Two CAs discuss how their own experiences with mental health inspired them to help other professionals
A cool head may be vital for finance professionals, but that doesn’t make them immune to stress and anxiety. Two who knew things weren’t right for them at work tell Ryan Herman how they launched new careers, using their own experiences to improve mental wellbeing for others
Lianne Stewart CA - Founder, Flow by Season
I had worked in finance since 2005, but four years ago I started to feel seriously stressed. I was trying to juggle a career with family, and all the other social things that go on around that.
So, looking to better manage my wellbeing, I started on a yoga teacher training course. It had a transformative effect on my wellbeing and I wanted other people to have that experience. The part of the job that always energised me was the people side. I loved that opportunity to engage, drive policy, influence and teach, so sharing these new tools was a natural step.
At the time I was working for Diageo, and I started doing sessions with the finance team which ultimately resulted in starting Flow by Season [Stewart teaches seasonal yoga]. There isn’t some magic, one-size-fits-all solution, but my goal is to help people who have wonderful, varied careers, but also busy lives, to live that life to the fullest, not just struggle through. Because many of us are.
A lot of the time my sessions with businesses are just 15 minutes long. I love doing longer sessions, but I want people to learn that it doesn’t require a big investment of time. I only do those yoga sessions in work hours to ensure people take some time out of their working day, even though it’s important to remember stress and anxiety are not always created by their job.
CAs are driven and motivated individuals. I’ve been that person pushing myself so hard up the hill, ignoring the signs that I needed to slow down, and hopefully that experience means I can help other people. When you’re faced with a situation of fight, flight or freeze, the most important tool at your disposal is breathing. And the simplest thing you can do with your breath is to extend the length of the exhale compared to the inhale. If you breathe in for four seconds, you should then exhale for eight. Doing a few rounds of that will shift the nervous system into a steadier state, and give you a moment to have some clarity, prioritise, delegate… whatever it is you need to do.
A lot of the time it’s not that we can’t manage what’s in front of us. It’s that we’re not in a state to be able to do it. And breathing can help you manage that state.
Kirsty Ritchie - Co-founder, Mind & Mission
I spent 25 years in finance. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that things were wrong, but struggled to put my finger on what it was. I thought when I went on maternity leave I would get some perspective. Instead, when I returned to work things got worse.
I was in an upper-middle-management role, where you have all the stresses and pressures from leadership, as well as having to manage a team. I experienced bullying and harassment. And that was just the last straw. HR simply washed their hands of it.
The big question for me was: how do I sort out my mind? I enrolled on an advanced diploma in psychotherapeutic counselling. It was incredible – and I met my future business partner on day one!
Mental fitness is our priority. We work with the Scottish government on gender pay gap and equality priorities, and one of those projects involves supporting women in agriculture. Another is women, specifically those approaching and in menopause, returning to work.
We believe in being proactive and addressing subjects that others will shy away from, such as suicide and neurodiversity. Mind & Mission sets out to prevent problems from escalating, to help people cope right now, and to see how we can make those difficult conversations happen. One recent study showed only around a third of employees said they felt happy talking about their mental health, whereas as many as three-quarters of managers said they were comfortable. So there is a big disconnect between what the managers and employees think, which suggests there’s still something wrong there.
The difficulty comes – especially in a work environment – if people don’t feel the culture is strong enough to help them to open up. They may lack the confidence that it will be managed in the right way. But it’s important to recognise that the process starts with you. To some degree we are all struggling right now, but the most courageous thing you can do is to be vulnerable and open up about your struggles.
For more on wellbeing, visit the Finance + Mental Fitness hub