Older man with glasses staring out a window.

As a tax professional, you have likely just finished one of the most challenging tax seasons of your career. And with the three-month tax extension, you’re left with less time to regroup before you need to begin preparing for the next round of deadlines.

Adding to that, new legislation from the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program has added extra stress on top of an already busy workload.

If you’re starting to feel burned out, it’s time to take steps to address that.

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout isn’t the same thing as feeling a little stressed out or overworked. The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine defines burnout as:

“A constellation of symptoms that include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and loss of perspective that work is meaningful. Untreated, burnout syndrome can erode professional behavior at work and healthy relationships at home.”

And the World Health Organization classifies burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress.

Over the past few months, there have been few, if any, workplaces that haven’t been stressful. While tax season is always busy and somewhat demanding navigating clients through a pandemic, understanding new legislative changes, and grappling with the tax filing deadline extension (while likely also working from home) has probably created more stress than normal.

If you’re feeling overworked and exhausted you’re not alone.

How to Avoid Burnout

Burnout isn’t quickly fixed with a one-week trip to the beach. And though there isn’t an easy solution to stop burnout, it’s worth focusing on. Because burnout can result from chronic stress, it’s important to address and relieve that stress before the effects become worse.

One quick note before we get to the tips: consult with a medical professional if you think you might be in need of professional help. 

R.A.C.E.

The UNC School of Medicine created an acronym to describe the ways to tackle the very real problem of physician burnout. While designed for medical professionals, it offers strategies that anyone can employ.

RACE stands for: reset expectations, activate recognition of your needs, create boundaries, and embrace imperfection at times.

What might that look like for a tax professional?

  • Reset expectations: Tax professionals have been placed under immense pressure these last few months. Resetting your expectations of what you can accomplish, especially if you are still running your business remotely, may help alleviate stress.
  • Activate recognition of your needs: Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. What do you need in order to do your job well? That may mean hiring help or carving out time away from your desk. Recognize your needs, know that they are important and worth prioritizing.
  • Create boundaries: You may not be able to have perfect work/life balance all the time, but are there boundaries you can put up to give yourself much-needed downtime?
  • Embrace imperfection at times: Don’t throw caution to the wind, but there will be times when things can’t be perfect. Especially as new legislation is published, there will be a learning curve. Give yourself time to learn and don’t expect to have all of the answers immediately.

Seek connections

Executive coach Monique Valcour wrote in Harvard Business Review that seeking connections is an antidote to burnout. At a time when we are lacking in-person interactions more than ever, this may feel hard. You may be meeting with your clients and your team virtually, and since distance is encouraged right now, seeking new connections can be tricky. But it’s not impossible.

It’s likely that tax professionals and others in related professions are struggling with this new environment and needing connections as well. Consider starting a professional networking group that meets virtually or in a physically distanced way. You can share business ideas, discuss updates to new legislation, and lean on each other for support.

Find time to exercise and relax

When you’re overworked and feel like you can’t fit one more thing in your day, the last thing you probably want to do is add more to your plate. But you may want to reconsider that. Exercising and relaxation should be a priority on your lengthy to-do list.

According to Harvard Medical School, exercise reduces your adrenaline and cortisol — your body’s stress hormones. And it stimulates endorphins, which lift your mood. That doesn’t mean you need to log hours in the gym to see the stress-related benefits. A quick 20-minute stroll might be enough to change your mood.

Breathing exercises can also relieve stress without taking much time. Deep breathing exercises can help you get rid of stress as it’s occurring. Here’s why it works: shallow breathing is how we respond to stress. Deep breathing is a sign of being relaxed. Start breathing deeply and the effect on your body will be relaxing. Essentially, act like you are relaxed and you will be relaxed.

Get enough sleep

The American Psychological Association makes it clear that that you need to catch some zzz’s to do your best work. Even just minor sleep deprivation can affect memory, judgment, and mood. 21% of adults report feeling more stressed after not getting enough sleep.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s time to start. Try creating a sleep-inducing bedroom with blackout curtains, earplugs, and a comfortable room temperature. Build yourself a bedtime routine that has you ditching screens and lowering the lights at least 30 minutes before heading to bed. And create a consistent bedtime and wake-up time that you can stick to, even on the weekends.

The past few months haven’t been easy for anyone, with new legislation and a lot of questions surrounding financial topics. But there are strategies to deal with your stress and avoid burnout so you can continue running a successful business your clients depend on.