Can Anxiety Fuel Performance in Accounting?

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to manage anxiety at work and use it to fuel your performance? 

Many times, the stress of work becomes overwhelming to the point of anxiety. When anxiety arises, there are two possibilities: You can allow the pressure to take control and let it push you toward burnout, or you can harness the stress to improve your performance in the workplace. If you or a client struggles with performance anxiety, this article series is worth a look.

We at Gusto are pleased to partner with our good friends at CPA Academy to bring you “Peak Performance: How to Care for You and Your Team’s Mental Health at Work.” In this webinar, Amber Setter and Jamie Greene provided insight into harnessing stress at work and transforming it into a tool to help you work more effectively.

Amber Setter is an accountant-turned-professional coach who utilizes her passion for inspiring others to become the best possible versions of themselves, inside and out. 

Jamie Greene is the president and CEO at Off the Couch Consulting in Los Angeles and an expert in personal coaching and psychotherapy. He teaches others how to live a life that thrives in the face of the any fear and anxiety surrounding them. 

In this article, we will look into how you can use the pressure of anxiety to your advantage, managing anxiety in the workplace, and where to turn when anxiety becomes too much. 

Using anxiety to fuel performance

The generally negative nature of anxiety makes it hard to shift your perspective and view it as positive. However, when you take the time to understand how anxiety works physiologically, the ability to see it as something to use to your advantage becomes more understandable. The adrenaline rush behind anxiety attacks is strikingly similar to the thrill you feel before competing in sports.

[Anxiety is like] when you are on a track team and waiting for the gun to go off. There’s a huge adrenaline rush, and as you anticipate this amazingly intense release, there is a massive amount of adrenaline and cortisol [released]. It is just like what happens if you are scared. The only difference is that you know that it’s appropriate to have an adrenaline rush [in sports] because it’s going to help you win.

– Jamie Greene
Woman looking out window as she sits feelin anxious in front of her laptop

When you notice the signs of anxiety early, just like understanding a positive adrenaline rush, you can control the situation. At that point, everything is manageable. Another way to look at low-level anxiety is to view it as a smoke alarm: 

I like to use a smoke alarm as an analogy [for anxiety]. Is a smoke alarm good or bad? Well, it depends on if it’s working as it should. Smoke alarms can be annoying when they go off unnecessarily when they are calibrated too sensitively, but generally, a smoke alarm is like an early warning detection system. If you’ve got a bagel in the toaster and it’s smoking, [the alarm will go off], and it’s a very manageable situation. You take the bagel out of the toaster.

– Jamie Greene

The smoke alarm in this situation is remarkably comparable to the way adrenaline builds when anxiety arises. When you notice pressure in a manageable state, it allows you to take the proper steps to dissipate the stress and utilize the build-up of adrenaline to increase your performance. The fundamental factor to knowing when to slow down is understanding your body and recognizing your limits. 

Remember, our system of anxiety is an early indicator when everything is manageable and attainable. If we don’t listen and are very disconnected from ourselves, we won’t understand what’s happening. [Low-level anxiety] is very healthy because it’s keeping us on our toes, keeping us aware, and keeping us alert rather than panicked.

– Jamie Greene

By harnessing anxiety in its small forms, you gain the ability to become more in-tune with your body and push yourself to excel. The best way to become more self-aware is by practicing self-care. As you learn how to take care of yourself, your awareness and ability to cope with anxiety will grow.

How to manage anxiety at work

Self-care provides you with ways to become more aware of your anxiety level and employ it for productivity in the workplace. Proper application of self-care promotes balance in your life.

If we take care of ourselves, we won’t get burned out. If we are in balance, we’re not going to get exhausted. We’re not going to get drained if we have enough sleep and take care of ourselves. Self-care is the antidote to the bad form of anxiety. It keeps us on our toes and makes sure we anticipate living within our means.

– Jamie Greene

One of the best practices at work is to control the way you interact with your surroundings. Setting boundaries within the workplace, being proactive about what you need, and taking walk breaks are all examples of how you can practice self-care. When you implement techniques that promote a higher understanding of your inner-self, the way you view anxiety shifts from an uncontrollable force to another tool for self-awareness:

Torso view of woman sitting at deskin front of laptop

Anxiety can be a very positive term as long as our relationship with it is informed. [It keeps you] aware, just like when you drive carefully. Not everyone is going to stop at a stop sign necessarily, so we’re careful. We’re not paranoid or in fear, just aware. [Positive anxiety] gives you a kind of peripheral awareness and not hypervigilance that makes you constantly look over your shoulder.

– Jamie Greene

When you flip anxiety on its head and use it as a positive force, the things that once created performance anxiety become instruments for productivity. The fear of failure disappears, and you achieve a better understanding of yourself. If you feel like you cannot accomplish this on your own, do not fear, others can help guide you to become more self-aware.

Coaching for managing anxiety in the workplace

If workplace anxiety becomes too much to handle individually, professional help provides a way to gain self-awareness. The first place to turn on the road to increased awareness is a professional coach. When you partner with a professional coach, you gain insight pointing you in the right direction to overcome workplace stress.

In the accounting world, there’s so much emphasis put on technical competency. [A professional coach] works in the non-technical relationship domain. [Coaches answer questions like,] ‘How do you deliver empowered feedback to your staff?’ ‘How do you have conversations with your clients who don’t want to pay an invoice or get comfortable with what you’re charging?’ or ‘How do you create healthy boundaries in the workplace?’

– Jamie Greene

Hiring a professional coach gives you answers to looming questions that cause insecurities and stress inside the workplace. The tools gained from professional coaches equip you and your team to become more aware of what is happening internally and positively project that energy toward work. In the end, you will be able to shift anxiety from a negative influence to a positive effect.

Learn more about using anxiety to fuel performance in the workplace

Many times, stress overwhelms those dealing with it. There are points where self-care and coaching may not be enough. If you or a team member is stuck in a loop of anxiety and cannot find a way out, do not be afraid to take further steps to control stress. Professional counseling and psychotherapy provide more in-depth solutions to more severe anxiety.

I will refer somebody to see a therapist if they are caught in a loop. … [If] they can’t make the change they want and can’t come to coaching to find out what they really need, that’s when I refer someone to a therapist. … You can dive a lot deeper when working with a therapist.

– Jamie Greene

If you would like to dive deeper into the topic of anxiety and how to use it to fuel your success in the workplace, check out the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to look out for Part One and Part Three of this webinar article series for more tips on channeling your anxiety into a means to overcome stress.

Our mission at Gusto is to help accountants and their clients gain peace of mind while on their financial journey. We currently partner with over 4,500 firms nationwide to promote financial security and cultivate a mindset that overcomes the obstacles of financial anxiety. Be sure to look into our People Advisory Program to learn how to connect with your clients beyond their finances. We also provide a partner blog full of resources for all your advising needs. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on utilizing people-based accounting within your firm.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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