Stress Management for CPAs

Article excerpt

Flipping through articles in business and accounting periodicals may lead us to the conclusion that there are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and stress.

Failures at CPA firms, an uncertain economy and the fallout from the savings and loan crisis are undoubtedly increasing anxiety levels among CPAs. As a result, stress management becomes increasingly important for those in the profession. This article discusses strategies for stress management each of us can use daily. We may have limited influence on events, but we can change how we cope with them.

THE NATURE OF STRESS

Stress is the body's nonspecific response to any demand placed on it, the daily "wear and tear" and the psychological or emotional response to it. Stressors are the external stimuli that evoke physiological or behavioral change in people. The importance of the distinction between stress and stressors was underscored in a study recently completed for the American Institute of CPAs Insurance Trust that examined the relationship between various job stressors, stress and illness (stress-related and general) among a random sample of 1.618 AICPA members The most noteworthy finding was that job stressors, such as excessive workload and loss of control, didn't themselves directly cause illness. Rather, these pressures caused stress, which itself then brought on illness.

The stress management techniques discussed below are intended to reduce excessive stress arousal levels and thus prevent potentially harmful psychological and physiological reactions to them.

PERSONAL STRESS

MANAGEMENT

Stress management must be personal and individualized. However, a reasonable approach may incorporate techniques to accomplish any of the following:

* Avoid stressors (environmental engineering).

* Cope with stressors (psychological intervention).

* Directly reduce stress arousal (relaxation response).

* Vent stress (physical exercise).

ENVIRONMENTAL

ENGINEERING

This is a way of altering one's general environment to minimize job-related and personal stress. For example, when someone's workload becomes oppressive, responses may include transferring positions or even seeking other employment. A more realistic option may be to reduce or better manage the demands in one's present position. The key to successful environmental engineering is reducing stress without sacrificing any of life's rewarding. That means reducing stress from stressors such as frustration, overload, boredom and external physical factors.

An individual becomes frustrated when blocked from proceeding toward a desired goal or behavior. The impediment may be external or one's own ambiguous feelings. Regardless of the source, the best strategy for coping with frustration is to stop fighting the impediment and instead search for and then implement viable alternatives.

For example, consider an auditor attempting to assess the value of specialized inventory when he or she doesn't have proper technical expertise and client personnel can't provide sufficient competent evidential matter. To reduce frustration and the risk of detection, as well as comply with generally accepted auditing principles, the auditor should consider engaging an inventory specialist to assist in the assessment.

Overload refers to occupational demands excessive enough to cause stress. Time pressures often cause feelings of overload. These feelings can be overcome by using the time management strategies, which seek the most constructive and healthful use of a person's time.

Underload or boredom results from feeling insufficiently stimulated. One reaction to this situation is to overcompensate for boredom by overstimulating oneself and then relax by doing nothing. Unfortunately, this only results in further boredom. Challenging activities that are not mentally complex can be helpful in efforts to break this cycle. …