By Dr. Eric Goldstein
From the Editor: Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist whose seminars and workshops have helped thousands of professionals – including the Landry & Kling and Seasite teams – learn how to manage stress for optimal performance. The tips he shares in this article will benefit anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed and stressed…that means you!
In a recent survey by the global financial website hereisthecity, over 1,900 financial advisors were asked how much stress they were currently experiencing, and if their stress had increased over the past several years.
Over 70% of respondents said they currently experience moderate to high degrees of stress. As for the second part of the question, it was a resounding “Yes!” – their stress levels are now higher than ever before. And they’re not the only ones.
As a psychologist who specializes in improving the performance of athletes and other professionals in high-stress environments, I know how devastating the effects of stress can be on health, productivity, and relationships.
Recently, I completed a nationwide tour lecturing on Financial Market Conditions and Stress, and had the opportunity to speak and interact with over 600 financial advisors. Here’s what I learned:
The most common sources of stress were:
- Financial pressure
- Uncertainty about future job security and market conditions
- Increased demands and expectations from clients
- Unrealistic sales pressure from management
- Family issues
The negative effects of this stress included:
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased irritability
- Feelings of isolation
- Loss of motivation, energy, and productivity
- Excessive worrying
Stress is an equal opportunity offender.
Whether you’re a financial advisor, corporate employee, entrepreneur or meeting professional*, chances are you deal with stressful situations on a daily basis. Can you identify with any of the triggers or stress-induced symptoms listed above?
So now that we’ve identified that you’re miserable (just kidding!), the real question is what can you do about it? Take another look at the list of stressors cited by the financial advisors. You’ll notice that there’s one thing they all have in common - they are not in their control.
Sure, certain situations can cause you to feel miserable, but just try to control them – it’s like trying to direct the wind. So the real secret to managing stress is to “adjust your sails” – that is, change your reactions to what’s happening around you.
Here are 5 strategies that you can start using today to reduce your stress.
1. Learn (and practice) a relaxation technique. I don’t care if it’s Yoga, meditation, chanting or deep breathing. Just find what works for you, and do it regularly. Here’s why. Even though much of the stress we experience is psychological in nature, stress is also a physiological, biological response. When you experience a stressful situation, the prehistoric “fight or flight” part of your brain kicks into gear. Adrenaline is released, your muscles tense up and you breathe faster – you’re ready to battle.
Unfortunately, in modern times, the fight or flight response is usually inappropriate. You need to quiet this part of your brain – that’s where the relaxation technique comes in. When done correctly, it activates the calming part of your brain, and has a cumulative effect over time.
2. Tap into the power of music. Music has been shown to affect many parts of the brain, including those that control our emotional responses. To take advantage of this connection, create two playlists – one of upbeat, sing-along, dance-to tunes; and the other with relaxing, inspiring music. Whatever works for you!
Have these playlists available on your computer, smart phone, iPad, and in your car. When you feel low energy, unmotivated or in procrastination mode – you know what to do. Playing a song or two from your upbeat collection can literally change the way you feel in seconds. Feeling anxious, tense, fearful or worried? Plug into your calming playlist. Not only will you reduce your stress levels, research shows that music therapy can increase your productivity.
3. Be an effective worrier. Wait… what? Is the stress management expert really telling you to worry? Yes, but there’s a catch. There are two kinds of worry – productive and unproductive. You experience productive worry when your thoughts about an issue prompt creative solutions and necessary action to resolve the issue.
Unproductive worry, on the other hand, is just….worry. Think about how bad things are, and they will probably continue to be. Symptoms of unproductive worrying are second-guessing your decisions, self-berating, and loss of sleep due to obsessive “what if?” thoughts. You might even believe that if you worry, you’ll be prepared when bad things happen. The funny thing is (OK, not so funny), that by worrying and doing nothing, there’s a higher probability that bad things will happen.
Remember this motto: Productive activity is the best antidote to stress.
4. Talk to others. I know, I know…this is a touchy-feely strategy, and one that many people resist. But trust me – it really works. As awkward as you might feel talking to others about what’s bothering you, it will not only reduce your stress, but can also help normalize some of what you’re going through, especially when you talk to people in similar situations.
During my Financial Market Conditions and Stress lecture series, I can’t tell you how many financial advisors approached me after the sessions and said something like, “I can’t believe other people are going through the same thing!” There was a palpable feeling of relief and normalcy. No, it didn’t change the market conditions, but it helped them cope much better.
5. Get some sleep. Easier said than done. Sleep has wonderful restorative powers and can be a significant stress reducer – if nothing else, you’re not worrying while you’re asleep. Unfortunately, stress can interfere with sleep and lack of sleep can cause more stress, creating a vicious cycle. Here are some sleep tips:
- Use a relaxation technique at bedtime
- Set aside some evening wind-down time
- Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum
- Don’t watch the news before bed – especially while in bed
- Eat foods high in tryptophan such as milk, nuts, yogurt and turkey
If you still can’t turn off your mind at bedtime, here’s my favorite: Start with a large number, let’s say 18,764. Now start counting backwards by sevens: 18,757, 18,750, 18,743….while you’re doing this, they’ll be no room for any worrisome thoughts to enter your mind.
Give these 5 key stress-busting strategies a try, and you’ll soon be on your way to a happier, more productive life!
*Event Coordinator made the 2012 top 10 list of “most stressful jobs” .
About the Author: Dr. Eric Goldstein is a Miami, Florida-based clinical psychologist and president of StressRelief. He specializes in working with individuals and corporations to reduce stress-related performance problems and improve productivity. For more information, check out Dr. Goldstein’s LinkedIn page.
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