Outside voices and views for advisers

The impact of life events on adviser stress and illness ... and how to handle it

Take care of your emotional and physical health by taking care of changes that you can control

Jun 20, 2014 @ 10:40 am

By Jack Singer

In groundbreaking research conducted in the 1960s, two Navy psychiatrists determined that specific events that take place in people’s lives (including on the job and elsewhere) require adjusting to change. The more change that is required, the more stress results.

Each required change was given a number of points and the total points that one accumulates in 12 months provides an indication of the probability that the individual will become ill or even become the victim of a car accident. As examples, the death of a spouse is the most points (119) and a major job change, such as moving offices or getting more responsibility on the job, is 51 points.

So let’s take a not-unusual series of life changes for an adviser. If during a 12-month period, an adviser suffers decreased income as a result of dramatic market challenges (60), starts having insomnia (26), has in-law problems (38), has a significant increase in arguments with his/her spouse (50), ultimately separates (76), and plans for divorce (96), that adviser would accumulate 346 points in one year.

Three hundred or more total points accumulated in a 12-month period is considered seriously elevated, and is associated with a high risk for upcoming illness (emotional or physical) or accident, both of which would significantly add to the point total.

(For a complete list of life change events and their stress point values, e-mail me).


Carl had just completed college and joined a brokerage firm with the goal of eventually becoming a full-service financial adviser. Following a long illness, his father died. This death struck Carl particularly hard, as they had been particularly close. Six months later, when he could not move on from his terrible grief, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him. Both of these events took place soon after he had begun an MBA program at a local college.

The event of his girlfriend leaving him, pushed Carl over the edge emotionally and into depression and anxiety, which manifested in the following symptoms:

• Fatigue

• Feeling overwhelmed and helpless

• Insomnia

• Chronic tardiness in getting to the office (on the West Coast) by the time the market opened

• He contemplated quitting both his job and his evening educational courses


Carl heard about my psychological consulting services for financial advisers and he contacted me. I informed him about the life stressor (change points) research and the researchers’ very important admonitions against making additional changes, such as abandoning his career or his master’s program, once significant points are accumulated within a year.

He began to examine the negative thinking that he had engaged in after the death of his father and the loss of his girlfriend. Thoughts such as, “I don’t know how I can manage without my dad and girlfriend in my life,” are stress-producing thoughts, guaranteed to increase his feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. He changed his thinking patterns, a subject I’ll address in my next article.

Carl reluctantly stayed on his job and continued his studies. After three months, he was feeling much better and recognized that although life throws us many unexpected curveballs, one really has control over many changes, such as when to change jobs, get into a serious relationship, etc.

Carl decided to “replace” the support of his dad and girlfriend with colleagues in his firm. They mentored him, helped him and helped him deal with the daily grind of the job and he began to see success in his book of business. After a year, he was thriving in both his job and a new relationship.


• Take care of your emotional and physical health by taking care of changes that you can control.

• Every six months, look at the changes that have taken place in your life. If you believe your “stress points” are high, choose to delay making any further changes for at least six more months.

• Let go of any resentment you are aware of. Even if you believe you are in the right, holding onto resentment only increases your own stress and it doesn’t solve anything.

• Set goals that are realistic so you can feel in control of as much of your life as possible.

In my next article I’ll explain how specific job-related stressors in the adviser career can be categorized so you can really feel in control on a regular basis.

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.”


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