Accountants and Anxiety

Your accountant’s brain has been trained for the problem-solving work you do and when it goes unchecked, it can become your default way of thinking about everything

Podcast Version:



Mental health has become such an important health crisis that every year during the first week of October the organization NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) participates in raising awareness of mental health issues all across the country.  They work to educate the public, fight mental-health stigmas and support those with mental health issues.

While the conversation about mental health is becoming less and less taboo, it’s still an issue for many people, especially in the accounting profession.  The subject of workplace well-being is being addressed more because it’s becoming an even bigger issue in the accounting and finance professions.

In one study, 30.4% of accountants admitted to suffering from mental health issues and 51% admitted that depression and anxiety leaves them dreading going to work.  When you add the anxiety accountants feel in their professional life to the guilt, anxiety and exhaustion most working mothers experience, you have a recipe for disaster for female accountant moms that is often suffered in silence.

Since there can be a lot of confusion and shame when dealing with anxiety, it’s important for you to understand why you feel this way.  There is nothing wrong with you if you feel anxious or overwhelmed, you just haven’t been aware of how your problem-solving brain has been creating your life. 

This week I’m going to discuss how your accountant’s brain causes a lot of your anxiety and what you can do about it.

Your accountant’s brain

First let me be clear that if you suffer with anxiety and believe you need to speak to someone or take some medication then I’m 100% behind you.  I believe that anxiety can become debilitating and there’s no shame in asking for and receiving help.

However, one of the big issues for working moms is that you have become so accustomed to feeling anxiety and overwhelm that it can become just a normal part of life.  You may be experiencing high levels of anxiety over pleasing your boss, your children’s grades or even gaining a few pounds. 

Depending on how long you’ve been working in the accounting profession, you may have also experienced the normalization of anxiety from most of the people you work with.  Attending an in-person continuing education seminar with other overwhelmed, anxious accountants can seem like a “we’re all in this together” club.

The good news is that anxiety is actually a natural response that your primitive brain has when it senses  fear and it uses this response for your survival. There is nothing wrong with you when you feel anxious because your brain is only trying to protect you from perceived danger.

The bad news is that your brain interprets danger in many more non-dangerous situations than you realize.  A tax deadline, an unexpected science project for your middle-schooler or a delayed train can create the same feeling of danger that a saber tooth tiger did when humans lived in caves.

The real problem for accountants is that from the time you went to school to study accounting you have been trained to think in very specific ways and these ways can often create unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Your “accountant’s brain” has been trained for the problem-solving work you do and when it goes unchecked, it can become your default way of thinking about everything.

If you’ve ever been told that you are thinking, talking or arguing like an accountant, that’s what I’m talking about.  You have been trained to think in ways that non-accountants don’t think and don’t understand.

Being surrounded by other people’s problems trains your accountant’s brain to actually see more problems.  Since your brain is already a problem-solving machine, when you add that capability to the accounting profession’s pressures and expectations it’s no wonder over 50% of accountants feel anxiety and overwhelm.

One of the methods many accountants use in order to self-medicate when it comes to anxiety is ironically overworking.  This creates an unhealthy relationship with work where you believe that being anxious is fueling you to get more work done or shows that you really care about what you are doing. 

Like the relationship between an addict and a drug dealer, accounting environments notoriously encourage overworking.  The external pressures to do more, learn more and be more can slowly begin to ignite burnout.

When you add the need to fit into the “accountant mold” in how you think, act and even dress to the pressures and expectations for being a good mom, all of a sudden that glass or two of wine at the end of the day is really appealing.  This is also when imposter syndrome can sneak in, where you start feeling like everyone else knows what they’re doing except you.   

Since you are well trained to always be looking for what seems out of place or inconsistent, you may begin catastrophizing the simplest things.  For example, a client sends a simple request for their last three years tax returns and your brain interprets that to mean that the client is unhappy with your services, they’re firing you and that your boss is going to blame you.  

Over time you may begin to believe that catastrophizing makes you careful but it can actually have the opposite effect.  Catastrophizing actually creates stress and anxiety which then causes distraction, oversight and mistakes.

The good news is that you can use your accountant’s brain and it’s critical abilities to actually reverse your anxiety and feel better fast.

What you can do

As a female accountant and a mom you’re probably hit twice as hard by anxiety in both your professional and personal life.  Your problem-seeking brain may be sensing danger and creating anxiety everywhere you turn.

If anxiety goes unchecked you may find yourself experiencing a full-blown panic attack.  I’ve personally experienced panic attacks and I can tell you they are no joke!

But the important thing to know is that since your brain has the ability to learn how to be an accountant, it also has the ability to learn how to reduce anxiety as well.  You have just been experiencing the effects of many years of programming that needs to be acknowledged and tweaked.

If your accountant’s brain has created anxiety for you professionally and personally, these are the steps for addressing it:

Step #1 – First you have to become aware that you are feeling anxiety.  Resisting it will not allow you to acknowledge its presence. For working moms this can be difficult because you probably feel like you have to be a superhero in your story but until you take off your cape and acknowledge how you feel, there’s nothing you can do to change it.

There is nothing to be ashamed of when you are feeling anxiety.  Remember that it’s completely normal but not always necessary.

Step #2 – Now that you’re aware that you are feeling anxiety you need to decide to allow it.  If the last thing you want to do is allow it, I want you to think about the power you have when you make a conscious decision to allow something.  For example, when you allow your child to watch TV after dinner, you are in control.

Allowing anxiety temporarily, will give you back all your power when it feels like you are powerless.  It puts you in charge of your brain instead of the other way around.

Step #3 – Once you’ve taken control by allowing it, it’s time to manage your mind by writing your thoughts down.  The act of writing something down helps your brain to focus on the task at hand rather than the swirling dramatic story happening in your problem-focused mind.  It allows you to be an observer of your mind rather than the reactor.

What are the current thoughts you are having that are creating the feeling of anxiety?  Are any of those thoughts irrefutable facts or are they interpretations?

Step #4 – The last step is to use your critical thinking mind to turn each of your thoughts around and ask your brain to find proof of the opposite of each thought.  Your brain is more powerful than a Google search bar and when you ask it a powerful questions, it will give you a powerful answer. It doesn’t care that the way it’s been interpreting things has been creating anxiety for you, it’s just been trained to see more problems than you’ve realized.

Can the opposite of your current thought be as true or truer?  How does that new thought make you feel?   

Before I learned how the brain works and how my accountant’s brain was affecting my professional and personal life, I experienced panic attacks in what I perceived as claustrophobic situations.  I still experience them from time to time but they’ve lessened since I learned how to manage my mind.

About a year ago my 26 year old daughter and I went sky-diving for her birthday.  When we were up in the plane and flying through clouds I had that very familiar feeling of anxiety that would normally escalate into a panic attack.

Over the years my brain has equated enclosed situations with danger.  I was now 13,000 feet up in the air but the clouds made it seem like I was in an enclosed tunnel and that was a big problem for my brain.  

This is how I applied the steps to my situation:

  1. I became aware of the feeling of anxiety by the heat rising up in my chest and my heart racing quickly but I didn’t resist it.
  2. I made a conscious choice to allow it to be there by saying to myself “Here’s anxiety”
  3. Since I didn’t have a piece of paper to write down my thoughts I did it in my mind.  My thoughts were “This is insane. You should have never agreed to do this. You’re going to ruin this special day for her.  You’re probably going to die”
  4. Here’s the powerful part – once I was able to observe the thoughts creating my anxiety, I could address them one by one.  I took each one and turned them around to their opposite:

“This is insane” became “This isn’t insane, it’s actually amazing to be doing this with Kelly”

“You should have never agreed to do this” became “You should have agreed to this because this is a once in a life-time thing that you get to experience with your daughter”

“You’re going to ruin this special day for her” became “You’re NOT going to ruin this special day for her”

“You’re probably going to die” became “You’re probably going to be fine”

Once I had turned my thoughts around to their opposite I felt a great sense of relief.  My anxiety lessened and I was able to be present with the amazing experience I was about to have with my daughter. 

Whether you have anxiety at work or at home, whether it’s intermittent or constant and whether it’s just annoying or debilitating, you can always reprogram your accountant’s brain.  By learning the power of managing your mind, you take back control.

Accountants and anxiety does not need to be the norm.  By addressing the cause, you have the power to change the effect.

Summary

  • When you add the anxiety accountants feel in their professional life to the guilt, anxiety and exhaustion most working mothers experience, you have a recipe for disaster for female accountant moms that is often suffered in silence.
  • There is nothing wrong with you if you feel anxious or overwhelmed, you just haven’t been aware of how your problem-solving brain has been creating your life. 
  • Your “accountant’s brain” has been trained for the problem-solving work you do and when it goes unchecked, it can become your default way of thinking about everything.
  • Since you are well trained to always be looking for what seems out of place or inconsistent, you may begin catastrophizing the simplest things.    
  • But the important thing to know is that since your brain has the ability to learn how to be an accountant, it also has the ability to learn how to reduce anxiety as well.    

If you’d like some help dealing with anxiety, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at dawn@cpa-moms-coach.com and we can get to work together.




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