The first Wednesday in November is designated as National Stress Awareness Day but managing stress and the impact it can have on our mental and physical health is a year-round effort. Professional development expert Lindsay Troxell offers guidance on how to take control by adjusting how we respond to the negative stressors in our lives.
Have you ever gone to the doctor and learned that the issue you’re having might be due to stress?
You’re not alone in that experience – especially in the financial industry.
In a Financial Planning Association study produced in partnership with Janus Henderson and Investopedia, a whopping 71% of financial professionals reported experiencing moderate or high levels of stress.1
Of those respondents, 46% claimed that their stress negatively impacts their health. And that number is likely even higher: A broader study by the American Institute of Stress reported that 75% to 90% of all doctor visits in the U.S. were for stress-related illnesses such as depression, anxiety and high blood pressure.2
Yes, November 2 is National Stress Awareness Day. But managing stress is something that requires ongoing attention and effort. So while I’m writing this article in November for the sake of timeliness, I encourage readers to refer to the guidance on offer here all year round.
A more stressful time than ever?
The impact of the stress we're carrying around reaches further than you might think. Not only are the majority of physical ailments we suffer from related to stress, but there’s a massive financial toll as well: Workplace stress costs Americans an estimated $300 billion in medical bills every year. The loss of productivity as a result of workplace stress carries a significant economic impact as well: The American Institute of Stress reports that more than 275 million working days are lost annually due to stress.3
Of course, none of this is all that surprising considering the mounting uncertainties we face today. From the COVID pandemic (now entering its third year), to geopolitical tensions and fear of cyberattacks, to surging prices and volatile financial markets, we seem to be facing more stressors than ever before.
Perhaps just reading that list of stressors above was enough to make you feel stressed out. But what if I told you stress doesn’t have to consume you – or this industry, for that matter? That is the message I hope to spread this National Stress Awareness Day and all throughout the year. Read on for some ideas on how we can not only be more aware of stress, but also stop it from taking over our lives and our profession.
First, be aware
We certainly talk about stress more than we used to, but there is still much progress to be made. We often hear stories of people wanting to bring up the topic of stress with their employer, but they are often afraid of being perceived as weak, being passed over for a promotion, or laughed at.
This is where the importance of awareness comes in. The more we talk about how normal and prevalent stress is in our lives, the less of a taboo subject it will become. Talking openly with your team about stress not only helps make others feel less alone in what is likely a highly shared experience, it also encourages the members of your team to take care of themselves instead of fearing judgment. In the end, awareness of stress is key to healthy relationships, both professionally and personally.
Stress is subjective
Many people experience stress related to the workplace. A traumatic life event such as the loss of a loved one can of course be a cause of stress. Others may simply feel anxious and afraid about the general state of the world. However, I challenge you to think of it this way: it may not ultimately be whatever you’re experiencing that causes you negative feelings of stress – it could be how you’re responding to that experience.
Here are three of the tried and tested stress management techniques I share in my consulting sessions:
- Mental role-play ahead of a stress-inducing event. Ahead of a big conversation or presentation, you can play out scenarios in your mind to feel better prepared. Feeling better prepared often leads to a reduction in stress because your confidence increases.
- Track the data. You might not think of your past as data points, but every lived experience can be one. If your stressed mind is giving you emotional responses, try chronicling your past data points – that is, the times when you were stressed but ultimately persevered and had nothing to worry about in the end. This exercise allows you to use the logical part of your brain to better manage your responses to stress.
- Observe stress-inducing thought patterns. To manage stress, we must pay attention to the patterns that create it. For example, if you consistently think of how difficult or challenging the people who email you are, negative stress will build with each email you receive. On the other hand, if you actively choose to think something like, “this is challenging work but I’m up for it,” you can make the conscious decision to change your response and therefore lower your stress.
Take the first step
Not all stress is bad; in fact, a healthy level of stress can motivate us to achieve our goals. Furthermore, there are many stressors in that simply can’t be eliminated. The good news is, by managing your reactions to stress, you can begin to free yourself from the mental and physical health consequences it can create.
Personally, I’ve experienced burnout from stress three times – you can read more about that in my earlier three-part series. Thanks to Janus Henderson’s Energize for Purpose and Managing Stress for Success programs, I can now recover from these episodes more quickly. With a combination of awareness and the stress management techniques outlined above, I hope others can do the same this November 2 and beyond.
1“2020 Trends in Investing Survey.” Financial Planning Association, Janus Henderson, 2020.
2“America’s #1 Health Problem.” The American Institute of Stress, January 2017.
3“The stress-productivity shortfall.” The American Institute of Stress, April 2021.