It doesn’t matter whether you are in public or private accounting, we all have busy seasons throughout the course of the year. In private accounting you probably struggle with quarterly deadlines and in public accounting you’re most likely faced with busy times like tax season; times where there is more work to get done than at other times during the year.
No matter how long you’ve been an accountant, see if any of these sound like you:
- You’re a busy, stressed accountant and mom
- You’ve tried to reduce your stress level before
- You’re already dreading busy season
- You feel so drained
- Stress has already created some physical issues
Now obviously stress is not unique to the accounting profession, but when you add the demands of an accounting career to the demands of being a mom, it can pretty much guarantee that you’ll experience stress trying to balance it all. Before you know it, you’re overwhelmed, frustrated and confused about how to handle everything you have to do.
Unfortunately, as a profession, accountants have normalized stress in our lives because everyone around us seems to be stressed as well. We find it hard to believe that things can be different since it seems like it’s just a normal part of the work culture; as if stress is a given, or possibly even a badge of honor.
I’ve been a CPA in public accounting for over 30 years and a mom for almost that entire time so I know all about dealing with stress, especially during tax season. I have also attended dozens of in-person trainings with thousands of other accountants that looked tired and stressed, giving me validation that I wasn’t alone in feeling stressed as an accountant.
Like other accountant moms I struggled with balancing both a career and a family, feeling that stress was just a necessary part of my chosen career and that making it through each busy season with my sanity intact was a huge accomplishment. Getting through April 15th each year is like climbing the summit of a mountain, placing my flag at the top with other stressed accountants.
But about 10 years ago, I began to question the normalcy and necessity of stress, even during busy season. I started applying things that I was learning in order to help me in other areas of my life, to the area of stress during busy season, and began to see incredible changes.
At first I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing anything differently, but they were noticing. I was happier, more focused, more productive, more efficient, less stressed, and feeling better all around.
I was shocked to discover that I could reduce my stress dramatically, especially as an accountant in public accounting and get more work done in less time. I was so pleasantly surprised that I could feel better at work and at home in ways that I never thought were possible.
If you believe that stress is a necessary part of your job as an accountant, I can honestly tell you it’s not. I’m here to let you know that, not only is it not necessary but, having a stress-free busy season, or a stress-free life for that matter, is possible.
This week I discuss where stress comes from and my 3 secrets for having a stress-free busy season.
Where stress comes from
Like everyone else, I believed that stress came from the time of year, the type and amount of work I had, the difficult people I had to deal with, and a whole bunch of other circumstances in my life both personally and professionally. I had normalized stress along with every other accountant I knew and worked with.
But after I married my second husband, something changed. He wasn’t used to being married to an accountant and was curious about why stress was so prevalent in the profession; why I seemed like a different person depending on the time of year or the amount of work I had.
At first I wanted to justify that that’s just the way it is, but then I began to question why – why is it this way and does it have to be? Why had stress become so normalized? I also began to question how stress affects women physically and was shocked at the health risks that I hadn’t been aware of up until then.
The risks of heart conditions, strokes and even diabetes were all drastically increased in women who experienced stress at work. I had been experiencing increased headaches, lack of sleep, stomach issues, I seemed to be prone to coming down with whatever illness was going around, and I just felt drained all the time.
The great thing was that once I dramatically reduced my stress level, I had so much more energy mentally and physically, my headaches went away, I slept better, and I was less apt to catch any illness going around the office. Once I discovered where stress comes from and how to reduce it, everything changed.
The truth that I learned and I really want you to hear, is that stress doesn’t come for the circumstances in our lives, it comes from the thoughts we have about the circumstances in our lives. This simple but powerful truth literally changed how I handle busy season and frankly every circumstance in my life.
In order to explain this, as I have shared on the podcast, we have two parts of our human brain that are involved in decision making – the primitive, lower brain and the pre-frontal cortex, or higher brain. Your primitive brain is motivated by three things – to seek pleasure, to avoid pain, and to be efficient.
This part of the brain is running your life more than 80% of the time without your conscious awareness. When I usually explain the difference between the two parts of the brain, I like to use the analogy of the primitive brain often being like a toddler running around your home with a red lipstick, wreaking havoc, but also having no clue that what it’s doing isn’t helpful; it means well but it doesn’t realize the effects of its choices.
On the other hand, I like to describe the pre-frontal cortex, or the higher brain, like the supervising mother who can see the toddler with the red lipstick and calmly redirect the child to some safe crayons and paper as opposed to drawing all over the cream colored couch (this actually happened to my neighbor!). This higher part of your human brain is where better decision making and higher thought processes reside.
Of course we don’t want to get rid of the toddler part of our brain because it’s job is to keep us alive; we just want to manage the toddler better. This primitive part of your brain has been taking its programming, like the hard-drive of your computer, from your parents, teachers, society, peers, others in your line of work, and it replays those programs over and over again.
What I learned is that in order for your brain to be efficient, it has a default mode that we never were taught existed, let alone how to reprogram it. So basically, we’ve been living by default based on the thoughts and beliefs that have been stored in our primitive brain.
The epiphany I had after marrying my husband, was that I was believing what every other accountant believed about the inevitability of stress. I had bought into what everyone else around me was experiencing, basically living by default instead of living intentionally, because my primitive brain had been programmed to believe what other accountants believed.
In other words, I was letting the toddler with the red lipstick run all over the house without realizing I had the power to take back control. I had the power to have a stress-free busy season and a stress-free life whenever I wanted to.
What I thankfully discovered is that stress doesn’t come from busy season; I was feeling stressed because of what I believed was normal to think and feel about busy season. So if I was the one creating the feeling of stress because of what I was thinking, I could create a stress-free busy season as well, and that’s what I’ve done since this realization.
Here’s the key – I’m not a special unicorn that has been able to do something that no other accountant can do. You CAN have a stress-free busy season as well; you just need to unlearn and learn some things.
My 3 secrets for having a stress-free busy season
Before I share the secrets for having a stress-free busy season, let me share what a stress free life looks like:
- Much less bothered by bosses, coworkers, work load, time of year, deadlines, etc.
- Super focused and productive at work
- Get more done in less time
- Much closer relationship with my husband
- Deeper relationships with my children
- No longer stressed by other people’s behavior or choices
- Less time spent trying to feel better with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, etc.
- Basically, it’s a pretty wonderful life!
If it seems impossible to have a stress-free busy season, I’m here to honestly tell you it’s not. Your resistance to the idea and your doubt is perfectly normal because you’ve probably never allowed yourself to believe that it was possible.
But that’s the first secret I want to share with you – you have to be open to the idea that it’s possible. That wonderful, smart accountant brain of yours will always show you proof of what you believe to be true, so if you believe it’s not possible, that’s all your brain will look to prove true.
It will offer you thoughts like “It’s a nice idea, but it’s not possible for me” or “It sounds interesting but it’s probably too complicated”. I completely get it because that’s what I thought at first as well.
Stress was such a familiar feeling, that being open to the idea that I could be stress-free and get more work done, be more efficient, and be happier, seemed like crazy talk. Since I wasn’t surrounded by examples of stress-free accountants, I had to show my brain it was possible by looking at other areas of my life where I had used the tool I learned, and had dramatically reduced my stress.
The second secret for having a stress-free busy season is that it’s easier than you think. As I said before, I had learned how to feel better in many different areas of my life, but I never considered applying what I learned to something like my stress at work because I believed that stress was just part of the job of being an accountant; as if it was just an irrefutable fact.
Like many accountants, I made the connection between the feeling of stress and being able to get through deadlines, as if stress was the necessary fuel in order to make it possible to get all my work done. Thankfully, I learned that that’s completely false and that the truth is that stress actually wastes time and decreases productivity, making it a horrible fuel to use if you want to be productive and efficient.
It’s important to know that the lower, primitive part of your brain does not want to change anything that’s familiar because something like learning to think differently expends energy. Remember, that the lower brain is motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain and be efficient, so it will offer you thoughts that will resist the idea of changing a strongly held belief, like the belief that stress is just part of busy season.
The key with this, is having a compelling reason to want to override the toddler part of the brain when it doesn’t want to believe something different, and throws a tantrum. The most important thing is that you have a compelling reason, and that it needs to be more powerful than your resistance to the idea of a stress-free busy season.
If you are feeling resistance right now to this idea that you can have a stress-free busy season, that’s totally normal, but you should still come up with a strong, compelling reason why you want to feel less stress anyway. My compelling reason for wanting to reduce my stress during busy season was my family; I wanted to be there for my husband and my children in ways that stress had made impossible.
I already shared what my stress-free life looks like, now start to imagine yours. Start to think about all the ways that stress has affected you mentally, physically, emotionally and relationally, and open up to the idea that not only is it possible, but it might not be as difficult as you might have been led to believe.
The third secret for having a stress-free busy season is the tool I learned to use – managing my mind. Like I said before, I had learned a tool that I was applying to other areas of my life and had never thought to apply that tool to my level of stress during busy season because I initially didn’t believe it was possible, especially since I had 20+ years of proof at the time that busy season equals stress.
But once I started to apply the tool of managing my mind, I started to see small changes happening. I started to have more energy at the end of the day, not be so annoyed at my boss when he put more work on my plate, and I was able to manage my time so much better, getting much more done in less time.
By spending only 10 minutes in the morning using the tool I had learned, I was able to set the tone for the rest of the day. Working those extra hours that are required during busy season was no longer such a struggle and I was able to be much more focused and productive than I had ever been, plus have more time with my family.
As I said before, I began sleeping better, my headaches went away, and even my chiropractor noticed a difference in how my body was reacting as I continued to use the tool of managing my mind every day. With each day, I was getting better and better at managing my mind, being the supervising mother of my primitive brain, and taking that red lipstick away from the toddler before it got out of hand.
So just know that not only is it possible to have a stress-free busy season, but it’s actually easier than you think. You absolutely can have the stress-free life that I’ve been able to achieve, without things like meditation or medication, by just unlearning some things and then learning and applying the 3 secrets I’ve shared.
If you’d like to learn the tool I’ve used to manage my mind and have a stress-free busy season, you can check out CPA MOMS “The Balanced Accountant” 5-week coaching program HERE
- Unfortunately, as a profession, accountants have normalized stress in our lives because everyone around us seems to be stressed as well.
- The truth that I learned and I really want you to hear is that stress doesn’t come for the circumstances in our lives, it comes from the thoughts we have about the circumstances in our lives.
- What I discovered is that stress doesn’t come from busy season; I was feeling stressed because of what I believed was normal to think and feel about busy season.
- You absolutely can have the stress-free life that I’ve been able to achieve, without meditation or medication, by just unlearning some things and then learning and applying the 3 secrets I’ve shared.