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How I overcame anxiety whilst studying AAT

If you’re suffering from anxiety it can be a really difficult time. For Andy Murray AATQB FIAB, it meant that he had to leave work and take time out of his AAT studies.

He shares his story with us as part of our #AATPowerUp campaign and tells us how he came out the other side stronger. He is now continuing his Level 4 studies and really enjoys his job as an Accounts Manager for Caterfix Ltd – a commercial catering and service company based in Peterborough.

What led you to begin studying with AAT?

I worked in Hospitality Management and had wanted to change careers having worked long hours and shift work for seven years. My last role in the industry was in an events sales office where I got involved in sales ledger and finance admin. I really enjoyed the tasks I was doing and the Financial Controller suggested if I was looking at a career in finance to consider studying with the AAT.

What are some of the challenges you have overcome while studying?

Whilst studying I overcame some anxiety issues, which meant I had to take a couple of years out as a break. My confidence has increased significantly, especially in the workplace, by understanding accounting principles and accounting terminology. This has helped me with building a career in a new sector.

How long have you been studying?

I started studying Level 2 in 2013 and passed Level 2 and Level 3 by 2014. I then had a couple of years off due to my struggles with anxiety. I was still studying and preparing to take exams but I didn’t sit any until early 2018. I wanted to take a relaxed approach to studying AAT, which I think I learnt with experience after passing Levels 2 and 3.

Also due to the increase in the difficulty of Level 4 I wanted to take my time to understand what I was learning step by step and enjoy the journey.

How would you describe the feeling of anxiety?

It’s hard to explain in words but it’s a mixture of feelings – confusion, isolation, sheer panic and it’s very uncomfortable. I’d never experienced anything like it. At first, I didn’t know what it was and kept ignoring it, thinking it was just a bad day. It affected my study, sleep, social life, relationships and I couldn’t work.

Can you attribute anything to the start and cause of your anxiety?

It was a mixture of being in an unsupported working environment and also job demands at the time. On paper I was in a role I was capable of but when I started they wanted someone more senior and put a lot of pressure on me. My abilities were questioned and my confidence was really knocked.

Was there a particular trigger that told you you needed to make a change?

Once I identified that it was work causing it I had to leave. I was lucky to have some finances to fall back on to take some time off to try and get better. Despite the issues, I left on good terms but it was such a relief.

What action did you take to overcome your anxiety?

I tried lots of things to help like medication, meditation and counselling until I found the things that worked for me. I decided not to jump into a new role too quickly until I was definitely ready to return to work. I took my time to put a plan in place to find my next employer – an employer who I felt would support me through my studies and in the workplace. I started in my role part-time then grew to full-time.

I worked with my college to put a plan of action in place to start my studies again, they were really supportive of this. I learnt to focus on one exam at a time, not rush the learning and exam process. When I started to feel really anxious I knew that things could change very quickly, so not planning too far ahead was the best advice I was given.

I also contacted the AAT regarding some ethical concerns in my previous role and they were great at putting my mind at ease and advised me accordingly. As a member, you can ring and seek advice – technical or legal knowledge. They were very good – helping me at a very stressful time and relieved some of the pressure.

How does your current employer encourage and support your training?

Nothing is too much trouble for them – they are very people-orientated and the door is always open to the bosses office. Internal communication is always encouraged and they have regular meetings with employees. I feel very supported in the workplace.

The Directors are on hand to help with industry-specific knowledge and any work relating to my studies and I have access to our external accountant. As my studies were already paid for (I have self-funded the whole of my AAT journey), my employer allows me to take paid study and exam leave. The company will also consider helping with my future aspirations and continued professional development. My next ambition is to study for CIMA.

How has studying AAT helped you progress in your career?

The highlight for me was receiving two promotions within 18 months. It has opened a lot of doors for me and helped in interviews, especially my AATQB status. My current employer really liked it and the fact I’m continuing to progress with my studies. Passing Level 4 will see another increase in my annual salary and will allow me to undertake various other financial activities that the business requires.

What has been the best part of studying AAT?

Achieving AATQB and I’m soon to have MAAT after my name! The end is in sight now. I’ve just got one resit to do (hopefully!) in September.

Hear more of Andy’s story below:

Key takeaways

  • Take your time with studying – it’s not a race or a competition.
  • Reward yourself after certain milestones are met. For me, this might be a pub lunch, a trip to the cinema or a spa treatment for passing an exam or getting halfway through a level.
  • Hobbies and social time are very important. It’s so easy to feel guilty if you’re not studying but you need time to digest information and deserve breaks.
  • Use peer groups for study support – both online and offline these can be really beneficial. Talk to fellow students and remind yourself that you’re not alone. I found some great Facebook groups with students and tutors that I wish I’d found sooner!
  • Remember why you are studying for the qualification. Focus on the long term goals and aspirations. It is so worth it!

Further reading

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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