By Kirsty Lilley, an award-winning mental health trainer, coach, and mindfulness facilitator at caba

There is a tangible link between economic downturn and poor mental health. A home, shelter, food, warmth, companionship… These are all basic necessities for life, and without them we feel threatened. We begin to sense that we can’t provide for ourselves and our family. Financial wellbeing, therefore, is about control and agency, but specifically, control over your day-to-day decisions and long-term goals. When we lose this, we find ourselves feeling stifled and helpless and anxiety starts to creep in. 

It’s important we understand this process, as we continue to wrestle with a national – indeed global – cost of living crisis. Brought about largely by the Covid-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine, everyone’s day-to-day financial choices are being affected, and with a recession looming, the impact is only expected to get worse.  

For many accountants, specifically, this crisis could prove particularly difficult. Accountancy is a pressured industry in which high attention to detail is required. On top of that, we know that accountants often strongly identify with their professional identity, which might make it difficult to accept when they’re struggling with their own financial management.  

But nobody is immune to what’s happening. Accountants in well-paid positions might be worrying about their finances for the first time in their professional lives, while those who might have already been struggling, will find themselves even more stretched.  

We’re already seeing this happen. In a new whitepaper, investigating how the cost of living crisis has affected the accounting community, caba has found that more than two-in-five (42%) working accountants and students are already struggling financially. Of those, two-thirds are feeling (66%) anxious, three-in-five (59%) stressed and a third (34%) depressed. 

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It’s common to withdraw from those feelings, and to bury our heads in the sand, but there are simple, day-to-day actions that you can take to bolster your wellbeing.  

Be mindful of where you focus your attention 

When we’re stressed, our minds drift towards things we can’t control. Try to be aware of this and divert your attention to what you can influence, rather than worrying about what you can’t. Find helpful ways to manage the emotions that typically arise in relation to the things that are out of your control, such as anxiety and frustration.  

Manage your exposure 

Our brain is hardwired to focus on negativity, so with words like ‘crisis’ being so readily used in the media – words that tap into our inherent ‘threat system’ – take care that the information you’re absorbing is credible. We like to believe gathering more information will provide a sense of control, but the more we have the less we’re able to sift through it. Anxiety kicks in and propels us into future scenarios that often won’t come true. Choose balanced, reputable sources of news, and when it’s becoming too much, reduce your exposure. 

Gain some perspective   

When it comes to our mental health, we tend to place a huge amount of pressure and responsibility on ourselves. But our mental health is affected by the world around us – by our relationships and the things that happen tous. If someone’s struggling, try not to focus on why they aren’t coping. Instead, consider the broader picture. What’s happening in their lives to make them feel this way? 

Take care of your body, too 

Our physical body influences the way our mind processes information, so it’s important to make sure you eat well, sleep well, do some exercise and make time for rest. Protect your weekends and days off if you need to. You can’t take proper care of your mind if you aren’t also thinking about your physical health. 

Do things that make you happy 

When we’re anxious, our brain tells us that everything’s our fault. As a result, even something as simple as going for a coffee with a friend can seem an extravagance that we don’t deserve. But it’s important to our health and wellbeing that we keep doing the things we enjoy, especially if the stress we’re dealing with is going to be with us for a long time. It’s about walking alongside the difficulty, rather than waiting for it to pass. 

Plan for difficult conversations 

If you’d like to reach out for help, but you’re feeling nervous about sharing details of your circumstances, remember that you don’t have to disclose everything about your personal situation. Give some thought to the details you want to share before you approach someone. If they try to support you, give them a steer towards what you need – tell them what you think you might find helpful. 

When should you speak to a professional? 

If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to cope on your own, it’s time to seek help. Organisations like caba can offer professional therapy and coaching to help you identify the cause of your distress so you can work out a plan to deal with it.  

This isn’t likely to go away on its own, so try to recognise when you’re avoiding something and search for those credible sources of support. Focus on what you know to be true, rather than allowing anxiety to guide you to false conclusions. Alternatively, consider making a doctor’s appointment or start by speaking to someone you trust – maybe a friend, family member, or colleague. 

For further guidance, click here to download caba’s new whitepaper, ‘How is the global cost of living crisis impacting chartered accountants?’. Alternatively, visit www.caba.org.uk/mental-health