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Stress Relief for the CPA

Posted by Dr. Phil Yaeger on Oct 30, 2017 3:29:09 PM

Most students will tell you the top stress in their life is school, studying, and the pressure to get good grades. Adding in additional stressors involved with work and family only exacerbates the stress of studying. CPA candidates understand this type of stress more fully than most, since the pressure to pass is often put on them by their employer. The importance of passing all four sections in time, prior to a score expiring also adds urgency. 

The good thing is that stress is not always a bad thing. Stress, or the relief of stress, is often a strong motivator. The problem comes when it becomes overbearing, debilitating even. Those are the times it is helpful to take a step back and analyze stress. What can you eliminate? Typically, quitting and not studying for or taking the CPA exam is not an option. So what can you do differently?

Copy a successful plan

No need to re-invent the wheel, right? The same concept applies to the CPA exam. Why try to create your plan by yourself that is untested and unscrutinized? Thousands of people before you have passed using preset plans. Ask CPA's who've passed the exam how long it took them, how they studied, if they studied with people or by themselves. The CPA exam has likely changed since most took it, so ask some experts too. Talk to CPA Review curriculum builders, professors, and specialists. Find a plan that feels right for your timeline, learning style, and lifestyle goals. Review plans that work best are customized to each student, even changes itself around your learning style as you study.

Realize the causation

The first thing a doctor does when you come in is to start asking you questions. Same thing at the mechanic, or with a plumber. Anytime anyone is trying to create a fix, they first try to find and diagnose the problem. So, what is it that's causing the majority of your stress? Often, people who are in the midst of a lot of pressure feel it everywhere. They think everything is the problem because every little thing feels like the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Pinpointing key stressors is the important thing. Sometimes it can be easy. Say you got a flat tire going down the highway that causes your car to bump violently to a halt. That would be an easy diagnosis. On the other hand, if your car's harmonic balancer goes bad over the course of two weeks it's both gradual and likely a problem you haven't heard of much. The stressors that start with little noises and slowly become worse are often the hardest to figure out.

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You may be getting to the point where your brain feels fried. This is probably because you are always plugged in, but never recharging. You spend all day looking at a computer screen and stare at your phone answering emails on the way to and from work. When you get home, you look at your computer more to study, maybe watch Netflix to relax if you have time, and then study some more at your glowing screen. These little bright screens represent a lot of stress, and even when you're doing fine, they could be causing your body to continue the stress cycle.

Take some time away from the screens. Opt out of your phone for a hard copy, non-work-related, book to read on your commute to and from work if you ride the train. Go for a run at lunch. Create old-school flashcards (writing them out is a great way to retain information, just make sure you also test how to apply that knowledge). Take some time in your day to break the stress cycle so it can't snowball out of control.

Create a stress budget

A significant problem with stress is often that you just have too much. Eliminating stress completely is impossible. You will always have bills to pay and be forced to fit everything the 24 hours in a day. Stress is inevitable. However, just like with time and money, it can be helpful to create a budget to see how you're spending your available stress. Write out all your stressors and give them a percentage out of 100 (with 100 being your proposed acceptable "stress budget"). Say work is 25% of your stress, the CPA exam is 60%, finances are 30%, your relationship is 10%, a problem with your car is 5%, health is 10%, and taking care of your pet is 5%. That adds up to 135% of your stress budget being taken up. So you need to cut 35% out.

You like your significant other so that 10% stays, and is nonnegotiable. Work is 25%, but maybe it could be 15% if you explained you need to back off the workload from a few projects to pass the CPA exam. Your employer often will want you to pass the CPA exam, so they'll often help you eliminate some extra stress in the office for the time being. And, you can get your car fixed! Sometimes these little stresses add up and weeks of that little stressor you've been putting off can be eliminated in an hour or two.

So, you're down 15% already! Decide if someone can look after your pet or help out a little more, make a plan to meal prep, so you spend less money eating out and eat healthier (two birds with one stone!), and find some ways to eliminate unnecessary and redundant studying. You could easily drop your "stress budget" down to an ideal level of around 90% because it's never good to be maxed out if at all possible.

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Tags: CPA Exam Prep, CPA Productivity

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