Have you cried lately? I mean really ugly cried, like when you weren’t sure the tears were going to stop? I did. I had a real breakdown, and I had to take a day off to reboot.

Mental health isn’t something we typically talk about in the corporate world. It’s considered to be edgy, taboo, and way too complex to talk about openly. Why? We all go through sh*t. Especially now. So in one of my recent Let’s Get Radical … Live sessions, I wanted to tackle this topic with the always amazing Gretchen Pisano, CEO of pLink Leadership.

When we’re talking about mental health, I want you to remember to always put on your oxygen mask first. As financial professionals, we are on the front lines of the losses stemming from COVID-19. Social media listeners got to hear how we can all start to process some of this emotional stuff. It’s grieving, really. And tackling it is part of becoming emotionally agile; agile, you know, is a hallmark of being a radical CPA. Let’s get started!

You’re used to dealing with bankruptcies, business closures, reorganizations, all of it. What we’re dealing with now is all of these things on an unprecedented scale. Each of these client calls require all of our attention, and at the end of the day, it’s just so DRAINING. Everyone is going through loss right now. It may feel like someone has died, even though (I hope) no one that you know has actually died. This level of anxiety is pretty common across the board, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.

One thing to keep in mind is that grief is more than losing a loved one or a beloved pet. There’s also an incredible sense of grief in losing identity, and we are going through that collectively right now. There’s a huge loss because everything that used to define normal is gone. We’re waiting to see what will happen, whether things will go back to normal or if this is the beginning of a new trajectory.

Now, take that grief over the loss of an identity and multiply it by your family, your extended family, your friends, your clients, the state, the nation, the world. Can you see why there’s so much anxiety around the uncertainty in a COVID-19 world?

It’s okay to give yourself a mental health day. It’s always been okay to take sick days. We need to start considering mental health part of that paid time off so we can take a breath, do whatever form of self-care we need to do, and reset ourselves. What you should NOT do on those mental health days is beat yourself up.

The next thing Gretchen and I tackled was grief. Why do we feel so sad, as if there was a funeral, when these stories aren’t our own? Gretchen explained that when we’re hearing these stories, either from our clients, on the news, whatever, we relate them to our own experiences of sadness and grief. It’s like a virtual brain catalog of really terrible experiences that we pull from when something happens.

The problem is that no one really teaches us how to deal with grief. In Gretchen’s work, she coaches professionals on emotional agility, which basically means you can observe the emotion in you versus letting the emotion run you. The place where we want to be is being able to process these emotions as they come instead of letting them build up.

It does feel like we can’t take time for ourselves when our clients have needed so much of us lately. That’s a correct statement, but it’s also a belief. I want you to start learning how to self-regulate with healthy choices like getting enough sleep or exercise, and maybe not that extra glass of wine all the time! You want to avoid feeling tapped out or saving your worst behavior for the people you love the most … remember you are with those people 24/7 now, and they need you before you’re all tapped out.

During a time like this, one thing we can do is focus on micro-recoveries. These are 10 to 20-minute blocks of time where you’re doing something that’s not intense work, like stretching, going for a walk, or maybe some quiet reflection time on the back porch. This is like the time management Pomodoro technique that people talk about.

I also want you to keep in mind that we haven’t been trained to deal with the emotional ramifications of our jobs the same way that doctors or psychologists have. We have been trained in continual learning. Two books that Gretchen recommended are Emotional Agility by Susan David and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Both of those books are about bringing in emotional intelligence as the third leg of the human experience stool (the other two legs are cognitive and physical). These books will teach you how to take on the emotional burdens of your clients and connect with them, but without owning it.

Another thing I want you to remember is that empathy is like a superpower. You can easily put yourself in others’ shoes and look at things from their perspective. The downside to this, of course, is that if you haven’t learned how to regulate it. What happens then, Gretchen explained, is that you take on their hardships as if they were your own. The distinction here is to check yourself at the end of the day what’s yours and what’s theirs. You can still connect to your clients, or whomever, but you don’t have to own it as if it was your hardship. 

In these situations, watch for red flags that your bucket is too empty and needs refilled. Next, think about your quickest recovery strategies. Micro-recoveries are essential to avoid getting burned out, and that starts with teaching yourself that it’s okay to say, “that’s enough for now,” even when there are things you’re leaving undone.

Your goal is not to get everything done every day. Your goal is to get something far enough along that it’s okay to leave it undone until the next day.

So, with all this touchy feely stuff, our next question is “can we lead with emotion?” Because CPAs and accountants aren’t known for emotions. Think of it in a different way, though: emotions aren’t a binary choice. They’re data, not directives. I don’t know one CPA who doesn’t love data!

Gretchen and I want you to get to a point where you can identify your own emotions, like:

What am I feeling?

Where am I feeling it?

And the body is a great clue, because our bodies physically respond to mental and emotional triggers. Fun fact: did you know that we have the same neuronal cells in our heart chamber and GI tract as we do in our brain? The point is, we have to learn how to be aware of our emotions. If you’re feeling angry and resentful, you need to know where those feelings are coming from.

Being aware of your emotions will help you make better decisions. If your bucket is empty or you’re not taking enough micro-breaks, your thinking isn’t all that clear. You start making mistakes because you’re unbalanced. What should you do?

Give yourself grace. Support your employees. This is short-term; we’re going to rebound, and until we do, we have to manage ourselves and our mental health. We can use this time to develop our emotional agility, continue connecting with clients, taking micro-breaks, and making sure we’re not taking on emotional weight that’s not ours. Learn how to walk away. Take the day if you need it.  

Keep tuning in to my Let’s Get Radical … Live interviews on LinkedIn. We’ll continue talking about leadership and COVID-19, and how to be the best versions of already amazing CPA selves.

You can listen to the full recording of this interview below.

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