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7 tips from a psychologist to redeem your mental health

2020 and what we’ve known of 2021 so far, has been a time like no other, so look after yourself.

Not since World War II has there been a time in the UK when we have all been subjected to such continuous levels of threat. It can feel exhausting to potentially run the gauntlet every time we go to the shop.

That strain can spill over into your working life, with your clients, children, boss and extended family all competing for your attention. The added burden of being in accountancy is that now, more than ever, there’s an additional emotional toll – as your clients are often depending on you for their and their families’ very survival.

Then there’s the additional workload created as a result of Brexit. These are choppy waters which we are all navigating for the first time, but, as financial experts, you’re still somehow expected to be experts. Of course, there’s the usual tax and filing work that comes at the beginning of every year. It’s certainly a demanding time right now and, as a result, the potential for stress and pressure is huge.

When I work with clients in therapy sessions, I explain to them that threatened brains are real energy drains – and that constant levels of threat aren’t sustainable. Yet here we are, a year on, and still in “threat brain”. So, what can we do to help ourselves have the best chance of coming through this as emotionally unscathed as possible? Here are some approaches that I find helpful.

1. Give yourself a break

Take the pressure off yourself by planning your workload as much much as possible. This will streamline your workflow and remove many of the crunch moments that can prove so stressful. Automating your admin can also help with taking a load off your mind and allow you to focus on the essentials.

2. Rest properly

Shorter or non-existent commutes have now given many of us the option to get out of bed later each morning. However, rather than using this as an opportunity to get extra sleep, many of us have instead rolled our bedtime backwards and so we might still be as sleep deprived as we were prior to March 2020.

Combined with additional alcohol consumption, which actually robs us of sleep hours even further, we risk running on empty. This is going to make it even harder to take interest in your billionth Zoom meeting.

Do yourself a favour and at least a few times a week try to go to bed in good time, so that you can fall asleep and then still achieve a full eight hours of sleep before your alarm goes off in the morning.

3. Connect

The world is mourning, and not just for people who have died. Even where we have not been directly affected by the loss of people personally known to us, it is incredibly hard not to be moved by the more than 82,000 who have died. The UK civilian death rate of WWII was actually less at around 70,000.

It’s a big deal. And grief, of course, extends beyond death and bereavement.

4. Grieve for what is lost

We are also mourning for what we’ve lost – be it weddings, Christenings, holidays, celebrations with family, first time meeting babies, relationship breakdowns, job losses – the list is almost endless. The repercussions of this have the potential to be long-lasting.

While we can appreciate at the time that cancellations and changes of plans are unavoidable, it’s important that we still allow ourselves to connect to the sadness about what we have missed out on and what we will continue to miss out on. Sadness is an entirely normal and useful human emotion, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it sometimes.

5. Plan things to look forward to

Not a holiday, perhaps, and not a meal out, as it’s becoming a fairly predictable pattern that it’ll likely be cancelled. But we can get into the habit of planning things in advance that we know will help us to feel cared for. It might be that you plan to cook a particular favourite meal, or schedule in a chat with a friend in advance. It could even be as simple as doing a task at work that you particularly enjoy. Small, simple and achievable incentives to help us through this difficult time can make all the difference.

6. Give back

Outside of work, many of us have a little more free time on our hands right now and it might be a great opportunity to think about how we can help others. It might be as simple as connecting with people on LinkedIn or Twitter who are striving to be in the job role that you’re in right now and offering them advice and guidance for how to get to where you’re at. It could be signing up for some voluntary work or just buying some extra bits for the food bank when you do your shopping. Research tells us that those who demonstrate kindness regularly to others actually have better self-esteem, improved mood and reduced stress levels.

7. Talk to a professional

If you are struggling with your mental health, do talk to a professional. There is no judgment or shame in doing this. I didn’t feel ashamed when I reached out to an accountant to help me get things ironed out, and I’m so pleased I did because she makes my life better. In the same vein, it’s okay for the help relationship to be reversed and for you to reach out for experienced mental health support and guidance if you need it. We really are all in this together and it’s a great leveller.

Dr Marianne Trent is a clinical psychologist and author of The Grief Collective: Stories of Life, Loss & Learning to Heal.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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