Anxiety and stress are not only perfectly natural reactions to stress, but have been built into our DNA since we lived in caves. This physiological (“fight or flight”) nervous system has evolved in order for us to respond to life-threatening emergencies, such as being approached by a predator.
The problem for 21st century humans is that non-life-threatening situations turn on the exact same system. For the financial adviser, it could be a sharp market downturn, a dire economic prediction, the need to prospect for new clients or having to answer a phone call from an angry client. Regardless of the potential stress, if we interpret the situation in a negative way, we switch on the “fight or flight” nervous system. The system was evolved to switch on for a few minutes at a time in order to help us escape the danger, but most of us switch it on for days and weeks, because of persistent stress. This impacts the immune system in a negative way and leads directly to the development of acute and chronic illnesses.
A financial adviser case study
Deborah loved her job as a financial adviser, but she believed that all of the stress involved in her job were inevitable and went “with the territory.” She suffered from stress whenever the market tanked and even more so when she faced the necessity for prospecting for new clients. It was almost as if a wave of insecurity would wash over her, filling her with the dread of anticipated rejection. Knowing that prospecting for new clients was critical for the success of her practice, she trudged on, but with limited success.
She also felt overwhelmed when her manager piled more busy work and paperwork onto her plate, yet, she didn't complain.
Deborah began to develop physical symptoms that were debilitating, including:
• Chronic fatigue
• Vague gastro-intestinal and digestive symptoms
• Elevated blood pressure
• Sweaty hands
• A variety of aches and pains that could not be diagnosed
• A flareup of her allergies
Because of her physical symptoms and the failure of her doctor to diagnose a cause, she began to worry that she had a severe, underlying disease. As a result of this fear, her anxiety symptoms became worse, and the cycle of mind-body illness began for Deborah.
Deborah consulted with me, fearing that she could no longer continue to work in her chosen profession. She believed that because of her symptoms, she was afraid that she would not be able to prospect for new clients and that she couldn't serve her present clients properly. She contemplated referring them to her associates and looking for a different profession.
Deborah learned that her symptoms were actually caused by her worrying and that she could, indeed, control such worrying, by practicing rational thinking techniques. In addition, I advised Deborah to consult with other advisers and ask them how they dealt with the same job stress and the grind of prospecting for new clients.
Deborah was taught the following buffering/coping skills:
• Use her physical symptom flareups to recognize that there must be a stressor which she needs to address
• Remain optimistic regardless of the economy, market conditions and difficulty gaining new clients.
• Assert herself whenever she is tempted to take on more responsibility than she could handle at the time
• Build volunteerism into her busy schedule and give herself permission to allocate time to those rewarding activities
Deborah's health and attitude made a dramatic recovery and she is currently a very content and productive adviser.
Your action plan
Take care of your emotional health by taking care of your physical health. Develop and maintain healthy habits, such as:
• Whenever you feel overwhelmed with worry, recognize that you can control your thinking and living with some stress is actually beneficial to your motivation
• Embrace change because change is inevitable and look for ways that change will lead to positive outcomes in your life
• List all of the stress related to your job and next to each stress write down something positive about how you can take control of it
Jack Singer is a professional clinical/sport psychologist and a professional speaker/coach, primarily for financial professionals. He is the author of “The Financial Advisor's Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide.” Visit his website at www.funspeaker.com