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Jan 1992

Balanced worklife. (Management of an Accounting Practice)

by Brown, Doug

    Abstract- Accounting can be a very stressful profession, especially during busy seasons such as the end of the fiscal year. During these times, accountants are more prone to illness, tiredness, depression, immunity impairment, and burnout symptoms. Practitioners can ward off these unpleasant conditions through good nutrition. Eating well-balanced meals, taking the required minerals and vitamins, and monitoring sugar levels can offset the negative effects of constant pressure and long working hours.

This article gives you some common sense action guidelines you can adopt to make this time in your life more manageable. However, it also goes beyond and stresses the importance of working towards and achieving a balanced worklife, all year long.

I think you would agree that accountants, by and large, are hard- driving, hardworking people. This conditioning starts with a rigorous academic program followed by a difficult certification exam, and entrance into a profession that is brimming with deadlines, dealing with people, details, ambiguity, ever-changing rules and regulations, increased liability, and other hassles. Most of us, at least initially, take pride in "getting the job done," working long hours, and sacrificing personal time for the sake of our jobs and profession.

Although we can push ourselves hard when we are young, neglecting and abusing our bodies by working long hours, getting little sleep, eating poorly, rarely exercising, hectic travel schedules, and compulsive habits, these behaviors usually catch up with us by our late thirties or early forties. Our bodies will begin to rebel against such behavior.

We may suffer burnout symptoms, immunity impairment, more frequent bouts with illness, or just feel tired and unexcited about life in general. If you are at this point in your career and life, you definitely have to change. You cannot keep living your life as you have in the past.

Change is a personal choice. It can be difficult and sacrifices must be made. Following are some action steps you can start right now to get off the burnout, imbalanced worklife merry-go-round.

Eating Right

A well-nourished mind and body is a stronghold against fatigue and illness. Eating right is critical for wellness.

Did you know numerous recent studies demonstrate that our brain requires about a dozen specific nutrients, and a deficiency in any one of them can result in common emotional problems such as moodiness, depression, and fatigue? (1)

The most important of these basic nutrients are the B vitamins. These are extremely complex coenzymes that act as catalysts in the body's most basic functions, including the process of burning food to provide fuel for the body. They're needed to supply the brain with its glucose energy source and, without enough of them, the brain begins to perform poorly and our mental health is affected.

People who don't get enough of these nutrients can exhibit a host of emotional and neurological symptoms such as confusion, depression, fatigue, and psychosis. (2)

Have you ever been through a stressful event such as a divorce, family death, or a major personal or professional setback and find that you are emotionally and physically exhausted? And, instead of getting better after this crucial event, you slowly get worse?

Nutritionists call this the "stress cycle." Emotional stress depletes the body of certain elements that are critical to healthy brain activity. Unless they are replaced quickly and in adequate amounts, your emotional and coping mechanisms deteriorate. This process often will repeat itself, dragging you downward in a spiraling fashion. If you drink alcohol or coffee, or smoke during this time, you will suffer even more.

Vitamins Help

Research has shown that the B complex vitamins, especially B6, B12, thiamine, niacin, folate, and pantothenate can help in alleviating nutritional burnout symptoms. These are good anti-stress nutrients. Vitamin C also is an effective anti-stress agent that helps in the production of norepinephrine and adrenaline, hormones critical to stress response. (3)

As research suggests, you are going to have to take in adequate amounts of vitamins (with an emphasis on B and C) and minerals if you are to avoid nutritional burnout. You can eat foods rich in these items and/or take supplements. Always consult your physician or nutritionist before undertaking any major diet change and refrain from taking mega- doses of any one vitamin or mineral--they may be toxic.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, we all learned about nutrition and the four food groups. The latest studies in nutrition and brain biochemistry, however, point out new eating habits and guidelines that are designed to keep us healthy, active, and alert while promoting a good, sound sleep as well.

Although there are many opinions, the healthiest diet today appears to be one that concentrates on whole-grain cereals, breads, pastas, fresh fruits, beans and vegetables. These are the complex carbohydrates, high in vitamins and minerals, but low in fat and sodium.

Most researchers argue the typical American gets plenty of protein in his or her diet. However, current studies indicate we might not be eating enough protein at the time we most need it: in the morning. After sleeping, your blood sugar is low and it takes protein, not sugar, to build it up again. So start eating more low-fat, high-protein foods in the morning and avoid those sugary cereals and flapjacks smothered in syrup!

Foods you might want to try include cottage cheese, peanuts, skim milk, and yogurt. Combine these with one of the many high-protein cereals that are now out on the market. Or you may want to make a fruit/yogurt drink that is both tasty and high in protein.

Are You a Sugar Junkie?

Refined sugars and carbohydrates dump too much sugar into the system too quickly. You'll get an initial rush as your blood sugar levels soar, but then, as your pancreas tries to make up for this sugar hit by releasing insulin, a hormone which withdraws sugar from the blood, you'll experience a sudden dip in blood sugar. What a roller-coaster! When your blood sugar takes a dive, you will spurt and sputter too! Muscles can ache. Digestion and vision can be impaired. And you can feel really lousy!

Not only does your body get socked by this sugar high, your brain also is affected. It has to have glucose on a steady, constant basis to operate effectively. Without it, it goes haywire: nervousness, anxiety, poor concentration, irritability, forgetfulness and even nightmares have been linked to low blood sugar. Now you know why your colleagues act the way they do after eating a chocolate bar, followed by a quart of cola!

Get off this sugar binge syndrome! Stop drinking sweet drinks and eating all that candy while doing those tax returns! More and more studies show sugar to be an addictive substance that causes hypo- glycemia which, in turn, is responsible for a myriad of emotional disorders, learning and behavior problems, and fatigue. (4)

A lot of us eat when we're anxious or depressed. But did you know, depending on our makeup, a lot of food can make us feel this way? We may have food allergies of which we are unaware. The foods that cause the most common allergies in humans include chocolate, corn, egg whites, fish, milk, mustard, nuts, and wheat. (5)

If you think you suffer from a food allergy, keep a food diary and monitor what you eat and how you feel afterwards. Or go on an elimination diet and selectively eliminate, one at a time, those foods to which you may feel you are allergic. You also may want to go to a specialist and be tested for various food allergies.

As you can see, good nutrition is the cornerstone of a well-balanced worklife. You must make it a high priority in your life. Take the additional time to prepare well-balanced meals. Eat less, more often. Prepare fresh foods and vegetables. Eliminate some of those frozen, prepared foods from your diet. Eat more protein in the morning. Get off of the sugar roller coaster. If you travel a lot and eat a great deal in restaurants, you will have to be even more disciplined! A travel diet can be full of fat and cholesterol. And make sure you get your required minerals and vitamins.

(1) Padus, Emrika, "The Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health, New Dimensions in Mind/Body Healing," Rodale Press, 1986.

(2) Tkacz, Dr. Charles, Medical Director, North Nassau Mental Health Center Studies, Manhasset, New York.

(3) Wellcome Research Laboratories Studies, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

(4) Abrahamson, Dr. E.M., "Body, Mind, and Sugar," Avon Publising Company.

(5) Breneman, Dr. James, "Basics of Food Allergy," 2nd ed., 1984.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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