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How can you best handle stress on the job?

By: Robert Half

The Random House Thesaurus of Slang offers a myriad of synonyms for the adjective "stressed"---wired, in a tizzy, on edge, basket case, hyper, and many more. I'm sure that after four intense years of studying, you have a few pet terms of your own to describe how you feel when the pressure is on.

It seems to me that along with college courses in all disciplines which contribute to becoming a successful accountant, colleges and universities might also consider scheduling a seminar for graduating students on how to handle stress on the job. Here are my own thoughts on the subject.

Like virtually every other profession, accounting can be extremely stressful, especially at certain times of the year (such as year end and quarterly closings). Adding to the tension of seasonal crunch times are the increasingly complex laws and government regulations, which change regularly.

Medically, stress can play a role in certain diseases, if not handled properly. It can also seriously impact job performance and derail otherwise promising careers.

How can you best handle stress on the job?

First, consider whether it's the amount of work that is causing the stress or your approach to it. I've always believed---and a number of experts in the field agree---that work in and of itself does not necessarily create a stressful situation. Naturally, we all have our limits of how much work we can handle in any given period. But generally, even when the pressure is on, we can rise to the occasion if we structure our time and approach in a way that makes things manageable.

We've all experienced periods in our lives when things pile up, one on top of the other, until it seems almost hopeless. We move from project to project, never finishing any of them because we're thinking about the others that need to be completed.

The key is to compartmentalize and prioritize our responsibilities in order of importance and deadlines. To worry about all the projects demanding our attention is self-defeating. Tackle them one at a time. Focus on the one with which you're presently struggling and push the others aside, as far from your mind as possible. Completing a single task gives us a feeling of accomplishment and of progress.

Second, develop a sense of relative time. This particularly stressful period will end at some point (if it won't ever end, you might consider changing jobs).

Third, try to view projects as just that---projects---not personal enemies. Successfully completing them will expand your knowledge, enhance your image within your department and company, and provide you with a much-deserved sense of self-worth.

Fourth, engage in healthy practices during periods of stress. Think like an athlete embroiled in a crucial, hard-fought contest. Schedule a little more sleep than you ordinarily get. Eat right. Take advantage of every opportunity to exercise, even ten-minute breaks when, instead of sitting back with a cup of coffee, you take a brisk walk around the block. Learn a few simple relaxation techniques and practice them. Close your eyes for a few minutes and visualize pleasant places, such as a favorite beach or ski slope. Take a series of deep breaths.

Fifth, and finally, make sure your sense of humor mechanism is in good working order. If not, tune it up. Smile. Smiling can have a remarkable psychological impact, not only on you but also upon those around you who are sharing the burden.

In these highly competitive times, stress on the job is inevitable. Don't allow the avoidance of it to dictate the jobs you accept, or your level of aspiration. Stress, if handled properly, can be a great motivator, a valuable learning experience, and a useful indicator of who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing.


You'll get through this wired, hyper, on-edge time in your career just fine.

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