For accountants, it happens in the second week of March. You’ve already stopped trying to keep up with current events or having quality time with your spouse or significant other. You are almost at that point that when you walk in the door at home, you grab something to eat and head right to bed so you can wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
We call it the tax season stress zone, but many professions have periods, some longer than others, of high-stress work. The idea is to avoid a stress zone turning into burnout.
Burnout makes every day seem like a bad day. When you are burnt out, you can’t muster up enough energy to care about even the most cherished people in your life.
Watch out for symptoms of burnout, like:
- Severe physical and mental exhaustion
- Lack of interest
Pay attention to these symptoms – you may think you are simply stressed when you are actually approaching burnout. Stress and burnout have opposite reactions in most cases. When you’re stressed, you are over-engaged. With burnout, you disengage. With stress, emotions are heightened. With burnout, they are dulled.
Unfortunately, high pressure periods bring all the ingredients of burnout: high volume of work, quick deadlines, monotony and chaotic environment with lots of demands. Lifestyle trends such as lack of eating and exercise habits are also a huge risk factor in causing burnout.
Tips for Managing Stress
Here are several tips to help prevent this bad situation.
Eat right and drink water.
I failed miserably at this for many years. Once, I actually thought it would be a good idea to spend the heart of busy season working through lunch and subsiding on Triscuits and Gatorade. All that got me was a higher blood pressure from all the sodium as well as an irregular heartbeat for a few months. Fortunately I was able to straighten this out but it took some time and it could have ended up very badly.
Commit to good eating habits. That means watching the caffeine and carbs and eating veggies and protein. It’s okay to grab a few snacks but try to avoid the Little Debbie casseroles at all costs.
This one is huge! I know, I know, when are you going to find time to exercise? But, sitting at your desk all day will make your brain stale and could lead to severe health problems. So you need to make time for this.
Those who don’t exercise during busy periods will often feel weary. Finding time to exercise will allow you to perform the same work more efficiently and feel energized while doing it. An added benefit to exercise is that recovery time, both mentally and physically, immediately following a busy period will be more rapid than it would be without exercise.
Use your calendar to help set boundaries.
Boundaries define how you want work with others. Used properly, they can help you set up “no trespassing zones” and keep your sanity.
During busy season, let your calendar be a boundary. If you have the ability to schedule out appointments, do it. This way you can control to some extent the work flow through your office.
Determine what time you are going home every night and commit to it. This means finding a good stopping point on whatever job or task you are on. This is not always easy but the more you can do this, the less stressed you’ll be.
Laughter cuts through stress and tension like a hot knife through butter. It’s long been said that laughter is the best medicine. It relieves stress and improves your outlook. Laughter is also very contagious. A few minutes of this a day with your coworkers and you will quickly see the stress level of an entire office unit become lower.
Don’t forget your family.
Work/life balance is a myth. You just have to figure out how to make time for both. Yes, you probably won’t see your family for as much time during a busy period, but you need to see them for your own sanity. Come home at the same time each night or leave later each morning, or schedule a lunch date with your child at school – it will do your whole family good.
By Philip Kern, CPA, Manager