There could be an upside to your anxiety disorder

Keeping an anxiety disorder from your coworkers? CA and entrepreneur Liezl Berry believes it makes you a better accountant.

Ask any accountant what it takes to be a successful professional with job satisfaction, and you will most likely hear that you have to “handle stress well”. One of the most-asked interview questions to prospective candidates is: “How well do you handle stress?” But what about those accountants who suffer from anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. The term "anxiety disorder" refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry and includes generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety and others. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time as depression.

Having anxiety can make all the areas of life more difficult, whether you are at work or at a social event. Anxiety doesn’t add to emotional stability, optimism or assertiveness and can sometimes even have the opposite effect. It creates problems with how you relate to others, results in unwanted physical symptoms, and makes your life in general a whole lot more stressful than it should be.

It seems then that having anxiety would therefore have a disastrous effect on your career and anyone with anxiety should rather not become or be an accountant. But is this really true? Or could there be another way of looking at it? Could having this disorder actually make you a better accountant?

The good news is that there is an upside to having an anxious mind. Some accountants argue that their anxiety have been an asset as they tend to double-check everything and have found errors that others have missed.

Anxiety can be the perfect tool to motivate someone to get an assignment done. It is rare to see anxious people procrastinating and being able to tell themselves that they can get something done at the last minute.

Anxious people are also highly in tune to the world around them and sensitive to people’s thoughts and actions. This makes them good leaders as they are compassionate, empathetic and attentive to their team’s needs. 

Almost everyone experiences anxiety at some point. Life is stressful. Sometimes anxiety will pass, or therapy and medication might help. But there are those of us for whom anxiety is a persistent companion. Whether you are tightly wound, sensitive by nature, or experiencing anxiety caused by a specific circumstance, anxiety is constantly with you.

Many accountants do not want to admit that they have an anxiety disorder for fear of being labelled, not being hired or not being promoted, and they fear being treated differently (which could make their anxiety even worse). If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder, which you must make bearing in mind your own circumstances and level of comfort with the people you work with.

I think anxiety disorder should be seen as a special gift – a special tool to guide you. If you have anxiety you might as well find a way to make it useful and manage it to work in your best interest.

Work is always demanding, and there will always be times when you have to suck it up, put on your big-girl panties (or big-boy jocks), and walk into that room. But work also demands a healthy scaffolding of support and self-care. Remember you are not alone. Believe in yourself and what you can achieve, set boundaries and celebrate the small victories.