Tools to Manage Stress and Anxiety in the Accounting Profession

Gusto Editors

How do you and your team handle stress in the accounting profession? 

The daily tasks of accounting provide many opportunities for stress to arise. When you deal with the finances of others, there is an incredible amount of pressure to perform. You can either allow anxiety to take control and push you toward burnout, or you can harness it to improve your performance in the workplace. If you and your team struggle with properly handling stress at work, stick around for this article series. 

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 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. During her time as a CPA, Amber realized that her greatest strengths lay within the development of people rather than the technical side of accounting. As a result, she sh ifted away from the numbers and more to the people who were crunching them. 

Jamie Greene is the CEO and president  at Off the Couch Consulting in Los Angeles and an expert in personal coaching and psychotherapy. Jamie shows  others how to better understand and interpret the world around them so that they can live a life that thrives in the face of difficult circumstances. 

In this article, we will look into stress in the accounting profession, anxiety management techniques, and how to cope with anxiety at work. 

Stress in the accounting profession

Stress comes from many places. It could result from outside sources such as an immense workload, unrealistic deadlines, or clients who make your job harder. Anxiety-causing stress could also arise from internalizing things out of your control. These psychological fears pose a threat to our productivity and mental health.

Female resting head on work books felling anxiety

We all have psychological theories designed to keep us safe. I have a daughter who just turned six years old, and she will be scared of a monster under her bed. We know that’s not true. … There’s no monster; it’s a psychological fear. As adults, we have those [fears] as well. What happens with our psychological fears is that we feel afraid of things outside of us. … In this profession, there’s a lot of fear of being a failure, not being smart enough, or being imperfect.

– Jamie Green

When you allow these internalizations to squeeze you, you keep yourself from reaching your full potential. The manifestation of fear becomes a stumbling block in daily and professional life. One of the main threats of psychological fear is its ability to keep you from stepping outside your comfort zone.

What happens is those fears are really keeping us smack inside the middle of our comfort zone. When we put our toes on the edge of our comfort zone or thrust outside of our comfort zone, we lose our balance.

– Jamie Green

The unknowns surrounding the accounting profession creates an environment that is ripe for psychological fear. Many times the set of rules accountants work with changes around them from differences in legislation to the technology they use. This ever-shifting nature opens up the door to doubt if you are not adequately grounded:

How do you advise on a PPP loan that has never existed or do client service in a world in which you don’t even know when the deadline is going to be? Every day, new legislation is coming out on the state and federal levels. [The laws] are changing, and we’re guessing. There’s a lot of ambiguity, so what do you do about that? How do you manage your anxiety and stress when you are uncertain?

– Jamie Green

Since the world constantly changes, the fear of uncertainty is always present. However, you do not need to let that fear control you. It is possible to take control of anxiety and use it to your advantage with the proper tools.

Anxiety management techniques

The first and best technique to defeat stress is creating structure. That structure becomes the rock on which you can build multiple anxiety-beating strategies. When the world around you shifts, you will feel supported by a stable routine.

Structure is the antidote to anxiety. … Without structure, we might stress about all the things. … So structure, and routine specifically, [become] a way to kind of frame our thinking. We can focus on something productive, complete it, and move on. Otherwise, we ruminate and go around and around.

– Jamie Green

After creating a structured schedule for yourself, the next way to combat stress and anxiety is to find ways to take breaks within that schedule. It is often easy to create a plan, but it is hard to schedule time for yourself. Taking a break from your work allows your mind to relax and destress.

If you think about being somewhat isolated and working from home and being on Zoom most of the time. Having a structure and a routine that allows us to get outside [is important both at home or in the office]. Walk around the neighborhood, take breaks, and be in nature.

– Jamie Green

In addition to taking a break from work, you need to practice specific techniques to stay grounded. The methods themselves vary, but what you want is something you can consistently do to calm you down:

Female looking up from work reflecting on the weeks stress

Getting grounded is about having specific techniques or ways of calming ourselves down. That can be breathwork, meditation, journaling, or prayer. It gives you a break from the tasks. [You gain] the ability to focus and slow down all of the adrenaline that comes with anxiety. That’s how you [manage anxiety] without Xanax.

– Jamie Green

When managing your anxiety, take the time to focus on communication. Talking with others about your work and personal life is a meaningful way to relieve stress. The ability to connect with others opens up possibilities to relieve stress and feel connected to others.

Staying connected is really, really important. Isolation can create a lot of anxiety for people if they struggle with themselves. … Getting on the phone, venting, and having trusted friends you can banter back and forth with [is important]. I think Zoom is wonderful in terms of people being able to reconnect with friends all over the world.

– Jamie Green

The final thing to consider when tackling stress in the workplace is how you cope with your underlying emotions. Everyone deals with complex feelings daily, and sometimes negative feelings can interfere with the daily routine. Taking the time to acknowledge those feelings and keep them from controlling you will give you more power over stress. Many times, therapy is the best route to learn how to manage emotions.

Underneath all this stress, angst, and busyness are real feelings. … There’s a lot of vulnerability that many people don’t quite know how to manage. It’s not talked about much. That’s the real work of therapy—it helps people learn how to contain all of their feelings. It normalizes feeling sad, scared, or overwhelmed.

– Jamie Green

Creating structure, practicing de-stressing strategies, and connecting with others give you the tools needed to overcome pressure in the workplace. When you can utilize these anxiety control techniques, the overwhelming nature of stress becomes significantly easier to manage. 

Learn more about how to cope with anxiety at work

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.

– Amber Setter

If you would like to dive deeper into anxiety management techniques and how to cope with anxiety at work, check out the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to look out for Part One and Part Two of this webinar article series for more tips on channeling your anxiety into a way 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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