Recovering from a stressful tax season can provide a much needed breather for accountants, but one medical expert has some advice they can use year-round.

Dr. Marilyn Howarth, medical director of the Penn Center for Executive Health, part of the University of Pennsylvania health system, told WebCPA that tax preparers should start on a good exercise program soon after they finish meeting their clients' filing deadline, and make sure to catch up on their sleep.

“It’s never too late to start good health habits,” she said. “The most important thing is to delve into areas where they have been deficient before, take a few minutes each day to see when and how they can eat nutritious food, how will they fit in some exercise even when haven’t had time to do so, and fit in some relaxation techniques.”

To relax during stressful times such as tax season, she suggested looking out the window for a while and taking some time to engage in conversation with co-workers, listening to music, and having a cup of decaf coffee with a friend. “These are some things that in the midst of a significantly stressful work setting can help with productivity,” she said.

The Penn Center for Health tailors programs for individuals to enhance their nutrition and exercise, identify their health habits and help get them under control. Howarth recommended that accountants have a health plan put together for them so they can be more fit going into next tax season and have a set of strategies to help them remain well for the duration of the season.

Accountants who are already in the habit of seeing a physician with some regularity are more likely to keep their medical problems under control, she added. “They will not have as much need for more invasive care, hospitalization and surgery,” she said.

Howarth noted that when people don’t have good ways of managing their stress, they tend to miss meals and drink too much coffee and tea. “They tend not to dissipate stress, so it disrupts their sleep and makes them drink more caffeine and feel more sluggish,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle and all these things fit into it.”

Howarth described a concept known as “presenteeism” in which professionals such as accountants may feel obligated to come into the office even on days when they don’t feel well. “They may be there at work, but are they doing as good quality work as at a time when they’re not as stressed?” she asked.

However, she acknowledged that a moderate degree of stress can be helpful for accomplishing work such as completing a pile of tax returns. “There is no question that a little bit of stress is a good thing for work,” said Howarth. “A little bit of stress and epinephrine and the other natural hormones in situations where there is a need to work under pressure, that’s absolutely adaptive. But when there’s a push to exceed a timeframe under lots of stress, that can absolutely interfere with your sense of wellness. You can feel run down and not at your best. A little bit of stress is good, but too much stress is not.”

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