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A 4-point plan for reducing stress

Published on September 30, 2019

IAccountancy has long been a stressful, high-stakes profession. Ensuring that a client's books are in order is a task that comes with great responsibility. In today's age, that sense of stress is compounded by reams of discourse about how the rise of advanced technology will forever alter the way we do our jobs, if not replace them altogether. We have to deal with innovation happening at an ever-increasing rate, which can induce a feeling of stress akin to whiplash.

Stress isn't all bad. Internal pressure, after all, signifies that your work matters to you, that you care about doing a good job. If you are lax and carefree at your job, you're probably just going through the motions.

Far more common than too little stress, though, is too much of it. Stress shouldn't be so constant or overwhelming that it leads to sleepless nights. When you find yourself in a harried mood 24/7, it's time to make a change — and fast.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the way you live outside the office may contribute to your stress inside it. These external stressors, while not directly related to work, compound our sense of frustration. If you've ever been to work without enough sleep, you know how difficult it can be to focus on the job when your body and mind are not at their best. When we treat ourselves without care and consideration, we are, in a certain sense, coming to the office without a fresh perspective every day. To avoid that fate, ask yourself how you measure up in the following four crucial wellness categories, each of which is essential for you to perform at a high level.

1. Get regular exercise
Our minds and bodies are connected. Ignoring the health of one has negative effects on the other. "Studies indicate that our mental firepower is directly linked to our physical regimen," wrote Ron Friedman in Harvard Business Review. As such, maintaining a healthy exercise routine can help you feel more alert and energized at work.

Unfortunately, most of us simply don't exercise enough. When I speak about this at conferences, it usually comes down to most saying they don't have time. According to a recent National Health Statistics Report issued by the Centers for Disease Control, only "22.9% of U.S. adults ages 18–64 met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities." That means that roughly 4 out of every 5 accountants could stand to work out a little more.

It can seem like a burden to expend energy after you're finished working, but that initial outlay of effort will reap huge benefits in no time. It can take as little as one week of working out to begin to see and feel benefits, and those will compound over time.

Exercise also can be worked right into your day. Walking has always proved to be one of the most beneficial exercises you can do. So rather than meeting with one of your co-workers in the office, ask him or her to take a walk and meet instead! Then you can get a workout while getting work done.

2. Develop good sleep habits
"The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life," writes Matthew Walker, Ph.D., in his best-selling book Why We Sleep. "The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations — diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer — all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep." It's not a stretch to say that what happens when we sleep informs how we act when we're awake.

What does good sleep look like? Adults should aim to have at least eight hours of quality sleep per night. Quality is the operative word here. Eight hours spent tossing and turning, trying to sleep, is not eight hours spent sleeping.

If you struggle to get enough sleep, try creating a regular sleep schedule, eliminating blue light in the hours before bedtime, and disconnecting from electronic devices (one of the main sources of blue light) before getting under the covers.

Accountants tell me all the time that they work right up until going to bed. I have found that it's important to find a way to disconnect before going to sleep. One activity that has helped me is doing a sleep meditation using a guided meditation app to have a better night's sleep. When you can't get a good night's sleep no matter how hard you try, you should consider consulting a doctor.

3. Embrace a healthy diet
The fuel you put into your body is just as important as your rest and exercise. If you're familiar with the term "hangry," you understand how much our food intake impacts our mood. But the links go beyond even that. A study from the University of Gothenburg found that hormones released during hunger adversely affect our decision-making skills.

It's not just about how much we eat, but rather the nutritional profile of the foods we consume. Binging on sugar and caffeine may give you a jolt of energy, but it will leave you feeling burned out in a hurry. Instead of relying on cheap pick-me-ups to get you through the day, stay hydrated, eat well, and pack healthy snacks for when you're getting weary. Review what food you are putting out in the office as snacks or assess your eating rituals when you are on the road visiting clients. It's important that what we are putting into our body isn't always processed, sugar-packed foods. Make an effort to eat fruits, vegetables, and proteins that you know where all the ingredients came from. It will do wonders for evening out your energy throughout the day.

4. Practice mindfulness techniques
I'm a huge proponent of teaching mindfulness in the workplace. Taking time to put ourselves in the present moment and reflecting on our surroundings helps us stay centered and calm in even the most chaotic of times. We can't always change the circumstances of our day, but we can change how we respond to them.

Simply taking 10 minutes a day to step away from the grind and practice some guided meditation can make a world of difference. Apps like Calm and Headspace allow you to practice mindfulness no matter where you are or how much (or little) time you have.

At some workplaces, I have seen mindfulness breaks built into the morning and afternoon. During these times, employees can go to a designated area to meditate, read, or listen to music, so that they can reset, reduce stress, and be present.

If you're resistant to mindfulness practice, I urge you to put those preconceived notions aside and give it a try, or instead of meditating, listen to music, read, or get up from the desk and take a walk. You will find when you give yourself mental breaks, you will actually be more productive and probably get more done than less.

As with anything, trying something once isn't enough to know whether you truly like something or not. Dedicate 10 minutes a day for 30 days, and then assess how you are feeling and whether you are better for the people around you as well.

Bringing it all together
While each of these practices has benefits in its own right, they really begin to work wonders when you apply them in concert. We could all stand to improve our wellness outside of the office in at least one of these areas, however; as you can see, many of these areas can be accomplished right within our workday for optimum mind and body health.

You may be surprised to learn that success in the four areas not only can improve how you feel on the inside, but it also can possibly have a positive impact on those around you as well.

You can't just flip a switch and begin attacking all of these areas at full speed. Start piecemeal and try to improve a little bit in one or two places, beginning with those that are most in need of an upgrade. Don't get discouraged. Building new habits takes time, but the results you'll see both inside and outside the office will make it more than worth it.
Source: AICPA – CPA Letter Daily - CPA Insider – September 24, 2019)