Audit Advantage: Anxiety, the Auditor’s Ally?
More often than not, anxiety is presented as a negative; we have treatment for anxiety ‘disorders’, in audit and other professions we talk about managing anxiety before a meeting or a presentation, we feel anxious awaiting an exam result. Without a doubt these are all examples of a feeling that can be uncomfortable, often debilitating and, at the extreme, be diagnosed as a mental health condition. This article will take you through this continuum, suggest some diagnostics, tips and techniques to manage your anxiety, but also pose the vexing question: when, if ever, can anxiety be an auditor’s ally?
‘He felt a surge of anxiety’
Our dictionary definition¹ kicks off with ‘a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome’. Sound familiar? This is the strain of anxiety akin to concern, apprehension and angst. Its roots are in fear; fear that we won’t achieve, fear for our reputation, fear for the wider ramifications of results. We all experience anxiety of this type, in some cases, every day. It is a perfectly natural human emotion and one that is often felt in Audit, Risk and Compliance sector. It can be akin to ‘good’ stress, also known as eustress, find out more in our article, ‘Surviving Pressure’.
‘The intern’s eager anxiety to please’
At this level, anxiety is a motivator; it drives us forward, boosts performance and keeps us safe by raising awareness of risk. Dealing with your own anxiety can also enhance your empathy with others. Knowing ‘what it feels like’ improves your understanding and sensitivity towards people, both personally and professionally. Anxiety sufferers are also more attuned to ‘what can go wrong’ (a fundamental skill for the auditors and risk professionals!) and this can flow through into planning and problem solving proficiency in your audit job. ‘Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity’, T. S. Eliot.
‘She suffers from anxiety attacks’
But there is, of course, another side to anxiety. Accompanied by feelings of dread or foreboding, feeling anxious is often accompanied by fear and panic. It not only feels unpleasant mentally, but it can also take a physical manifestation, with shaking, sweating and a pounding heart rate. It may not be much consolation as you prepare to present your audit report to the board, but what you are actually experiencing is a primal response to ‘danger’ and your body is preparing itself for ‘fight or flight’ to keep you safe!
There are techniques to help you manage both the physical and mental expressions of anxiety, mostly around building, developing and topping up your resilience quotient. We recommend that you work through our programme, The Resilient Auditor for the full story. However, a salutary reminder that acute or chronic anxiety can be a serious mental health condition, in the words of the National Institute of Mental Health:
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
You can find out more on the NIMH website but if you think you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, then we strongly urge you to take the first step and talk to someone who can help; get some signposting via our article, Support is Strength in our Resilient Auditor series.
Check your Mood
Navigating that delicate balance of manageable and unmanageable anxiety and deciding if you need outside help, can be tricky. ‘Check your Mood’ is an NHS online Questionnaire, which offers a series of self-evaluation questions, culminating in an ‘anxiety’ score, as well as a ‘depression’ score. Alongside your result you’ll be offered assessment of your presenting symptoms, with suggestions of what to do next ,as well signposting to further helpful resources.
‘Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's job with yesterday's tools and yesterday's concepts’, Marshall McLuhan
If you are regular reader of CareersinAudit.com, you will have heard me waxing lyrical on the subject of the VUCA environment which we inhabit in the twenty first century. And you may be nodding at the McLuhan quotation above, conscious of my ongoing diatribe on the need to develop new ways of doing, working and being in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of today. However, you may be surprised to learn that McLuhan (1911-1980) was actually writing way back in the old century. Suffice to say anxiety is nothing new, it always was, and always will be, a protective defence mechanism of the human psyche. Learn to love your anxiety, learn to manage it, and give it a rebrand as the auditor’s ally!
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.
¹ dictionary definitions and examples, courtesy of en.oxforddictionaries.com
² Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian professor, philosopher and sociologist, popularly dubbed as the man who predicted the internet