Be Well

December 18, 2020

Protecting Your Mental Well-being

By Anthony Pugliese, CPA, CGMA, CITP
While 2020 brought COVID-19’s threat to people’s physical health and livelihoods, there is cause to be hopeful and optimistic about 2021 as the focus turns to vaccinations and recovery efforts. But there remains a significant effect of the pandemic: The toll on our mental health and well-being.

A recent global study found that most employees feel socially isolated, stressed, anxious and exhausted. While people can adapt to change, many don’t do well with uncertainty—something of which 2020 had plenty. Uncertainty affects what we do at home and in the physical or virtual office. As 2021 unfolds, I am hopeful our profession comes together for support as we each cope with the stresses of life’s new normal.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s vital we strive for that balance between our personal and professional selves. This is something I practice, as I find a few moments throughout the day to focus and center myself. Different things work for each of us; find what works best for you. We’re all in this together, and the accounting profession has resources (see sidebar) to help you manage the mental pressures of COVID-19.

Sometimes, during periods of high stress such as this, mental health issues also drive higher substance use rates. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s August 2020 Report, “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” indicates that nearly half of U.S. adults report the pandemic has had a significant impact on their mental health and well-being. Specifically, the report highlights: 
  • A strong correlation between social isolation and poor mental and physical health;
  • Households with children, adolescents or seniors are particularly susceptible to well-being concerns; and
  • Job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress and low self-esteem, leading to higher rates of substance use.

These findings resonate with trends we see closer to home. A recent CalCPA member survey found 49 percent said maintaining a work-life balance is one of the most pressing concerns they face.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that three times as many people with professional/graduate degrees are admitting to having adverse mental health conditions in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the impact of COVID-19.

High-pressure environments, such as those found in CPA firms or corporate accounting/audit functions, can impact an employee’s mental health and well-being. This is particularly problematic as the profession moves into tax season. CPAs face additional challenges, such as advising clients or employers on staying financially afloat during this time, while simultaneously balancing work with home life. 

When tax season comes to an end, many CPAs typically take a break to unwind. However, this year—like 2020—vacations or mental health getaways will not be as feasible as families continue to isolate for the time being. Fortunately, there are a number of ways CPAs can cope with the mental health challenges of COVID-19 and the looming busy season. Using guidance from the CDC:
  • Know what to do if you are sick or concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get support services and resources.
  • Take care of your emotional health and take time to unwind, which will help you to think clearly to react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic continuously can easily cause anxiety.
  • Stretch or meditate; eat healthy meals; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep; and avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
  • Connect with others in your community or faith-based organizations, whether online, by phone or mail.
  • Seek assistance from your organization or outside health provider.

Mental health is a critical part of our well-being. Reach out to CPAs you know and ask them how they’re coping. Engage them in a real, heartfelt conversation and share some of your challenges. These conversations are essential and build trust—the foundation of all good relationships. Throughout 2020 and looking ahead to 2021, I have experienced kindness and empathy among our members. Join me in contributing to a culture of care within our profession. How we choose to lead in moments like these define who and what we are.

Wellness Resources
CalCPA
AICPA: Protecting Your Team’s Mental Health
PwC: Be Well, Word Well 
Deloitte: WorkWell podcast series
KPMG
EY: Culture of Caring and Mindfulness in the Working World
Missouri Society of CPAs
Virginia Society of CPAs
North Carolina Society of CPAs

Anthony Pugliese, CPA, CGMA, CITP is president and CEO of CalCPA and CalCPA Education Foundation.

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