Stress articles

Stress can be a motivator essential to survival. However, if it’s triggered too easily, or when there are too many stressors at one time, it can undermine a person's mental and physical health and become harmful.

How much of our time and mental energy do we spend dwelling on things that have already happened or worrying about the future? For many of us, mentally multi-tasking and having our brain in three places at once is a reality of daily life. But it often means we miss out on what's happening in the here and now. This is bad for our mental wellbeing in a number of ways. By dwelling on things we can't change or control, we are more likely to feel anxious, insecure or uncertain. Focusing on the present, on the other hand, allows us to channel our energy into the things we can control. When we're distracted, we're less able to concentrate and focus on the task in front of us. How many times have you walked upstairs and forgotten why you're there? By paying attention to the present, we increase our effectiveness and productivity. In addition, when our minds are somewhere else, we miss out on all the positive things that are happening right in front of us. Being present in a moment allows you to enjoy everything it has to offer. The key to breaking this cycle is mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware of the here and now, of your thoughts, feelings, sensations and your surroundings. Using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga, it can help you become more aware of the present moment, rather than worrying about what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow. Mindfulness exercises Here are three mindfulness exercises you can try in your own time, at home or at work. 1-minute meditation - This quick and simple breathing exercise is useful anywhere, anytime you need to pause and refocus. 3-minute breathing - This quick mindful breathing exercise can help you pause, regain control and refocus on the here and now. 10-minute body scan - How are you feeling? Reconnect with your body and your senses with this 10-minute full body scan Being present throughout your day Like any other skill, mindfulness takes practice. But the more you do it, the easier you will find it to apply the principle of being present to moments throughout your day. When you're eating... Whether it's in front of the telly at home or sat behind a desk at work, many of us eat throughout the day simply to satisfy hunger pangs before moving on to the next thing we need to do. But eating can be an opportunity to experience real sensations of joy and pleasure. The next time you sit down to eat try this mindful eating exercise. What difference do you notice? When you're walking... In the daily rush, walking is usually just a means of getting from A to B and on to C. But it could be an opportunity to exercise our curiosity and heighten our senses. By becoming aware of the world around us, we're more likely to find things that make us happy, fill us with wonder or spark our imagination. Try this mindful walking exercise as part of your commute or the next time you walk to the shops. When you're listening... Even when we're mid-conversation with someone it's easy for our minds to wander off. How many times have you found yourself thinking, 'What were they just saying?' To really listen to and understand someone requires your full and undivided attention. And that means being aware of how your own thoughts and feelings might distract your attention from a conversation. Learn how to apply mindful listening techniques for more meaningful conversations and stronger relationships. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 14, 2019

If we asked you to think about stress, you may well think back to the last time you had a stressful experience and how it affected you personally. But when someone around you is stressed – whether it’s a friend, work colleague or member of your family – it can have a negative impact on you too. While you may be coping well with your own stress levels, dealing with someone else’s is an entirely different story. But knowing how to spot spiralling stress levels in others could help stop things from getting any worse. And that could have a positive effect not just on your own wellbeing, but that of the other person too. Here are some of the main things to watch out for, plus a few practical suggestions on how to tackle the problem. Tell-tale body signs The human body reacts to stress in lots of physical ways, some of which are difficult to spot in other people. But some may be easy to identify, including: A tendency to sweat more than normal or having a nervous twitch Smoking and/or drinking more than normal Eating too many unhealthy foods or having no appetite If this person confides in you they may have also complained about not being able to sleep very well lately. Or they may have mentioned that they’re suffering from more headaches than usual, or that they often feel sick or dizzy. Emotional signals Stress also has a powerful effect on how someone feels and behaves, so look out for changes in other people’s moods and what they do. Ask yourself the following questions: Do they seem more anxious or irritable than normal? Are they losing their temper more quickly than they used to? Are they constantly worrying about things? Have they suddenly lost their sense of humour or are they suffering from uncharacteristically low self-esteem? Someone who is under too much stress may also have trouble concentrating or making decisions, and they may shy away from difficult situations. Tackle stress head on If you do suspect someone you know isn’t coping with stress, speak to them. Stress can make people feel isolated, and keeping things bottled up only makes it worse. You don’t have to be a stress counsellor, just a good listener – and allowing them to talk things through could help them find a solution to their problems. Depending on your relationship, you could also encourage them to get involved in activities that may help them cope better. For example, taking regular exercise often helps people see their concerns more clearly as well as deal with them more calmly. So why not suggest going for a walk in the fresh air or organise some team sports at work or at home? And the best part is, you’d benefit from all that extra exercise too. However, if you do not feel comfortable having these discussions or feel the individual needs profession advice encourage them to seek help from their GP. Meanwhile if the person under stress is a work colleague who isn’t coping with their workload, persuade them to talk to their manager about it. Suffering from stress at work is alarmingly common these days so there is no stigma attached to it. And by talking to their manager, they can identify the tasks that are important and stop worrying about the low-priority jobs. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 10, 2019

What is stress, and is it bad for you? The dictionary definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”. In a medical or biological context, stress is viewed as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (arising from environmental, psychological or social situations) or internal (stemming from an illness or a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems. And so we start to see the see-saw relationship we have with stress. It is needed to charge our body and mind, so we can best prepare to deal with challenging situations. It also releases adrenaline to make us the strongest and most productive we can be – this is our friend. However, it is when this delicate balance is tipped that it becomes our foe. The two sides of stress For me, good stress is the feeling before an Ironman – I am nervous, tense, anxious (and indeed, often questioning why I am here!) However, I know that this feeling means my body is preparing for pressure and that the adrenaline being released will fuel my muscles. It is the feeling before a presentation in work or a tough meeting – to some extent, it is a comfort as I know that this will ensure my reactions are charged and I will deal with unanticipated questions. However, stress becomes a problem when it significantly affects our emotional well-being and our ability to function at home, work or in our relationships. For a professional accountant, this pressure can sometimes arise from our work environment and as a member of the community of accountants, we should all be aware of the warning signs in others. Critically, the pressure often begins at the start of our career when we are juggling study, lectures, learning the tools of our trade with clients and dealing with our peers. However, throughout our careers, the lifecycle of an accountant exposes us to different pressures at different times.  It is okay not to be okay While we have come a long way in our ability to talk about our mental health, our profession appears slow to fully embrace the acknowledgement that it is okay not to be okay. From my interaction with students in the profession and my peers, who are often employers, we are still not 100% comfortable, or indeed perhaps don’t fully understand the impact stress can have on a person. Also, not all places of work have a safe environment in which individuals can talk openly. Yes, I am generalising here, but would you honestly feel 100% comfortable telling your employer that you were off on sick leave with mental health issues? If the answer is no, then as an employee or an employer we have an issue. And let us be honest, statistics demonstrate that we should see these sick certs as, on average, stress, anxiety and depression account for nearly half of all sick days taken in Ireland and the UK. Stark statistics Is stress, and the related side-effects when it becomes too much for us, more prevalent in accountants? Research by the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association in the UK shows that more than eight out of 10 accountants suffer from stress-related problems. Over a quarter of accountants said they drink more than the recommended level and the study revealed that the suicide rate for female accountants is three times higher than the average for other occupations. Stark statistics. So, what can we do as a profession?  Well, we can ensure that our workplaces are open and transparent and that, most importantly, all staff can talk, voice their concerns and articulate when they are feeling stressed. We don’t need to go full throttle and bring in the massage chairs and yoga mats (even though this has been proven to help). However, we do need to ensure that as a community of accountants, we are there to assist each other and spot the warning signs. It is okay not to feel okay – and the more we say it and really believe it, the more we will help break the stigma of mental health and ensure that the profession is a compassionate one that supports its members and enables and empowers people to speak up. If any of the above strikes a chord with you, please note that CA SUPPORT is available to all members to help with matters of mental health. Sinead Donovan FCA is a Partner in Financial Accounting and Advisory Services at Grant Thornton.

Jun 03, 2019

Learning to manage stress can help business owners enhance their own and their staff’s performance, says Teresa Campbell. The stress you experience as a business owner or manager can be worse at certain times of the year. This may be due to the cyclical nature of your business, rising (or declining) demand for your services, looming deadlines, staff shortages, personal or family crises, economic uncertainty and so on. In our 24/7 world, technology keeps us connected to our work virtually all of the time. This culture of constant interruptions, distractions and information overload means our minds often don’t get a chance to rest. Tiredness combined with stress can impact our ability to make good decisions and reduce our efficiency and productivity. Financial worries For many business owners, financial worries are high on the list of the issues that cause work-related stress. So, improving the financial strength of your business is an important step. Key areas to focus on include improving your financial results, cash flow, working capital management and return on capital employed. Self-management  There are also various self-management strategies that can help you reduce stress. Looking after your health should be top of the list. This will also help you to maximise your efficiency and personal performance. Business owners are sometimes perfectionists so it’s worth keeping an eye on this tendency and, if necessary, learn to keep your perfectionism in check. Other practical tips include: Drink water. Dehydration can increase stress levels. Get a good night’s sleep. Turn your phone off before bed, make sure no light from outside is seeping into the room and make sure you’re comfortable. Make time to exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise can be helpful in reducing anxiety and stress. Create a list of your biggest distractions during the day and take practical steps to reduce them. For example, create a time in your schedule to look at your email rather than reading and responding as soon as they are delivered. Learn to manage your anxiety and worry. Focus on the things you can control and don’t waste energy worrying about things you can’t control. Prioritise your tasks and set goals. Trying to do everything at once can mean that nothing gets done. Know your best and worst times of the day and learn to manage your time accordingly. Learn to delegate and know when you are not the right person for a specific role or task. Keep the business’s finances under control. Don’t ignore problems. Face up to reality when a problem presents itself and remember that the earlier you discuss emerging issues with your accountant, the easier it will be to find solutions. Even very difficult problems can often be overcome once they are identified and tackled in time. Finally, remember that stress isn’t always a bad thing. Some business owners and managers thrive on pressures that cause others to worry and struggle. Regardless of how you react to stress, the goal is to enhance your productivity and improve your business performance by reducing your stress or making it work for you and your business. Teresa Campbell is a Staff Director of PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

Oct 07, 2018

Fulfilling your training contract while going through your exams can lead to stress. Barden’s Neil Murphy ACA explains how you can build up your resilience to help you cope better. We can all see that the scale and speed of business is increasing at an alarming rate. On one hand, the rapid pace of digitisation, hyper-connectivity and globalisation enables businesses to succeed, which, as professionals, we’re all in favour of, but at what personal cost? We have a 24/7 work-cycle, are always connected to the job, and an increased sense of accountability to be as responsive as possible. Which, in turn, causes workplace-related stress and a high risk of burnout. These factors can be exaggerated even more when you work in professional services on a training contract, where you learn as you go. Add in busy season and a client that is ‘less than cooperative’ and you’ve got the perfect storm. Rich Fernandez, in his recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work’, argues that building resilience is a key factor in managing stress and reducing burnout. It’s an interesting concept; resilience, defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty, is undermined by stress. As your mind and body become stressed, even the most resilient amongst us will find it more difficult to recover from the impact of our hyper-connected working lives. Therefore, it’s a logical argument to say that by building resilience, we will cope better with stress. But how? #1 Optimism and objectivity in practice  We’ve all heard of practices such as mindfulness, and even if you’re not a fan, you will surely see the value in taking time out of 24/7 connectivity to gain perspective and restore your energy. Ensuring you set aside time during the day (while in the office included!) to completely disconnect from technology is a vital step in being able to step outside of your issues and look at them from a fresh and less involved perspective. This objectivity leads to optimism in problem resolution, which can build resilience and reduce stress. #2 Stay balanced and manage your emotions When you’re managing a heavy workload, it’s likely you’re switching between cognitive tasks repeatedly: emails to strategy meeting, board teleconference to difficult client. This rollercoaster of tasks can stress your cognitive functions, causing a feeling of imbalance and heightened emotional sensitivity. Try to ‘chunk’ your workload. Break your day and week into two to three-hour sections where you manage similar tasks together. Make your day a series of sprints rather than one long marathon. #3 Remember to create a sense of safety and collectiveness My last point is simple in concept, but easily forgotten in a high-stress environment. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to forget the personal touches that make your teammates ‘safe’ and connected to your collective purpose (hitting that audit deadline, etc.). When any team member is visibly stressed, it creates tension and can breed additional stress, discord and dissent on the team. Keeping those communication channels open will not only create less stress around you, it will make you and your team more resilient and responsive to managing difficult situations. Good luck and look after yourself and your future will look after itself!

Jul 02, 2018