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Managing mental wellness in self-assessment season

Although much of the tips, tricks and advice given in this blog can apply to anyone at any time, I wanted to visit the topic with self-assessment season on my mind in particular.

Managing mental wellness in self-assessment season
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  • Contributed by Alex Thomas
  • January 09, 2020
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Mental wellness is something we all have and it is something everyone should pay attention to, even if there’s no ‘official’ mental health issue going on. Robust mental wellness strategies should help us come through stressful periods without feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

As many accountants log on for the first time after the Christmas break, stress levels start to rise. It’s self-assessment season and – as always – it’s promising to be a busy one.

Good mental wellness strategies can act as a helpful antidote to the non-stop nature of accountancy in the month ahead, so I wanted to share some of the best advice out there in a handy crib-sheet.

The team you have around you are all in the same boat. You’re all working hard, but are you working hard together?

Sometimes in an office setting, you will find that several people have the same pain point but no one is talking about it, so it isn’t resolved. There’s hardly any time for meetings in January, so perhaps a suggestions bowl could be left out for team members to leave their thoughts and feedback.

Chances are, each person feels they’re the only one facing a particular challenge when they are not. The suggestion bowl can enable the leaders to collate the problems and acknowledge them, giving the team an update that addresses concerns raised. Doing so will reduce feelings of powerlessness within the group and encourage further collaboration.

Colleagues can also support each other with a workload check-in. Encourage an ‘asking’ culture between all team members. Try to get into the habit of asking “are you OK?” and “can I help you?”. On the other side, teams should be encouraged to ask for help if they are struggling. They should not feel they have to wait to be asked about their workload to get some assistance. Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work on their plate quickly leads to intolerable stress levels.

Time management is difficult when deadlines are looming, so I suggest a time-trade. If you were meant to finish at 6pm but ended up staying later, you can schedule in a reward or relaxation to make up for the time lost. Perhaps you worked an hour later, but 30 minutes in the gym would help you let go of the day’s tension. Make that time yours and maintain your work-life balance.

Rewards don’t have to be expensive, or they can be as extravagant as you want. There are no rules for time-rewards; it just has to suit you. Perhaps that means a little longer in the shower singing along to your favourite music or booking a massage for the end of the week. It could even be a mini-break over the first weekend of February to look forward to. Small rewards each day works for some and building up to a significant reward works for others.

Using a ‘One Good Thing’ method is useful to help you maintain perspective during high-stress times. At the start of the day, make a plan. Work out what you need to do, what you want to do, and what can be deferred. Based on these categories, set one or two overall goals for your day, and work towards ticking the relevant tasks off your list.

Before the day is over, take a minute and record at least one good thing from the day. It could be an achievement, or it could be that you actually drank your coffee this morning before it got cold.

Anxiety and panic are often hidden issues for people working in an office setting. But when things are becoming stressful, anyone can be hit with the fight/flight/freeze reflex. Some of my favourite strategies for handling anxiety and panic at work use the senses to re-ground yourself so you can step back and calm down before tackling the stressful situation again.

Personally, I find scents and textures the most grounding. Things like essential oils dabbed on pulse points or something tactile to play with – a feather often works, or a desk toy like a Tangle.

Stress can manifest as tension in muscles, so knowing a few easy stretches can go a long way.

A big trigger for many people is when a mistake is made. How will the leader handle the situation? It can be useful to set up a plan in advance so that when a colleague needs to come to management with a problem, they know what will happen. This can be reassuring during stressful periods, as stressed-out leaders are sometimes unpredictable which leaves mistakes to linger.

Acknowledge mistakes happen, get input from colleagues, fix the issue, identify the lessons, and move on to the next task.

Crib Sheet

  • You’re all in this together! Work as a team and encourage an ‘asking’ culture.
  • Provide a way to feedback pain points to leaders. Share results with the whole team and work together to resolve them.
  • Trade your time! An extra hour in the office could be traded with a half-hour walk to clear your head.
  • Rewards – little or big, they work. Maybe your ideal treat is stopping for a hot chocolate on the way home. Perhaps you’d rather have a big treat like a mini-break in February. Reward yourself, and it will motivate you through the stress.
  • Make plans and notice good things. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Make a note of the good things that happen before you finish your day.
  • Manage anxiety before it becomes panic. You can often halt anxiety by calming the flight/fight/freeze reaction. Involve the senses and take a step back to breathe.
  • Put in a mistake plan. Let team members know what to expect from their leaders when an issue arises.
  • Other useful things – don’t skip food, drink enough water, try to get outside for breaks, and keep in touch with friends outside of work.

Alex Thomas, content executive at BTC Software

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