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Stress Awareness: Tips to help you cope

1st Nov 2012
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Finding rest and respite from the pressures of work can be difficult. Even taking leave can be insufficient to unwind fully and regain drained energy, writes psychotherapist Sherylin Thompson.  

Whoever decided that 7 November should be Stress Awareness Day must have had accountants and tax advisers in mind. As the zombies and ghouls slink away after Halloween, even more frightening creatures start to emerge from the undergrowth with their chaotic tax records and self assessment returns.

Ahead of Stress Awareness day, Sherylin Thompson offered some useful tips to help hard-pressed accountants. Christmas and the 2013 self assessment rush could be more manageable by taking a few days off or a couple of weeks away from work to recharge your batteries beforehand, and Thompson offered hints on getting the most benefit from your time out of the office.

“The good news is that research shows that it is not just the length of the break that matters but what you do during it," Thompson said. 

"So you need not shell out for an extended exotic holiday to reap the rewards of having a Christmas break. A few days off could do.”

Thompson's "CALMS" model - described in more detail below - is designed to build up your inner strength and resilience during your down time.

Choice and autonomy

This is about how much you personally feel you have freedom and choice. Even if you have lots of tasks on your plate, you are more likely to feel that you would choose to do the tasks if you believe you and your loved ones benefit.

If what you do has personal meaning, you are less likely to see it as a chore, even if the tasks prevent you from putting your feet up. Look through your task list and decide which have the most meaning and match your own personal values.

Start with these and decide whether you can delegate or hire in help for the others. Finding freedom in the to-do list will bring a sense of autonomy, which is a core psychological need.

On the flip side, research shows that both men and women experiencing low autonomy and control at home have higher levels of depression and in addition, men experience more anxiety. So find something that you choose to do in and among your responsibilities. It is important to focus on your needs too.

Let go 

This is about making a conscious choice to detach from work and relax. Detach from work by deciding what you can leave in the office. This could be your mobile, e-mails as well as responsibilities by seeing if a colleague can pick up on essential work so that you do not need to.

You can also detach from work by not using the same skills on your break as you use in your job. Overusing job skills could result in burnout even if they are not in the context of work. If you work in IT, time away from technology would be more beneficial. OK, tax issues never go away - but you can still avoid reacting like one of Pavlov's dogs when the subject comes up.

Relaxation is not about doing as little as possible. The essential ingredient is that the activity brings positive emotions.

The broaden and build theory of positive emotions says that developing your ability to enjoy a good mood will broaden your mind and build your inner strength. Negative moods from work can narrow your thinking.

In contrast, allowing yourself to feel good will give you a wider perspective and relief from the difficulty. Think about what activities bring you natural enjoyment, for example nature, socialising, crafts, sport and allow yourself to appreciate them as much as possible.

Mastery

This is how competent, effective and capable you feel in your leisure time. Find opportunity to develop a special hobby you seldom have opportunity to.

Feeling that you can competently master a developing interest can help you feel a sense of choice and autonomy and bring positive emotions essential for relaxation. Mastery therefore links to the former elements of the CALMS model.

It also leads to the final one, social activity, in that you could feel masterful in sharing your interest with others. See if you can put a natural personal ability you have to enhance others' experience during the holiday period. For example, offer your quality to be kind and generous, support a local choir with your voice, use your creative flair on Christmas decorations, or challenge a friend to a game of squash.

Social activity

This is being able to reconnect with friends and family; focus on the people who support you the most.

Accept offers for help and take that as a sign of someone caring for you. It is also not worth prioritising the to-do list if it means having a fallout with a loved one. Prioritise the people, let go of the list.

If you are more introverted, Christmas parties could feel like a strain. Manage your time by limiting those which you will attend and make an excuse to leave early. It is fine to save your energy for your nearest and dearest and for the social events that enhance your mood rather than drain you.  

For all the propaganda about peace and goodwill, Christmas and self assessment season are notorious times for seasonal stress - especially for accountants. Hopefully these tips will improve your wellbeing even with minimal leave at a difficult time of year. 

Thompson, a registered psychotherapist, also provides a Skype counselling service at www.skype-therapy.co.uk.

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