Inoculate yourself against stress during busy season
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Inoculate yourself against stress during busy season
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Inoculate yourself against stress during busy season

1 year ago · 3 min read

Anxiety and stress are contagious. So says psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., the author of the new book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind.

“This is the busiest time of year for CPAs,” said Brewer, who heads Brown University’s Mindfulness Center as its director of research and innovation. “You don’t know what’s coming at you at any one moment. You’ve got inboxes piled high with emails. Confused, angry, stressed-out clients are calling. If you’re not careful, you can catch some of that from them. It’s called social contagion, where one person spreads his emotion to another.”

The key, according to Brewer in an interview for this article, is to inoculate yourself against that stress by understanding how your mind works — learning to see how you might be getting caught up in someone else’s stress and then immunizing yourself through simple grounding practices.

“If you don’t know how your mind works and how stress and anxiety are driven and perpetuated, there’s no way you can work with it,” said Brewer, whose TED Talk on breaking bad habits has been viewed more than 16 million times. “You’re putting Band-Aids on a wound instead of cleaning it out. The first step is to really understand how your mind works. Then you can work with your mind to clean out that wound of stress and anxiety. Then a person’s mind can heal.”

Brewer, who is also an associate professor of psychiatry at Brown’s medical school, gives the following advice for dealing with anxiety:

Train yourself to be aware of the behavior. “Ask yourself, when are those moments when I’m feeling the most anxious. Is it when certain clients come for meetings? Am I getting stressed after I’ve been staring at the computer for two hours?” Brewer said. “Or is it grappling with conflicting ways of handling particular issues?” Every time you pay attention to your actions, you become more aware of what you actually get from them, according to Brewer.

Be in the moment with it. “Ideally, the trick is to catch yourself before your stress and anxiety overwhelm you,” he said. “You might want to go outside for a few minutes. Close your office door and do some stretching exercises or meditate. You just need to find a quiet place where you can be comfortable and concentrate without being distracted,” he said.

Be kind to yourself. Instead of judging your feelings of anxiety, be curious and nonjudgmental about them. “Don’t try to focus on why bad feelings are happening. Knowing why something became a habit and makes you anxious isn’t going to magically fix it in the present moment,” he said. “Being curious isn’t a superpower. It just helps you get outside yourself and not get caught up in the habit like a hamster on a treadmill.”

Try to reawaken childlike wonder at how you feel. Make the effort to understand what is happening to yourself. “When you have a curious attitude, your anxiety is going to have less power over you. You’ll see that the computer, the new regulation, the angry client are just thoughts and sensations in your body and mind,” Brewer said. “Yes, they may be driving your life for the moment, but they do not constitute who you are.”

Examine your feelings. Ask yourself, “How does this anxiety (or the habit of being anxious) make me feel?” Then you may naturally feel less excited about experiencing that anxiety again.

Be open to a new experience. Consider trying something different to distract yourself, something that feels better. It could be something as simple as taking slow, deep breaths or replacing an unhealthy snack with one that’s better.

“Just exploring the world and learning things feels better than mindlessly scrolling or getting outraged,” Brewer said. “Instead of judging yourself or beating yourself up, get in the habit of being present, allowing yourself to simply be human,” he adds in his book. “Curiosity and kindness won’t suddenly and magically drag you to the mental gym. They work their magic in a different way, naturally drawing you in because they feel good.”


George Spencer is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

George Spencer

is a freelance writer in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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