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Accountants battle soaring stress levels amidst mental health pandemic

Written by: ICAEW Insights
Published on: 10 Nov 2021

Man working on computer at night in office


Two in five chartered accountants have admitted to feeling too emotionally drained to work, according to the result of new research timed to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day, which shows many feel isolated and unable to speak about their feelings. 

The study conducted by CABA, the wellbeing charity for chartered accountants, paints an alarming picture of stress levels across the profession. It also highlights that COVID has aggravated an already worrying mental health pandemic that shows little sign of abating. 

The study found that 30% of the 1,222 respondents had recently felt isolated, while more than half had felt emotionally challenged. A further 21% say they either never or rarely feel optimistic about the future.  

When asked the cause of this distress, one in three cited either their work, career or studies, while one in five put it down to lockdown and the impact of COVID-19. A further 14% put it down simply to feeling constantly under pressure.  

A quarter of chartered accountants surveyed admitted they don’t feel able to speak about their feelings when angry, stressed or worried, while only half of respondents said they were dealing with such feelings well.  

Paul Day, Support Officer at CABA, said regardless of the pressures accountants were struggling with, it was vital they sought some kind of support: “We all have different ways of coping with stress and anxiety. However, there are also times when we find ourselves not coping as well as we might like. Some individuals may be put off from seeking help due to the perception of mental health issues, time barriers or simply not knowing where to look or how to find help.” 

CABA provides a range of wellbeing services free of charge to past and present ICAEW members and their families. They include access to CABA's online mental health support service, confidential chat sessions with qualified counsellors available 7 days a week, 365 days a year, peer support and access to a range of information and resources from its website. But Day says that individuals can also try a range of techniques to help keep their mental health in check: 

Find ways to control the situation  

We tend to feel safe when the stresses we’re facing are predictable. So if you are feeling nervous, focus on the things you can influence and control. For instance, if your employer invites staff to participate in projects, have your say. Getting involved can provide a greater sense of control.  

Celebrate your achievements  

A proverbial pat on the back helps us to find the strength to push ourselves further. Find things to feel proud of because ultimately, confidence is built by acknowledging how difficult things were, identifying what we did to overcome it and then building on those foundations.  

Take regular breaks  

Frequent breaks away from your computer screen will allow for more creative thinking, better processing of information and improved focus. Aim for a 5-minute screen break every 90 minutes or so, and always try to take your lunch break away from your desk completely. If possible, get some fresh air with a short lunchtime walk.  

Stick to your office hours  

The key to a good work-life balance is setting strict boundaries between work and home. Try to leave your work phone and laptop at work or set yourself a curfew for checking them when you get home. This will help you to properly unwind and give you more time to spend with friends and family or on hobbies and passions outside of work.  

Stay hydrated  

Keeping your H2O levels topped up throughout the day will help you maintain focus and concentration. When we’re dehydrated, we’re more likely to feel irritable and find it difficult to make decisions, which can exacerbate potentially stressful situations.  

Pause and refocus  

Mindful breathing exercises can help you stay calm and in control when things start to feel overwhelming. Even a momentary pause every day such as practising mindfulness, can make a difference.  


You can’t do everything at once, so be realistic about what you can achieve and by when. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t tick everything off your to-do list. Write a list and work out what is urgent and what can wait. 

Pace yourself  

We all have a threat centre to protect us from danger, a drive centre to get us out and about and a sooth centre. However, lots of things that we would assume originate from drive actually come from threat. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be the result of this sort of imbalance. Ask yourself; are you pushing yourself to do so much because it brings you joy or because you’re worried about missing out? Set aside some time to rest, relax and bring your sooth centre into balance. 

Know your worth 

Understanding the impact of your role and the difference you make to the wider organisation can give you a stronger sense of purpose, which will help you cope when the pressure is on. It’s hard to stay motivated when you can’t see the point or value in your hard work.  

For information and support on maintaining your mental health at work visit the CABA website.