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Tax season tips for taking care of yourself

22nd Jan 2015
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It's very important at this time of year for accountants to look after their physical and mental wellbeing. Rachael Power offers some helpful advice. 

Scoff at the idea if you like, but with Blue Monday approaching on 26 January we thought it was a good time to offer some simple tips to get you looking after your health. 

Get up from the desk! 

A mountain of tax returns to be filed means a lot of time spent at the desk. If you have to be tied down for a long period of time during the day, schedule in breaks so you can move around. 

Sitting for extended periods of time is very bad for your health. Recent studies show it increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease - though obviously if you do it over months and years. 

It's also bad for your back, eyes and circulation to be hunched over a screen or poring over documents. It's important for practitioners to take regular eye tests - some workplaces offer these for free - in addition to getting regular exercise that works and stretches the back muscles and gets blood flowing to your limbs.

Even if you look at bit crazy, get up from your desk every 20-30 minutes for at least 5-10 minutes per time. Make a cup of tea, do some simple stretches (away from curious stares) or take a stroll down the road. It may seem small, and simple, but it may save your eyesight/back/sanity in the long run.

Put that Lion bar down 

Do not - I repeat, do not - be tempted to overindulge just because 'it's tax season and I deserve it'. Yes, you're hardworking and yes you deserve to have a treat every now and again - but overindulging on chocolate/crisps/chinese takeaways/smokes/alcohol isn't going to make you feel great. 

Instead, prepare some healthy snacks the night before within reaching distance for when those cravings hit. 

For example, include healthy fats such as nuts and seeds (M&S do some very tasty mixes). Low sugar breakfast bars (you can bake your own) are another good alternative, as are tasty salads, wraps, slimline sandwiches, chopped fruit, rice cakes or oatcakes. 

Limit the glass of red wine to the weekend too - it's all the sweeter. 

And if you're a smoker, consider trying out a vaporiser. You'll probably still have to go outside and the health risks are still unknown, but it's a better short term solution. If you do need to get your nicotine the old fashioned way, try to limit yourself to fewer cigarette breaks as an alternative. 

Count some sheep 

Sleep deprivation, even a few days of it, can impair judgement, concentration levels and our stamina at work. So it's imperative that for work as well as for health reasons we all get enough shut eye.

Someone who believes very strongly in this is owner of the Huffington post, Ariana Huffington. She believes that the key to getting ahead is to get more sleep - her Ted talk is a good watch.

And she's right. Not only does your body repair itself while sleeping, not getting enough makes you more susceptible to colds, flus, diabetes and weight gain.

Lying awake at night worrying about that trouble return you've got to get done isn't going to do you - or it - any good.

So shut off all devices including TVs, tablets and phones, at least an hour before bed. A warm shower or bath and a cup of either cocoa or chamomile tea may help to nod off. If not, exercise a few hours before bed, or try to tire yourself out somehow.

Meditation is another great way to clear your mind, and if you don't know how to do it apps such as Headspace and Omvana may be able to help (you can break the smartphone rule for this, just don't sneak onto FaceBook).

Get some (ice cold) fresh air 

Getting exercise is very important. Whatever you're into, whether a walk or a cycle or swim, just get it done - at least three to four times per week for half an hour a time.

If you can do this out in the open air, all the better. Spending lots of time inside is bad for allergies and can lower your mood while the evenings are still short. So try to get out and about in the fresh air even to walk the dog.

Shut the noise out

Staff, friends, family, clients, HMRC - it can all get a little overwhelming, especially for introverted types. There's no doubt that this is a busy time of year, but you don't have to let the noise get to you. 

Find a few minutes each day to sit back, close your eyes and relax yourself, in silence. If you know how and it's your sort of thing, meditate. Having a quiet or 'safe' space to retreat to (think shed, spare office room or even a quiet corner of the library) will reduce anxiety and stress built up through processing too much information at once. 

Have a good old fashioned gas

Never underestimate the benefits of talking your worries out to someone close and trusted. Be open about how you are feeling - if you're overwhelmed, let it out. Rant. Harm comes from negative emotions or thoughts held inside - a problem shared isn't necessarily a problem halved, but it will do your mental wellbeing the world of good, even if you don't feel the immediate benefits.

If you don't feel you've got someone to turn to try calling a helpline for an impartial listener. The Samaratans, CABA for chartered accountants and SupportLine are all good places to start.

But a family member or friend are always good to have on hand. And remember as a wise doctor once said: "Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind". 

Further reading

For more resources on stress management for accountants, see our dedicated stress page.

Replies (22)

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By ArsalanShah
22nd Jan 2015 19:24


for floating your ideas which would definitely help someone,somewhere in need of such useful tips.I strongly agree wtih very first point as I have been through this already and had to attend my GP twice in the last one month for back pain.

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By Paul Scholes
22nd Jan 2015 21:17

Keep breathing

There's loads of stuff out there on Mindfulness and using your breath to bring yourself into the present, letting the worries and stresses come and go.  It is worth trying basic relaxation techniques based on "the breath" and here's one that has helped me:


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By Alan Davies
23rd Jan 2015 10:56

Blue Monday

I though we'd just had blue Monday - don't want another thanks!

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By Rachael White
23rd Jan 2015 11:08


There's a lot of debate about when this 'officially' is - here at Sift we've settled for Monday the 26th as it's two days before payday, late in January, will be very cold and dark early! 

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By thomas34
23rd Jan 2015 14:58

Pay Day?

Rachael_Power wrote:

There's a lot of debate about when this 'officially' is - here at Sift we've settled for Monday the 26th as it's two days before payday, late in January, will be very cold and dark early! 

No need to rub it in Rachael - my next pay day is when someone decides to pay me, but since my bank are only paying me 0.5% on my savings I don't bother to chase debts these days.



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By Alan Davies
23rd Jan 2015 11:34

My thoughts on blue Monday

Mondays are fine - I'm still full of enthusiasm after the weekend.  Tuesdays are normally a bit crap though!

On the 26th I certainly won't be blue - its my number 3 son's 5th birthday and I'll be celebrating by taking the day off work and sending him to school!  

Oh and I don't do tax returns (other than my own, which is already submitted!) which probably helps with the whole January thing too.

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By youngloch
23rd Jan 2015 11:39

My top tip, as others say......

My top tip is that with 9 days to go many of us will want to go to the ends of the earth for our clients (more fool us?) but in reality they've all been warned long in advance and if they came in at the start of the month (or yesterday with a box of papers - 3 rental properties and a bookshop business!!!) then release the pressure and tell them "I will do it in February!"

This week I made a call to a client who came in just before Christmas - well after our T's and C's cut off date - with his complicated records. I bit the bullet...

"John, I thought I'd give you a call because it's hit and miss whether we can get your returns in on time this year because obviously we didn't get the papers until 23 December"

The reply, "Chris, don't worry, it's my fault, I'll pay the fine and I promise I won't contribute to the pressure next year - February will be absolutely fine"

End result I put the phone down and felt a wave of energy pass through me.

Learn to say "no!"

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By Moonbeam
23rd Jan 2015 11:41

How to avoid backache...

In my case I need to walk up a steep hill, ideally every day. During the colder wet days this month that's been difficult to force myself to do.

If I don't do it the backache comes back with a vengeance!

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By machon
23rd Jan 2015 11:42

All this is very good - I do most of it. I would also add an SAD lamp on my desk; it lifts my mood and helps my concentration.

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By youngloch
23rd Jan 2015 11:54

God, I hate January!

That's it - I hate January........... but I love 1 February

Trouble is my wife thinks I love January and thrive on the pressure - probably because she hardly sees me until 1 February when I'm buzzing from the relief it's all done!

We're getting there folks and at least we know we're not alone. Even friends of mine working in some of the largest practices in the City are under the same pressure right now and that made me feel SO much better!!!

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By Flash Gordon
23rd Jan 2015 13:26


I got up from the desk to walk around (not because I'm slaving on tax returns but because I'm supposed to be studying and I'm procrastinating despite the looming deadline) and ended up returning from the kitchen with a tub of M&S chocolate cornflake mini bites! I'm trying to pretend I'm not going to eat them all by not fully removing the lid but I don't think I'm kidding anyone. 

Very glad I've no more tax returns to do because my anxiety levels have been sky high without them. I need to give mindfulness a serious try as my anxiety won't magically disappear on Feb 1st. I have found that counting backwards in 2s on odd numbers helps distract me short-term from a very manic panic mode though I think starting at 999 instead of 99 would be better. If your brain has to focus on working out the next in sequence then it's not free to twirl out of control on something else and that's a very good thing. But I think a more long-term solution might benefit me as I can't spend the next 40 odd years counting backwards!  

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By MarionMorrison
23rd Jan 2015 13:32

The bells tolls

Well this will be my last ever January assessment season.  Next year I hope to be enjoying the sunshine in New Zealand or Australia in January and my successors will be trying to transition from my "well we'll give it a go" approach which leads to a lot of midnight oil being burned to a world of "tough, we'd rather file our nails than do stuff that comes in late".  The transition may happen slowly.

But in terms of therapy, I do like to wall off one day each weekend and one weekday evening when I get away and do nothing work-related.  That's enough for me.  And I do thrive on the buzz of doing the whole thing even if it is a little like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill.  I enjoy being in the office late at night with music so loud you can hear it in the street outside and another three returns rolling off the printers (pdfs just don't feel the same).

Not convinced about the eating healthily - my son-in-law bought me a 3Kg bag of Jelly Babies for Christmas which was proved a boon in keeping going and then producing a sugar dip in order to get to sleep.  But I've got the rest of my life to live healthily. Even so, roll on next Saturday.

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By carnmores
23rd Jan 2015 13:44

limit your glass of wine to the weekend

i must be on a completely different planet then.....

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By Vaughan Blake1
23rd Jan 2015 13:52

My top ten tips

As a survivor of all the self assessment Januarys (17?), from personal experience my top ten tips are:

1) Get out for a walk in the middle of the day.  If I don't I find I am flagging by 5.00pm.

2) Spend at least half a day a week doing something not work related.  Working seven full days a week for the whole of January makes you very cranky and not a nice person.

3) Don't skip meals, and make sure you remember to drink during the day.  It is too easy to immerse yourself in work and simply forget.

4) Drive carefully!  You will be dashing about the countryside more in poor conditions in January.  Putting the car in the ditch due to distracted thinking is the last thing you want in January (uninjured, but bent suspension since you ask!)

5) Contrary to the advice above, a glass of red (not a bottle mind!) when you get in at night and a chat with the nearest and dearest helps the wind down process. If N & D is out and about, a  last orders pint can be substituted here, but beware of a very late night due to a 'lock in' with the local rock band who show up having just finished a gig (no idea, but thanks for the interest!). 

6) Have a spontaneous (OK, OK I know we're accountants!) night out, midweek.  A late supper at the local bistro works a treat.  Time to discuss point 9) with nearest and dearest.

7) Don't snap at nearest and dearest, they probably hate January too and really didn't intentionally back her car into a post at the gym!

8)  Reread a favourite book before bed time. You can feel at ease knowing who dunnit. 

9) Book something to look forward to in February.  From a fortnight in the Seychelles or a day off to tidy the shed.  This gives you something to think about and plan in the wee small hours when your brain seems to be stuck in tax mode.

10)  Have a bottle or two of decent fizzy on ice ready for the 31 January.  Yes, you can drink the whole bottle now it's over, you deserve it!

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
23rd Jan 2015 14:16

How about what not to do

Try watching all five series of Breaking Bad in January.

Perhaps not my most intelligent decision.

Up to series 4 episode 5 - not bad eh?!

Oh and should have all returns done by 31st too.

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By Rachael White
23rd Jan 2015 15:13


There are ups and downs to every profession, but I love a regular payday.

Thanks for all your comments - there are some great suggestions here. I'd love to know what you've all got planned for February - a holiday or simply a bottle of something nice?

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By coolmanwithbeard
24th Jan 2015 07:41

Feb Holiday

Normally we do a week in Feb but this year we opted for three in Thailand - beware it has added pressure to Jan as I now need to met Feb deadlines before I go :P



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By Kaylee100
24th Jan 2015 19:15

I've been fine for the last 15+ years - in fact even finished early last year! This year is awful though as clients are just not bringing queries back. I can see all of those left bringing them in on Wednesday morning together - thinking that they are the only one.


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By Paul D Utherone
24th Jan 2015 23:28

Well I could have done

without tonights powercut!! Sitting in the dark for 3/4 hour til it came back on again was a bind, but come back it did & two more emailed.

End of the day music is a bit shouty :D

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By North East Accountant
26th Jan 2015 10:45

Nothing without it

This is a timely article and reminds us all to look after our health and well being. Without it we have nothing. Recently my best friend took his own life after battling depression for many years. It is absolutely devastating and very raw at the minute but it makes you realise in the most awful way what is important and what is not. As Rachael said we must all "let it out" in whatever way suits us. 

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27th Jan 2015 12:26

What Blues?

Was doing well with just 4 returns left to get signed (and honestly a bit bored) when today we have received 3 years paperwork from a new client. No bookkeeping done, so the challenge is back on - W'hoo! I love January :0) 

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By AndrewV12
28th Jan 2015 13:44

Take a break......... thats long enough

Get up from the desk! 

Off i go!

Seriously some good points well made.



always look to break up a day, and dont spent to much time on your computer.



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