Increased Covid workload cranks up tax season stress
Accountants have provided round the clock help throughout the pandemic, but this desire to help clients has taken its toll on their stress levels. Lianne Weaver explains how to stay resilient with tax season just around the corner.
You are probably already feeling the self-assessment pressure along with the strain of helping your clients understand government legislation that you have barely had time to get your head around.
And now, the return of the CJRS (and JSS postponement) and SEISS guidance have left many accountants resigned to the fact that this year’s self-assessment season is going to another year of long working days and January blues.
For example, AccountingWEB reader Jimess claimed there is no hope for the “hard pressed tax agents who have already put in a huge amount of additional time this year and are now facing massively increased working hours”.
This comes at a time when AccountingWEB readers have usually “recharged and are ready to tackle the ramp up to January”.
In whatever way 2020 has affected you, each and every one of us are likely to have experienced some degree of stress this year.
You may have been feeling overwhelmed from the intensity of client demands, and you could be struggling to tackle the challenges. Rest assured that this is normal when we are experiencing increased stress.
The primitive problem
When we are stressed, a signal is sent to our brain and reaches a part called the limbic region. Neuroscientists say that this is the most primitive part of the brain - it has not really evolved for tens of thousands of years. We are still dealing with the same hardware that our cave-dwelling ancestors would have worked with; your safety and survival is the principal concern of this part.
Thousands of years ago, our physical safety was under daily threat; whether we were at risk of being poisoned by some fatal berries or being chased by a wild animal, we needed to be on constant alert for anything which could potentially harm us.
Perception is everything - the way that we see things triggers our reactions. So if we perceive a threat, we will react in the same way as we would to a real and physical threat. Our body automatically reacts to the emotional threat as if it were an animal chasing us - the limbic system prepares us to respond.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with deadlines and demands, your brain exhibits the four Fs of stress.
The four Fs of stress
- FREEZE: One of our most common responses to stress is to freeze in the hope that the danger goes away. With emotional stress, this can be shown through procrastination.
- FLIGHT: We may experience the urge to run away from stress - taking the day off work or avoiding client calls.
- FIGHT: We might want to fight our way out of stress - you may experience this by having arguments with loved ones or being overly-irritated at work.
- FAWN: This is the lesser known stress response, but commonly the most socially acceptable. In primitive times, fight-mode was sometimes a pointless response to bigger, stronger dangers, so we consequently learned to fawn. This submissive and compromising behaviour placated the situation - today, this is better known as people pleasing.
If you recognise that you’re increasingly experiencing these behaviours, please remember that this is likely to be a stress response – a warning signal from your brain that stress levels are increasing and action is needed. Furthermore, acknowledging these behaviours in yourself allows you to recognise when a colleague or friend is exhibiting signs of stress.
How to reduce the stress response?
- Take a deep breath: Our brain constantly monitors our breathing and when we are emotionally stressed we react by breathing short, rapid, and shallow, in order to get more oxygen to the brain and muscles. The stress reaction triggers the limbic region and increases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Simply controlling your breath can reduce this and allow your brain to calm and consider a response. Breathwork expert Ed Harrold found that our brain receives these stress signals if we take more than just 10 breaths per minute. A Harvard Review study found that just 60 seconds of deep, focussed breathing was enough to completely rid the bloodstream of cortisol.
- Try this simple exercise throughout the day:
- Take in a slow, deep breath through the nose for six seconds
- Hold it for two seconds
- Slowly release it for eight seconds
- Repeat at least six times
- Try this simple exercise throughout the day:
- “I am safe”: As simple as it sounds, studies have shown that telling ourselves we are safe calms the stress response. Silently, in your head, repeat “I am safe” whenever you feel stress increasing.
- Talk: Talking to someone you trust can help you get perspective of your worries. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you for support.
At this point in the year, it is likely that we are experiencing very intense levels of stress - please know that you are not alone, and that there is always help available if you are struggling.
For more useful tips on mental wellbeing support in the workplace and how to build resilience, watch the webinar with Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead at AXA Health.
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Lianne Weaver is the Managing Director of Beam Development & Training Ltd, which delivers unique wellbeing, happiness, personal development and resilience training to companies and individuals both in the classroom and online. She works with government organisations, banks, law firms as well as SME’s. Lianne is also a therapist, working...