During the past few weeks, I have e-mailed a number of financial advisers. My message went something like this: "Don't bother responding to this e-mail. I know you are extremely busy. But during these stressful times, remember to take care of yourself. Even if all you have time to do is take a few really deep breaths, it can help you tend to your own wellness."
Though the knee-jerk reaction would be to run and hide, trusted advisers are putting themselves front and center for their clients. The 1,300 advisers with whom I work are communicating more than ever with their clients.
For most, their clients have never needed them as much as they do now.
In addition to being busy with clients, many advisers have found themselves dealing with more prospects, as even the most steel-willed do-it-yourselfers have begun flocking to the professionals for advice. To top it off, like every other investor, advisers have seen their own retirement savings dwindle.
Rising to this occasion, being able to manage your clients' expectations and calm their fears — all while you might have fears of your own — requires advisers to be at their very best. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you stay healthy in mind and body.
• Breathe: The Internet is a treasure trove of instructions on how to improve your breathing, especially when you are stressed. Lotus position, diaphragm awareness, breath control, counting while inhaling and exhaling — who knew breathing was so complex?
For now, simply being aware that stress tends to make us breathe more shallowly may help us to reverse the tendency. Taking just a few deep breaths three or four times during the day may be the best thing you can do.
• Talk to other professionals: This is a perfect time to be in touch with your study group, a fellow professional or even a friend. The adviser who told his client she could retire last quarter now finds himself in a precarious situation. What advisers need to share is not just the technical aspect of what they are doing with accounts but also how they are coping with their own emotions.
• Exercise: If you have a regular exercise routine, be sure to stick to it. If you don't have a regular exercise routine, consider starting slow and easy with something of which your health care professional approves. The obvious choice is simply to take a 15- to 20-minute walk a couple times a week. Taking the walk at lunch or some other time during the workday provides the added benefit of removing you from a stressful physical environment. Consider providing this healthy boost to your entire office by scheduling a walking break for everyone.
• Diet: Nutritionists recommend we eat a variety of foods, especially whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you normally have good dietary habits, don't fall victim to skipping meals or getting sloppy about snacks now. If you don't have healthy habits, it is going to be difficult to make a major change right now.
But perhaps you can focus on one or two incentives for healthy eating for you, and possibly for others. For example, one adviser I know sent a fruit basket to his office to thank employees and colleagues for their extra efforts.
• Sleep: Have you ever noticed how things don't seem nearly as bad the next morning as they do if you dwell on them during the night, when you can't sleep? Don't cop out on making a serious effort to get a good night's sleep by jumping out of bed at 2 a.m. to check your e-mail. Make a concerted effort at least to relax, even if you aren't getting the deep sleep you are used to.
Disclaimers aren't just for financial professionals.
With all the above, remember to use good judgment. If you have doubts about making any changes, contact your health care professional.
Certainly, more serious issues such as substance abuse require professional help.
These are unprecedented times for clients and advisers. So much is outside of our control right now that it is easy to feel despair.
But the attitude with which we choose to approach each day is key. Healthy individuals, consciously or unconsciously, choose the attitude they apply to life's experiences.
No matter how bad matters seem, there are people in worse situations.
Take a minute and list all the things for which you are grateful. Then take that gratitude and turn it into one random act of kindness — it may be the most important stress reducer of all.
Joni Youngwirth is the managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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