How Can Women in Accounting Manage Their Stress?



Have you ever heard of the Black Superwoman Syndrome?


Even if the phrase doesn’t ring a bell, odds are you’ve experienced it—especially as Black women in finance. Let’s take a second to review:


According to Dr. Cheryl L. Woods-Giscombe, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Nursing, this syndrome is made up of five major behaviors:


  • Obligation to manifest strength

  • Obligation to suppress emotions

  • Resistance to being vulnerable or dependent

  • Determination to success despite significantly limited resources

  • An obligation to help others


This syndrome is incredibly common among Black women—but particularly among Black women in predominantly white-led workplaces. You know, like accounting, where less than 1% of CPAs in the U.S. are Black?


While some of these behaviors can enable Black women to excel and come into leadership roles in these industries, they’re also detrimental to your mental health. And from there, it’s only a matter of time before your lack of mental wellbeing affects your career, your family, and the rest of your personal life.


So, how can you healthily manage the different stressors in your life and come out the other side?


Over the summer, we had the opportunity to sit down with licensed therapist, mental health expert, and the Host of the show Love Goals on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Spirit, about how you can take care of your mental health and manage your stress in the finance and accounting field.


A headshot of Spirit, with short hair, black earrings and a necklace, and a black top. She has her left hand underneath her chin.
Spirit is the Owner and Clinical Director of the Atlanta-based mental health practice, T2S Enterprises, LLC, has appeared on The Today Show, and has been featured in EBONY Magazine. Photo via Twitter.

The good stress

There are different types of stress—not all stress is created equal! While many different kinds of stress are harmful, there is also good stress. And it’s important to learn how to recognize it!


The good kind of stress is called eustress. Eustress is the kind of stress that allows you to be in touch with your body and what you feel.


This is what motivates you to get out of bed every day, it’s what pumps your blood, it’s what keeps you going.


This is the stress that keeps you productive, functioning, and living a high quality of life.


Two people in white sit at a desk in a brightly-lit room with a laptop open in front of them. They're both smiling and looking at the screen.
Forget the cup of coffee—you're motivated to wake up all on your own!

What does this look like? Eustress can come from starting a new job, moving into a new home, or having a child, just to name a few examples.


The defining characteristic here is that eustress comes from things that do cause stress, but ultimately make you happy.


But sometimes, when you’re dealing with too much stress as women in finance or a negative kind of stress, things can go south.


Time stress

Here’s where we get into the kinds of stress that are unhealthy for you: mentally, emotionally, and physically. And the first up is one that women in accounting know all too well: time stress.


Time stress is the feeling that there are never enough hours in the day. And how do you know if you’re feeling time stress?


  • If you find yourself thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list as you’re trying to fall asleep

  • If you punish or chastise yourself (even just negative thoughts!) for “not getting enough done in a day”

  • If you feel like a day was a waste if it wasn’t jam-packed with things to do


A lot of us experience this kind of stress, especially since we’re in a service-based industry. And while the bag might be happy because of all those billable hours, the reality here is that you’re probably overscheduled.


A person sits at a computer, typing. There's a green plant on one side of them, and open books with highlighted passages on the other.
Take a second to look at what you have to do, and what you simply want to do. Because you can't do it all!

While you may think that you can’t get rid of certain responsibilities, guess what: you can!


And ultimately, this is the solution here: to delegate where you can and seek support from your network.


How you do this is by examining the things in your life that need to be done by you and the things that don’t. What’s key here is to invest your time in the places and spaces where the task needs to be done by YOU.


You have to sit for that exam. You have to run that meeting. You have to write up that proposal.


But, do you have to clean the house? Do you have to send general follow-up emails to your clients? Do you have to do the groceries? Do you have to take care of your marketing?


Evaluate where you’re up against time constraints that are immovable and important, like deadlines and exam dates, and where you can enlist or pay someone else to perform a task.


The key here is to trade in all of the details of your day for the bigger picture and letting things go. Is it more important that the books aren’t put away the way you usually like or that the house got cleaned while you worked on your deadline?


Anticipatory stress

Anticipatory stress is worry about the future—what may or may not lie ahead. This is especially common if you’re a person who deals with anxiety.


If you’re experiencing anticipatory stress, you’re constantly worried about the next moment instead of just being in the present.


This kind of stress can be paralyzing—and usually never actually happens!


So, what’s the solution here? Spirit’s advice is two-fold:


  • Plan for the future

  • Then, come back to the present


What does this mean? Spirit explains that when we’re thinking about the future, it’s usually not about the great things that lie ahead, but instead, it’s the worst-case scenario.


A person sits up in their bed in the middle of the night, with their bedside lamp on, arms crossed, and looking down at the bed with a concerned look on their face.
If your thoughts are keeping you up at night—and keeping you moving nonstop during the day—you might be experiencing anticipatory stress.

So, if you find yourself in this situation, think to yourself: what is the worst-case scenario here? What’s the worst thing that could happen?


Once you’ve realized what that worst-case scenario could look like, ask yourself: what would you do if it were to actually happen?


Prepare for the worst case. Put together a plan if the worst thing that could happen, happens. And then, come back to the present.


Anticipatory stress often comes from feeling like you’re unsure how to handle the future. But putting a plan together to handle that up-in-the-air potential turns that period into a comma.


It’s not going to be the end of the world—just a segue into the next part of your life.


Situational stress

Now, this one, in particular, isn’t just exclusive to women in finance—it can apply to anyone and everyone. (Although tax season would beg to differ.)


Situational stress is the stress that arises from certain circumstances, like a car accident, or an unexpected bill.


This kind of stress can send you through the roof because you weren’t expecting it.


So, how do you manage this kind of stress? Spirit explains her multi-step process for women in accounting simply:


  • Get support

  • Recognize your role and your control

  • Self-care


Let’s say you’re in a particularly stressful situation. The first thing you need to do is take stock of who and what you need right now. Who or what do you need to reach out to?


A group of 4 people stand in a circle in a green park, holding hands and smiling at each other.
You don't have to go it alone—and you shouldn't! Your friends, family, colleagues, even your women's networking groups, are all sources of support for you.

Once you’ve reached out for support, now it’s time to evaluate your role. What part can you play in fixing this situation? Is it under your control or is it out of your reach? Are you just trying to stay busy? Is this something that you can, or need, to delegate?


After you’ve reached out for support and examined your role and control of the situation, it’s time to take care of yourself. How can you take care of yourself now? How do you recharge your batteries and address your needs? What do you need to do so you can come back to living your life as the fullest version of yourself?


Conclusion

Everything is possible and within your power. As Spirit says, “you have the ability to do any and everything that you want to do, if you do it well.”


But, it’s important to keep this in mind: you don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to go it all alone. And you’ll go farther when you go together.


For more information on the different types of stress that you might experience, and how you can manage it, watch our webinar with Spirit in full!


How do you manage stress in your life?


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