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Managing your mental health while pursuing CA

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Based on my experience in this profession and that of others, I thought it is very important to educate the students on this concept - How CA course can impact your mental health? Let me start this article with a simple principle - Stupid people don't feel anxiety but intelligent people do.

This principle was confirmed by various studies. Studies confirmed that people with high levels of IQ are more prone to anxiety.

Anxiety results in Depression, Insomnia, Hypertension, and consequently Diabetic and resultant ailments. So it is very much important to understand what anxiety is.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a 'Potential Energy' wherein your body and mind hold a lot of energy just ready to release it. It goes without saying that when you have 'Potential Energy', it means you have some levels of intelligence which is translating it to energy. Now when that energy is not released, it starts harming the body. For instance, when you are doing your audit, you find that the internal controls are weak and revenue recognition is not proper.

That being the first impression, you apply principles of Auditing standards - which state that where the controls are weak, you have to enlarge the extent of checking. That means, if your audit is planned for 3 days, it need to be extended for another 2 days. You recall that, while your boss tells you to follow all the standards, he is not willing to extend the audit period. You work with frustration due to this conflict of situation.

Ultimately your outputs become sub-standard. In Certain PSU audits you will not even get a Management Representation Letter but you are supposed to comply with Accounting standards, Auditing standards and all the standards in the world. In all these cases, your knowledge of auditing is not being used and are subject to clutches. You are expected to be always vigilant, knowledgeable about the subjects but you no-where get the opportunity to apply it.

In this process, you become like a fully wound up toy car which is not allowed to run. Its spring breaks due to a constant position of being in a 'Potential energy'.

Why is CA course so stressful?

The only reason why CA course is stressful is that there is a vast difference between theory and practice. For instance, if you are an engineer, you read that AC2equals AB2+BC2. In practice, you use the same formula. You dare to mess up with this formula in your practical training, you will be facing serious repercussions.

However, in CA field, it is not the case. You are supposed to find AC only with BC and without AB or any of angles in the triangle. Sometimes, you are forced to use a Triangle formula in a Quadrilateral. When you how can anyone do it, you have to endure answers like 'This field is not an exact science but an Art!!! '. Mind you, our course is filled with subjects which are 30% science and 70% art.

With art comes grey areas - and with increasing grey areas, logic gradually takes back seat. That is precisely why many top class CAs are being subject to disciplinary proceedings or are held guilty of misconduct. They end up getting caught in the mess created by 'Grey Areas' and 'Arts' and forget the 'basic logic'.

The CA course was initially planned in such a way that your articles along with theory training will help you crack CA Exams. The gap between theory and practice was so narrow during the early years of CA course.

However, after Liberalization and globalization (from 1992), the gap widened. In the 1980's, a Financial Management paper (For CA Final) had a problem where you need to prepare Balance sheet from cash budget. That problem is now appearing in IPCC level. At that time, anyone who has done an articleship in Metro Cities would have had an opportunity to do an audit of listed companies.

However, in the current scenario, not more than 10% of articled assistants get the opportunity to do the listed companies audit. They end up doing only Income Tax, Concurrent audit but are expected to understand the 2nd Generation Accounting standards which are only applied in listed companies and large corporates.

How to manage your mental health while pursuing CA course?

I had to write this article because there are increasing cases of CA students committing suicide, getting severe ailments and feeling hopeless after repeated failures in exams. To them, these are my suggestions

  • CA is not for all. If you are in love with algebra, vectors, calculus but hate numbers this course is not for you. This course is also not for those who hate paperwork. Such people can go to the science stream. If you have not chosen science stream, you can take subjects like an actuary, financial engineering etc. If you force yourself in this course despite your fundamental DNA, you are likely to develop a lot of anxiety.
  • Realize that it is perfectly OK not to pass CA after studies and 3 years of articleship or even before starting articleship. If you don't write about EDP application controls in question-related to statutory audit, the examiner will slap you by cutting marks. If you question about EDP application control to your senior while doing a bank audit, he will slap you saying 'Are you insane?'.  Many people who have passed after multiple attempts are doing really well in the profession.
  • Staying away from sleep is not cool - it is stupid. Average human need sleep ranging from 6 hours to 9 hours out of every 24 hours. You may pass CA in the first attempt but you may reduce your lifespan by 6 months.
  • Do regular simple physical exercise - simple physical exercises like jogging or brisk walking for 45 mins releases the anxiety and calms your mind.
  • Don't react - when you have lots of information which bothers you, don't let those troubling data affect your mind. Negative data are like spitting cobra. You take it near your eyes it makes you blind. Manage it from a distance.
  • Get Medical help - if you are sad for a prolonged period (say for more than 2 months) or if you are increasingly finding it difficult to concentrate or feel suicidal, do get medical help. I know CFOs of top companies who have been a patient of a Psychiatrist and now living a healthy family and professional life. Fortunately, mental problems are easily curable.
  • Understand that Life is never perfect. Only in movies can Shah-Rukh Khan emerge without scratches even after a bloody fight with villains. In the real world, people end up being subject to ugly scratches. Everyone has ugly scratches. If you have one too, don't feel bad about it. Just move on. Fortunately, scratches in real life can be erased and valuable lessons are learned.
  • Enjoy life - Do not compromise fun for CA or any profession for that matter. Your profession is meant to make you happy not to snatch your happiness.

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