Conquering the Stress of Market Volatility: 7 Critical Steps for Financial Advisors

By Dr. Jack Singer

Market volatility is a major cause of stress for financial advisors, who have to deal with demanding clients, worry about how long market upheaval will last, and reconsider their core values in order to take advantage of current market conditions.

Advisors under these pressures often seek me out, complaining about symptoms such as insomnia, irritability that impacts both work and home life, increased alcohol intake, and an overall inability to relax.  They find themselves dreading Sunday evenings (anticipating another Monday morning market upheaval) and longing for Fridays, as a break from the market roller coaster, the phone calls and mandatory explanations to their clients.

Here are 7 critical steps to build permanent stress resilience, despite the markets, economy, etc.  These are all strongly research-based neuroscience concepts (see John Arden, “Brain2Brain,” 2015).  Even if you have never engaged in even one of these critical steps, we now know from the emerging science of Neuroplasticity that you can quickly re-wire your brain in very positive ways by conscientiously practicing these skills.

Step 1: Take Charge Of Your Diet

Yes, you read it correctly.  Your diet has a lot to do with your resiliency to stress. The old adage of starting the day with a healthy breakfast is true.  It is necessary for problem solving, working memory, attention, concentration and energy.

Skipping breakfast (a common habit of stressed advisors) contributes difficulties in all of the above, plus it leads to mood swings, depression, and anxiety.

Because so many of us tend to overeat or eat quickly satisfying food when we are stressed, it is critical to keep control of your diet by eating fewer calories, and eating smart.  If this is an issue for you, consult a registered dietician.

20% of our brains is made up of essentially fatty acids.  This is why the international recommendation of consuming 650 mg. essentially fatty acids daily is important, and the average American consumes only about 130 mg. daily.  Omega 3 fatty acids are a really healthy option.

Good hydration is another habit that advisors frequently ignore as they are consumed with their computers and phones. Poor hydration is related to impaired mood, including depression and anxiety, and impaired cognition, including attention and forgetfulness.  Consuming alcohol (at lunch, for example), contributes to dehydration.

Step 2:  Take Charge Of Your Blood Sugar

Closely related to our diet is our blood sugar level. Diabetes 2 is rampant in the U.S. and probably under diagnosed in advisors because so many of you “don’t have the time” for regular physicals, including blood work.

Unregulated intake of simple carbohydrates and trans-fatty acids, from sweets, chips, deep-fried foods, margarine, etc., can have devastating effects on mood, anxiety, etc., besides the physical effects on our bodies, including elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

But, low blood sugar is also a problem. Skipping meals, for example, can lead to low blood sugar.  When blood sugar drops below 50 mg. per ml. symptoms include:

  • free floating anxiety
  • shakiness
  • lightheadedness
  • irritability
  • rapid heartbeat
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems

So, much of our stress resilience is connected to our diets.

Step 3:  Take Charge of Your Sleep

Insomnia is a major problem among advisors.  There are many causes of insomnia, which go beyond the purpose of this article.  Sadly, many people who suffer from insomnia load up on medications or alcohol in order to sleep and these substances all have side effects, including potential addiction.

Sleep deprivation not only obviously leads to fatigue, but to difficulty concentrating and impaired emotional regulation.  You can easily research the science of “Sleep Hygiene,” where you can discover natural ways of enhancing your sleep experience.

Step 4:  Activate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

Anxiety and stress issues are a function of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is activated whenever we worry or get concerned.  The SNS overreacts in order to protect us from danger, which is rarely the issue with everyday anxiety, so we are constantly in a state of heightened vigilance and concern.

This leads to heightened blood pressure, rapid breathing, difficulty concentrating and memory issues.

The relaxation system (the PNS) is activated when we are soaking in the bath, sunbathing at the beach, on a boat, etc.  This is a critical system for stress resilience, but being at the beach, etc., are relatively rare occurrences.  Here are some proven methods you can use anywhere and anytime:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • stretching
  • cuddling
  • Kegal exercises at your desk (look it up)
  • orgasm

Step 5:  Take Charge of Your Breathing

Proper breathing is the fastest way to activate the PNS.  Most people breathe 9-16 breaths per minute.  Over-breathing, which happens when we are stressed, pulls in too much oxygen and reduces the carbon dioxide level in the blood stream, affecting the ph of the blood and causing anxious feelings, even panic attacks.

Slow, deep breathing through the diaphragm reverses that process and quickly activates the PNS.  Here is the quickest way to do it:  Breath in through your nose to the count of 4, hold it for 4 seconds, and forcefully exhale through your mouth to the count of 7.  Keep your hands folded on your stomach to make sure your stomach moves out when you inhale and comes back in when you exhale.

Step 6:  Take Charge of Your Thinking

All of our stress begins with our thinking habits and self-talk about the events in our lives.  The events, themselves, do not cause our stress.  For example, if the market drops several hundred points, that event does not cause your stress.  Your stress is only caused by negative, self-defeating thinking and self-talk about that event.  (“Great, now my most difficult clients will be on the phone demanding to speak to me.”)

I have written much about breaking free of automatic thinking and stress-producing self-talk (see “The Financial Advisor’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide.”) Suffice it to say that all of these stress-producing habits are learned and anything that is learned can be un-learned with practice.

Step 7:  Laugh As Often As You Can

Humor and laughing provides a potent psychological boost, releases healthy endorphins and has been linked with resiliency building, warding off illnesses and even extending life.  If you make sure that you take the time to watch funny sitcoms and movies, read humorous articles, hang around with funny people, etc., you are really boosting your stress resilience.  Other findings of the power of laughter include:

  • reduced anxiety and stress
  • lifted depression
  • improved cognitive functioning
  • decreased cortisol (stress hormone)
  • increases in natural cancer killing cells in the body
  • longer life