Dear Nick: MTD caused my breakdown last year - should I retire?

Frustrated office worker with his head in his hands
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The burden of additional compliances has overwhelmed practitioners but Nick Elston says: don’t throw in the towel just yet.

Nick Elston has lived with heightened anxiety for most of his life. But things came to a head in 2012 when he reached a breakdown. These days, he uses his lived experience to raise awareness of mental health, through speaking at conferences and coaching.

With the burnout culture gripping the profession, Elston plays ‘agony uncle’ to accountants in his new column by answering your wellbeing concerns.

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Dear Nick: “Over the last five years or so I’ve found myself working longer hours, even with an increase in staff and fairly good adoption of cloud bookkeeping with my clients.

“The strain of constantly having to work through additional compliance such as GDPR and MTD has taken their toll on my health. I had something of a breakdown in 2018, and my doctor has pretty much told me to retire, but I’m not in a position to do that yet at 58 years old.” 

Nick Elson replies: Two of the biggest challenges we face from a mental health perspective in this day and age are overwhelm and disconnection. 

These are amplified by technology, change, and regulations. So I completely feel the pain of where you are right now, especially pushing yourself to that point of breakdown. I’ve been there.

You say that you are not in a position to retire right now. I can only assume that you mean financially. However, the decision to retire has many implications, so I could be barking up the wrong tree there.

Whatever the reason, you are obviously not ready to step down right now – but I would strongly suggest that you do need a plan.

You see, when people reach the point of breakdown they also lose hope, and when we lose hope we lose everything.

There’s a quote that I love and use a lot: ‘every storm runs out of rain’. Whatever is happening right now, however you are feeling, just know that there is an end date to that. Everything passes.

So what you need to do is this and you probably haven’t thought about this in a long time in the busy-ness of life:

  • Sit down, with a blank piece of paper. Start to mind-map how your life would look if nothing were impossible. Be as creative and unrestricted as possible. 
  • Creativity breeds hope and inspiration. Work out what you need to put yourself in the position that you could retire – these become your goals.
  • Start to put in place the people/processes/mechanisms where you can restore the work-life balance, maybe delegate the elements that overwhelm you and start to ‘manage the manageables’ – control every element that you are able to and let go of the ones you can’t.
  • Go! We plan and plan but the magic happens when we just do it. 
  • Schedule recovery. Actually diarise the things that you love to do, ring fence it to protect your energy and health. If you are an introvert (someone who recharges in your own company) then spend some alone time. If you are an extrovert (someone who recharges in the company of others) then immerse yourself in family and friends.
  • Build a support network of people that can help and empower you – maybe people who specialise in the areas of business you find stressful. By focusing on your strengths you will rebuild your confidence.

I hope that this helps you. Just remember you are certainly not alone. Even though when we reach these points we quite often feel we are.

*The question was taken from Richard Sergeant’s article: MTD takes its toll on accountants’ stress levels.

If you have a wellbeing problem and you need Nick's advice, either comment below or send a brief direct message to Nick. 

About Nick Elston

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Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. 

For more information contact: [email protected]

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02nd Jul 2019 07:42

A lot of that stress can come from isolation as well, make the time to join local networks etc find others in small practices and talk. You will eventually find someone who knows a route through the issues (better IT, different training etc ) and they will help you get life back into perspective.

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to Richard Grant
02nd Jul 2019 18:38

Absolutely Richard!

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03rd Jul 2019 16:33

How to lead a low stress life:

- Don't actually learn or do anything. Instead, Google platitudes and bullet points and ask money for said digital old rope.

Ironically, Google will index this advice, which may inspire another person somewhere to go down this route.

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04th Jul 2019 09:24

Sad to hear Nick.

I read a great book "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown, really recommend it to anyone suffering from overwhelm & stress to help you get some ideas on figuring out what is essential in your life and business.

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04th Jul 2019 10:50

I really feel for you. As somewhat of a newcomer and very tech savvy it's not the tech that upsets me (often I think that part is actually rather good). What upsets me are the myriad of rules, forms, entities, processes, websites, log-ins, and if-this-then-that-but-not-on-Tuesdays-unless-it's- snowing etc etc and disjointedness associated with doing anything and everything with the government. They just keep layering on complexity on complexity. It will implode at some point. And throwing more tech at it doesn't improve the underlying chaos- its lipstick on a pig. (That said - I thought the workplace pension implementation was rather good although I wasn't there for the early days).

If you are a bit older and/or not techy then digitization could very well be the final straw. In fact I think it would almost certainly be the final straw.

The other comment about isolation is also very true. Many accountants work solo or in very small partnerships forcing every individual to master every new challenge with little or no opportunity for collaborative support. It's a lot easier adopting new things in a big office where several people or indeed whole teams are shouldering and sharing the learning and experience. Our government simply has no awareness of the hideousness of their interface and their constant changes because none of them understand what other parts of themselves do. They get to be comfortable in glorious isolation and ignorance with their letterbox view of the world whereas we have to string together a coherent and consistent feed into all the moving parts.

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05th Jul 2019 16:56

I know this is off topic slightly but am I the only person who gets annoyed with the phrase work / life balance.

My life consists of work / leisure / family / chores / sleep and probably a few other things. I try to balance them all but you will resent work if you start to view it as not part of your life.

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