own health. Persistent stress has documented negative effects on physical health and well-being, including:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease

That’s just the effects of the stress itself on your body. The wrong coping mechanisms, from overeating to cigarettes to drug or alcohol abuse, can compound the toll. That’s why it’s important to find positive steps to manage the stress that comes with your profession. Here are a few ways you can exercise control over the factors that can impact your health.

Identify and Manage Stress Triggers

Everyone experiences stress differently. What seems insurmountable to you might be a blip on a coworker’s radar. Knowing the circumstances that trigger stress for you is the first step toward managing that stress effectively.

One way to do that is to keep a stress journal. Over a period of time (two weeks or a month, for instance), record the situations, events and even people who cause you to have a negative reaction, as well as your reaction to the trigger. Be detailed. Where were you? Who was involved? How did you react? How did you feel after the situation was resolved?

A high-level look at your triggers and reactions can help you identify behavioral patterns. Once you’ve identified those patterns and situations, you can brainstorm ways to resolve the triggers you can’t avoid, whether that means possible resolutions or changes to the circumstances that trigger you.

Cultivate Healthy Habits

That cheeseburger may taste great, and it may be a great break to have that cigarette in the middle of the afternoon. But it’s much better in the long run to make healthy choices when stress starts to peak. Exercise is the best solution — yoga, running, lifting weights or the outlet of your choice relieve your stress and help reinforce good habits.

It’s also important to take care of yourself in non-exercise ways. Make time for activities you enjoy — they enable you to take your mind off work and recharge. Using your full allotment of vacation days allows you to disconnect and return to work refreshed and with renewed focus.

Finally, sleep is your best weapon in fighting stress. You need to get enough sleep, and it needs to be quality sleep. Don’t drink too much caffeine, particularly late in the day, and minimize TV watching and smartphone usage in the bedroom. When you’re not sleeping well — which, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the case for an estimated 60 million Americans — your body isn’t recovering the way you need.

Manage Expectations and Time

If you feel overwhelmed at work, it can help to take a good look at your time management practices. Work with your supervisor and colleagues to set realistic goals and deadlines, along with manageable waypoints along the way. Use those goals to create and follow a daily priority list, breaking large projects into smaller, manageable steps. And block your calendar to make sure you have uninterrupted time to focus on important tasks.

To that end, take steps to minimize interruptions. Change your email settings to avoid popup notifications during busy periods. You can also train your coworkers by answering emails during certain windows or closing your door when you need to focus.

Scheduled breaks can also help you maintain focus. Research from the Energy Project shows that a work cycle of intense concentration for about 90 minutes followed by a short period of recovery can help reduce stress and increase engagement.

Get Support

Find someone to vent to, whether it’s your spouse, friends or trusted colleagues. Pay attention to their perspective and insights. Even just talking about your stress triggers can help relieve some tension.

Talking to your supervisor can also help. Healthy employees tend to be more productive, so it’s in his or her best interest to promote employee well-being. A good-faith conversation about your stress triggers can help you identify techniques for managing your workload. And your supervisor can suggest stress management resources.

Finally, if you’re still overwhelmed, talk to a mental health provider. Many employees offer assistance programs for mental health support. A professional can serve as a confidential sounding board and offer evidence-based suggestions for managing stress.

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