Lessen your stress heading into 2021

Take care of yourself during this next atypical semester.
By Cheryl Meyer

Every other week Porschia Nkansa, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., an assistant professor of accounting at California State University, Los Angeles, takes a breather from her online teaching and visits a different Southern California beach: Laguna Beach, Seal Beach, Zuma Beach in Malibu, and others.

"I call them 'ocean visits,'" Nkansa said. "Being near the water brings me a sense of peace, and I leave feeling refreshed to conquer the week ahead." Nkansa began these beach outings after COVID-19 hit, to help cope with the stress resulting from isolation, her upside-down schedule, lack of sleep, and tiring online classes, she said.

Nkansa is not alone. The pandemic has upset the lives of accounting and other faculty members worldwide. Many have had to resort to online teaching exclusively, which has often been a challenge. And many professors now spend more time than before answering student emails, recording teaching videos, and addressing student concerns, most often from home, sometimes with family nearby. Though the development of vaccines has brought a sense of hope to many, going into the new semester faculty still face months of disruption ahead.

Faculty, said Debra Woods, CPA, a Mayo Clinic-certified health and wellness coach, and founder of Woods Wellness Coaching LLC, in Oklahoma City, must practice "self-care" and take measures to minimize stress and burnout during this challenging time. Woods, Nkansa, and other experts offer the following advice for doing so:

Lessen your expectations and let go. Don't be too hard on yourself if you're not as industrious as you once used to be. "Eight hours working at home is totally different from eight hours at the university," said Mary McKinney, Ph.D., founder of Successful Academic Consulting, an online practice based in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Instead, feel good about what you are able to accomplish during the average day. "I suggest people lower their expectations, especially those who have children at home that they need to help," she said. "If people can put in four to five hours a day during the pandemic, they are doing very well."

Also, remember that you cannot control everything happening around you. "Let go of what we don't have control over, and go in deep on what we do have control over," Woods advised. "Focus on what is going well, and why it is going well, and how we can invite or create more of that."

Establish routines and boundaries. Do your best to "put in place realistic and appropriate schedules" that work for you, McKinney said, even if you’re not a methodical person by nature. "The faculty that I work with who are handling this period the best are people who are naturally orderly, very good at setting up routines, and who keep track of to-do lists," she said.

Also, set boundaries with students, who otherwise may contact you at all hours of the day and night, McKinney noted. Set times when you are going to work and have "reasonable limits" as to how quickly you respond to students' emails. "You have to be flexible but also have to take care of yourself," she said. "And seek university help if a student comes to you in great distress. Do not try to do it on your own. It is too much responsibility."

Cut unnecessary meetings. Both faculty and students are getting burned out with technology during COVID-19, so find ways to minimize time online. "It's really important to set limits on the number of Zoom meetings" you have to attend, McKinney advised. "Sometimes that means staggering them a bit." Also, she suggested, reduce the number of online conferences you may attend, especially since you aren't receiving the full benefit of making in-person connections.

Take advantage of downtime and change. Despite difficulties brought on by the pandemic, some faculty have found benefits to spending more time at home. Some have slowed down and reflected on what is important to them, McKinney said. Others "are really using this time to be intentional and deepen long-standing friendships," she said.

Most importantly, take breaks. Spending a great deal of time at home can feel monotonous, so it's important to shake things up. Walk the dog. Shift rooms. Call a friend or colleague. Turn off the computer or phone. Start a new hobby. Rent a weekend house at the coast or retreat to a cabin. "Consciously think about what you need most right now," Woods suggested.

So explore your neighborhood and city, go to a park, take a bike ride, go camping, or walk the beach. "To help others," Nkansa said, "we have to be at our best and carve out some time for ourselves."

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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