COVID 19 has altered our lives in many ways and is putting a huge strain on our mental health and wellbeing. It’s important that we can recognise and understand the signs that we are struggling in some way and do all we can to support ourselves and others. Early intervention is the key to stopping low mental wellbeing impacting the life we want and avoiding diagnosable mental health problems.  The grief and strain of the last year is certainly apparent and feelings of low mood are understandable. Many of us will also be experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the increasing uncertainty and relentless nature of the situation. Although these feelings are common and expected given what is happening in our world, it’s important to recognise if we are becoming depressed or anxious and when it might be time to seek professional help. What is depression? Whilst it’s important that we don’t diagnose ourselves or others, and recognise that each person experiences depression very differently, common signs of low mental wellbeing might include: Loss of interest in normal activities Social withdrawal A deep unshakable sadness Feelings of despair Loneliness Hopelessness Guilt Tearfulness Physical aches and pains Poor concentration Changes in appetite Loss of libido Anxiety also often overlaps with depression.  Depression is very common and anyone can experience these feelings, it doesn’t discriminate. Commonly, the two questions that are asked to assess whether a person is experiencing depression, to what extent and as part of an overall assessment are: ‘In the last two weeks how long have you been experiencing feeling down, depressed or hopeless?’ and    ‘In the last two weeks how long have you had little interest or pleasure in the things that you would normally enjoy?’  Depending on the answers, questions around feelings of guilt, appetite, feeling bad about yourself, worrying about letting others down and thoughts of self-harm would follow. Men can often externalise their feelings of depression and become irritable and angry, whilst women may internalise their feelings and become sad and withdrawn. However, it’s important not to stereotype, each person is unique and it’s about how much these feelings are impacting your ability to function and whether they are increasing and becoming increasingly painful and difficult to manage.  Whilst depression can sometimes have no observable trigger, it can develop as an understandable response to difficult circumstances. Stress can prolong and worsen experiences of depression but can also be a trigger. If you recognise some of the above symptoms in yourself aim to talk to friends and family first, try to increase behaviours that might help such as regular exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet, and decrease some of the coping mechanisms that are unhelpful such as drinking too much alcohol. Seek out talking treatments or support from your GP or think about contacting the team at CA Support who will be able to explore further options.  What is anxiety? As mentioned earlier, anxiety is often present when people feel depressed as the two conditions can overlap. Whilst it’s worth remembering that anxiety is an understandable response to overwhelming and uncertain situations, it also has a protective quality in terms of warning us that something is threatening. Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense, or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat and helps to mobilise all our resources to cope with that threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Whilst anxiety can often leave us feeling tense and irritable, angry, and frustrated, physical symptoms such as a churning stomach, racing heart rate and breathlessness are also very common. Other symptoms of anxiety include pins and needles, feeling restless or unable to sit still, reduced ability to focus and concentrate, sweating or hot flushes and nausea. Most people feel anxious at times and it's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. Loneliness and isolation can also cause feelings of anxiety and low mood so it’s important to keep connected with those you love as much as possible, especially during this time. Sharing how you feel will lessen the burden and may encourage others to speak up.  Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if: Your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time Your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation You avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious Your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control You regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks  You find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy As with any concerns about your mental health and wellbeing it’s important to talk through your concerns with family and friends and seek out professional help and support if needed. It’s also important to do what you can to help yourself. Written by: Kirsty Lilley (psychotherapist and coach). 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. For all your wellbeing needs, CA Support are supporting our members and their families always. If you would like to help or if you need help please contact us by email or on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294.

Apr 12, 2021
News

With spring just around the corner and vaccinations on the rise, everything seems more hopeful. Now is the time to reinvigorate your team and get them to engage in their work in a meaningful way, says Anna O’Flanagan. We’ve made it through a long winter, and while it may not feel like it yet, spring is just around the corner. Some team members may be coming out of hibernation and engaging more. Others have perhaps fallen off the radar altogether. This third lockdown has been rough, so people will be reacting differently as we ease out of it over the next few months. Regardless of where your team members land, in order to bring the whole team together, leaders will need to encourage engagement over the next few months. According to The Progress Principle, which promotes creating meaning in our everyday work lives, we need to find ways of working that foster progress while also improving our work life on a daily basis. Strangely, these two things are not mutually exclusive. Creating meaningful work So, how do we create work that has meaning? Set goals and KPIs Setting clear goals and having ways to measure and mark milestones is an excellent place to start. This will help your team to understand the ‘why’ of their work. They will start to recognise the benefits of the work being achieved and will become fully aware when a goal is reached. Prioritise and collaborate If a project is deemed critical to your organisation, demonstrate its importance by clearing the decks and relieving the team of other responsibilities for now. Progress is also more visible and rewarding when teams are given the opportunity to collaborate on parts of their work. Give acknowledgement Remember to recognise all contributions to a project and acknowledge each milestone as it is reached. This gives clarity and purpose, helping people connect to the shared vision and experience and giving them the drive to continue. Celebrate! Finally, when all the hard work is done, even on a short-term project, it needs to be celebrated. Enrich your team and keep them focused by recognising all achievements and setting time for “events” that uplift them. There doesn’t need to be a big party, but time does need to be allocated for this to happen in a thoughtful and authentic way. So, how about setting some time aside this week to figure out with your team how and when they would like to be recognised and celebrated? Make their work meaningful and it will be worth the investment. Anna O’Flanagan is Founder and Chief Squirrel at Red Squirrel Team Building.

Feb 18, 2021

High chances are you’re struggling with lockdown fatigue —the inevitable psychological fallout of Covid-19 and all it has brought with it. It’s the reason so many people are feeling exhausted, irritable, drained of energy and motivation — when they’re doing less than ever.  The way in which our lives have transformed in such a short space of time has heavily impacted our daily routines, as many individuals no longer have to wake up at a certain time in order to be punctual for work or college. With such unending disruption to our normal lives, affecting every activity and social interaction we have, it is important to focus on what we can control. So, what can we do to address some of this lethargy?  The routines in our daily lives can be a good place to start as these will give us a structure to hang our day upon and bring us a guaranteed level of certainty, which is so lacking right now: Don’t be so hard on yourself One of the most common things people do when they are experiencing fatigue is beat themselves up for not doing more.  This is counter-productive and results in feeling even more downbeat about lacking motivation.  Instead, tell yourself that the feelings of lethargy will pass and are only temporary.  Give yourself a break – stay in bed a little bit longer, stay up watching TV a little later and eat whatever gets you through that day.  The key thing here is this is a temporary situation. Give yourself the day off and start afresh the next morning. Refresh your routines It’s fair to say that as we are all feeling drained and despondent, thinking “what’s the point” with it all, it would be easy to allow the routines that give us structure and meaning in our day can be discarded too quickly.  It is important to adapt and refresh these instead. Changing small details about our routines can make them easier to stick to - taking a walk outside before you start your day, introducing a no-screen coffee break during your morning, or committing to making a connection with one friend or family member every day – either a phone call, social media connection or email.   Equally, so all the days don’t blend into one, create new routines for different days – yoga on Monday and Sunday, gardening on Tuesdays, baking on Thursdays, pampering spa nights on Fridays and so on.  The trick here is to break the monotony but not the positive habits that bring us comfort. Get up and move! We all know the many benefits we can enjoy from a little exercise. It is the one sure way of elevating our mood – creating a bubble bath of chemicals in the brain!  Taking a 20-minute walk outside, building in some stretches or yoga into our day, or jumping into the sea if we have access to the coast will help to reinvigorate our energy levels. Incorporating any movement into your day is vital in counteracting the damage of sitting crouched over your laptop for eight hours or more. The most important aspect here taking it day-by-day and step-by-step. Change your mindset This is easier said than done but can pay dividends to our mental health. Instead of reminding ourselves how hard the current lockdown is, how bored we are, how we miss our friends and family, or how much we need a holiday, try practising acceptance instead. Repeating the same negative mantras can retrigger your despair and frustration. By reframing your negative thoughts into more positive ones of acceptance, life starts to look very difficult before too long. Learning about re-framing the negative from someone like Edith Edgar in her book The Choice is a good place to start. She asserts that happiness is a choice, and acceptance is a key part of this. This strategy helped her survive and thrive despite spending years in Auschwitz’s concentration camp during the WWII.  She explores how we can be imprisoned in our own minds and shows us how to find the key to freedom. As Oprah Winfrey said of her story: “The Choice is a reminder of what courage looks like in the worst of times and that we all have the ability to pay attention to what we've lost, or to pay attention to what we still have”. And, so to sleep. It cannot be overstated how important getting plenty of shut eye is.  It is the one single wellbeing routine that we can practice which delivers the biggest return on our health. An optimum of 7-8 hours allow us to enjoy 5 REM cycles which is key in obtaining that deep sleep so important in maintaining our circadian rhythms which keep us physically and mentally fit. Avoiding caffeine from 12 noon and blue light two hours before bedtime, while ensuring a cool, completely dark room will all help you maintain a great sleep routine. Dee France, manager of CA Support. Members and students who need emotional or wellbeing support, can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/casupport

Feb 11, 2021
News

Many professionals are beginning to feel overwhelmed by homeschooling while working full-time. Paul Kelly has five helpful tips that should help relieve the pressure of being both parent and worker. Parents of the class of 2021 are being asked to shoulder an extensive load, as they fulfil their professional responsibilities alongside the mammoth task of homeschooling their children in preparation for the leaving cert in a format of which remains to be seen. With work deadlines looming and studies to be completed, how can parents manage it all? Control the controllable  Map out the week ahead and limit the decisions to be made. Meals can be planned, and dedicated work/study times set out – this is particularly relevant if your internet is problematic, or you are sharing a workspace.  Agree the family’s collective priorities for the coming week, whether it is a work presentation or an assignment deadline. Communication is key – knowing what everyone is focusing on will help you work as a team to get everything over the line, and it will help you to pre-empt or address any concerns your child may have.   Set joint longer-term goals Are you working towards a specific goal at work? Share it with your family and ensure they understand how it will benefit them. Similarly, for your leaving cert child, their chosen college course is not a solo goal, it is now a shared goal for the family. Maintain levels of motivation by starting a bucket list of things you’ll do and places you’ll go when the leaving cert exams are over and restrictions lift.   Practice discipline Try to keep as much normal structure to your days as you can. Set your alarm for a consistent time with everyone up and dressed, ready to start the working day at 9am. Keep tidy, dedicated workspaces and stick to normal break times. Outline your working times, and ensure you actually work while you are at work. This will help you to switch off from work when you are back in parent-mode.  Reset and refresh Make sure everyone switches off and look for ways of breaking up the mundane. It can be hard with teenagers who are missing social outlets, but a family takeaway or movie on a Saturday night gives everyone something to look forward to. Make sure you look after your own headspace by limiting time spent reading the news. Instead, try to get out for a walk in the fresh air once a day and encourage your children to do the same.     Seek out support Whether it’s asking for support in work or getting your child some extra assistance with their studies, if things are becoming too much, look for ways of getting help, within the confines of the restrictions. These are unprecedented times, try to understand your own limits and be kind, both to yourself as well as your children. This, too, shall pass.   Paul Kelly is the Director of Teaching at Homeschool.ie which provides an online grinds service for primary and secondary school students.

Feb 05, 2021
AI Extra

Just five years ago, Jason McIntosh was working in practice and didn’t know what the next five years would hold. Now a Finance Manager at Seagate Technology, he answers our six career questions. Five years ago, where did you think you would be now? Have you lived up to your own expectations? Five years ago, I had not long qualified as a Chartered Accountant and was still working in practice. (It doesn’t feel that long, so quantifying it is quite scary!) At that stage, I wasn’t sure where I would be in five years. I probably had this idea about what it would be like to be an accountant in industry, but I wasn’t sure it would be for me.  Having worked in industry for almost three years now, I’m delighted to have been wrong about that – I have a job that I really enjoy, working with great people and getting the opportunity to gain loads of experience in a global role within a global organisation.  Have I lived up to my own expectations? Probably yes – mostly because I didn’t know what to expect! I’m a big believer in constantly challenging yourself, so in that regard I think I’ve probably done that plenty over the last five years.  What do you wish you had known earlier in life? On a professional level: it’s never too early to build your network. I was given this advice on my first day working as an accountant, and probably didn’t take it seriously enough then. But it’s true. As you progress in your career, your network will invariably become something that you rely on from time to time. Looking after it is important, too; stay in touch with the people you meet.  Personally, probably the importance of spending time with your family. When you’re young, life seems so busy and we probably don’t take the time to spend with our parents and our grandparents while we can.  Where do you see yourself this time next year? Hopefully in the office at least a few days a week – without face masks! Like everyone, I’m missing the human interaction of an office. I’ve been working at home full-time for almost a year.  In my current role, I can still see huge opportunities to learn and so this time next year, I’ll hopefully still be doing just that.  Who inspires you personally and professionally?  It may be a little cliché, but my family inspires me. My son is turning three this year, and he approaches life with a curiosity and sense of humour that is infectious. And my wife, who is also a Chartered Accountant, inspires me in so many ways, as well.  Professionally, I try to take a little bit of inspiration from as many sources as possible. You can learn something from everyone, even if it’s what not to do!  If you weren’t a Chartered Accountant, what do you think you’d be doing? That’s a tough question! I studied law at university, and I would probably have pursued that further as I did really enjoy it. That or playing in midfield for Manchester United.   What advice do you have for those who will soon qualify as Chartered Accountants? Treat every day as an opportunity to learn and grow. Early in your career is the absolute best time to soak in every bit of experience you can. Make sure that your job allows you the opportunity to constantly challenge and develop yourself. In a similar vein, actively seek opportunities to learn something new and to learn from others. The best Chartered Accountants I know have breadth of experience as well as depth.  Don’t be afraid to take an opportunity when one arises. Great things never came from comfort zones. 

Jan 13, 2021

We are in unpredictable times and 2020 taught us to cherish what we have, particularly family and friends, take nothing for granted and look after our physical and mental health. Certainly, getting a fresh start in 2021 is really appealing and creating some new year resolutions or goals means we start off on the right foot.  New habits and behaviours can be challenging they don’t happen overnight and can take commitment and dedication.  The brain does not like swift, abrupt change, but benefits can be very worthwhile, so think of this as an investment in yourself. The top ten resolutions each year include: Exercise more Lose weight Get organized Learn a new skill or hobby  Live life to the fullest Save more money / spend less money Quit smoking Spend more time with family and friends Travel more Read more Most of us can relate to some or all the resolutions listed. Resolutions and goals are unique to each of us, so perhaps before you create them consider the questions below: How would you like to feel? Will the resolution help you get there? Would you recommend this resolution to a friend of colleague? How will the resolution impact you? Are you removing something and simply making a change? What is the improvement you want to make and why? When it comes to new year resolutions almost half of us are unsuccessful at fulfilling them, so perhaps we need to consider how we approach them? Below are some tips which may help to keep you on track and ensure success in 2021 Be mindful When embarking on changing a habit or behaviour it is important to prepare mentally by taking a step back and taking stock. When thinking about any change try to keep in mind: Change should be gradual Build on smaller changes Remain positive Accept that there could be setbacks and allow for them Own them Ensure the goals you have set are yours and that this is something you want and not something which you think you should be aiming for. You have a far better chance for success if you are intrinsically motivated to reach your goal Be realistic Do not create a long list, limit the number of resolutions you commit to. Be selective about the ones which mean the most and are the most attainable for you.  Be specific It’s easy to set goals which we cannot achieve, so take some time to ensure they are achievable. A good suggestion is to use SMART to help you create them: Specific - What do you want to achieve, break it down be specific Measurable - How can you measure if you have achieved it e.g., walk a mile in 20 minutes or lose 10% of your weight Attainable – Is the goal or resolution attainable e.g., this is not a good year to include world travel, but it might a good year to travel your corner of the world Relevant - Keep it relevant to you, your life and how you want to improve it Timeline – Give yourself an appropriate deadline to work towards Small wins Break them up into small pieces.  As you tick off each box, your confidence will grow with each small success and spur you on. Share them By keeping the resolution to yourself you can fall into a trap and give up at the first hurdle. By sharing these with others you become accountable and less likely to forget or give in. You could also find that by sharing, other like-minded people may join you. Keep going Setbacks happen, but it is how you handle them that counts. Own the setback, understand how and why it happened and move on. Remember “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” Lao Tzu.   CA Support is here to support our students, members, and their families. Contact the CA Support team on mobile: (353) 86 024 3294 or email:  casupport@charteredaccountants.ie

Jan 05, 2021