Attention, perhaps bordering on obsession, to detail, thriving in a sense of being in control and organised, enjoyment in making things all balanced and equal, and a dogged determination (we've all had that $1.20 that we can't stop searching for, even though we know we should!) - I suspect the very traits that make us excellent bookkeepers, are likely well known contributors to depression and anxiety.
We also operate in a highly regulated space dealing with, at times, complex law. Add to this that a fair portion of the industry are without the benefits of companionship, working alone from home or remotely, throw in some family demands... and lets not even start on the frustrations faced by dealing with certain websites that are continually under maintenance and crashing.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I thought I would share my story of a depression and anxiety diagnosis, in the hope that it might help someone.
To set the background, I am a confident, fun-loving optimist. As a life long devotee of Reebokism - 'Life is short. Play hard', I have always felt life is all a bit short to take too seriously. I can add determined, kind, serial over-sharer and hard-working. But one word, I've never used to describe myself until last year is 'depressed'. When I found myself sitting in a psychologist's room hearing the words,'You have severe depression and anxiety' it just felt weird. Wrong. Me? Sure I had felt really sad for weeks but he can't be right. He doesn't even really know me that well, let alone my extensive back catalogue of fun and frivolity.
But he was, of course, right, and as dark and bleak as that period of my life was, it set in motion the changes I made that turned my life, and ultimately my mental health, around.
To be fair, last year, was pretty foul - a business in crazy growth that had me running around like a deer in headlights, the constant strains that a working parent juggles, some serious and heart-breaking illnesses amongst family and friends, and the shock of having a melanoma diagnosis - but that wreaks of justification. And the reality is, we don't need to be able to justify. It doesn't matter. And I am sure it doesn't help.
Almost a year down the track and feeling the best I have felt in years, here's what made a difference for me.
1. Professional help
Oh how we love to hear client's say they can 'fix their books themselves', or even better when they've got a cousin who can do it for $10/hour. We know the value of engaging a bookkeeping professional such as ourselves. The same applies when we are not coping. We are not specialists in this area, and yes our family and friends might have some tips, but we are naive to think we or they have the tools to make a real difference. We really we need to engage the services of a professional. Here we can be given tools such as practicing mindfulness, meditating, cognitive behavioural therapy etc to stop ruminative thinking and bad thought patterns.
Without meaning to of course, I had wired my brain to worry. From the moment I woke, through all sorts of family moments where I wasn't quite present, until the glass of wine helped me fall asleep, my mind was in slightly panicked mode. Investing the time and effort to practice skills that help my worrisome mind is the single best thing I have ever done.
"Worry often gives a little thing, a big shadow" Swedish Proverb.
2. Set Boundaries
We hear it so often, it's almost cliche, but as the lines between home and work life/time continue to blur and the pressures of a 24/7 lifestyle bear down on us, ensuring you protect how spend your time is absolutely paramount. This includes scheduling down-time, deciding when you 'open and close' and living by my favourite saying - "Your lack of planning is not my emergency".
Even when I was going through some pretty tough times in the lead up to my diagnosis and keeping client's informed, although their response was often to take care and rest up, it never stopped them from continuing to email outside of hours or make last minute demands. It so brought home to me, that I was the only one who could have my best interests at heart and protect my boundaries. It was up to me.
Part of this is having systems and automations that free you up and allow you down time and future-proof your business for events like this. Ensuring you are not wasting time using out-dated procedures and even if you don't have staff, have things in place so that you can take time out.
Set alarms on your phone for breaks during the day. Stand up (even if you're at an adjustable desk, which is also an awesome idea), step away from your desk, look out at the sky, take some deep breaths, read an article, or step outside.....and turn off ALL notifications for work emails. Yes ALL.
3. Factor in Fun & Practice your Passions
As someone who loves to have fun, somehow over time all the fun had slowly been squeezed and sapped out of my day to day. Everything had got so grown up and serious. I had also placed work so middle and centre in my life, that I couldn't remember what else I used to like to do. As the old proverb goes "all work and no play makes jack a dull boy". The same applies to Jill.
What are your passions? Have you forgotten to pull your guitar out, to sew, to surf ? Maybe play your favourite 80's tunes that you haven't listened to forever. When did you last find time for a bush walk? To write? Don't let them get lost over time.
4. Lifestyle loops
Build a lifestyle that supports you. I call it a 'lifestyle loop' because often the way we go about the various parts of our day feeds into the next. Our day can create positive lifestyle loops that support good energy levels, clarity and strong mental health or negative lifestyle loops that make us tired, muddled and depressed. Now I am not brave enough to tell you what you need to do but for me, one of the biggest differences came from significantly reducing my alcohol intake. It was mortifyingly hard as it was such an ingrained coping mechanism, but it made a huge difference.
An example of a Negative Lifestyle Loop
Wines at the end of the day to cope with stress> Poor sleep quality> Wake tired, don't exercise > Lacking motivation and direction to prioritise work> Eating sugary foods to keep going> Post sugar-high crash, distracted> Overwhelmed and working late > No sense of achievement > Wines to wind down at end of day.
An example of a Positive Lifestyle Loop
Finishing the day and taking time out for something enjoyable (walk, rock-climb, movie, book) > Evening routine to wind down including limiting screen-time > Quality Sleep> Wake energised> Allow time for exercise and focusing on the day's priorities> Stopping for breaks and taking time out> Feeling accomplished> Finish day with energy to pursue interests and relax.
No life isn't that simple, and some days a glass of wine is perfect, but don't find yourself by default in habits that are actually hindering your happiness.
There really is more to life than work. Most of it isn't as 'life and death' as we make it seem. We aren't perfect, we will make mistakes. We also have family and friends that deserve our best. We have four-legged creatures that love attention. We have this one precious life of ours that needs to be lived fully and enjoyed. Keep perspective about what really matters in the short time we are here.
And importantly, reach out. We are so lucky to have an amazing community that supports each other. We also 'get' what we're all going through, so never be afraid to let one of us know when you're not coping. If you need someone to talk to, shoot me a message.
You can read my original article on being diagnosed with depression here .