May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I wanted to address this topic as part of our Core Values Series as many professionals are still dealing with the very real side effects of a globally volatile year.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of workers suffer from work-related stress and according to Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, 55% of Americans experience stress daily.
Fast forward to 2021. Chronic stress statistics have been amplified. US workers have made it through a volatile 2020 dealing with a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and – if they were lucky enough to be able to work from home – the not-so-easy task of balancing self-care, family health, homeschooling, and Zoom calls.
Financial industry sales and marketing professionals have never worked longer, harder, or have been faced with a crazy convergence of circumstances forcing layoffs, adopting remote (and secure) working practices while keeping culture intact, and pivoting from in-person conferences and networking to shifting to new digital sales and financial marketing strategies.
2020 has taken an exhaustive toll on body, spirit, and mind, depleting the energy and motivation to perform well at work. In short, burn-out.
The World Health Organization has even listed burn-out as an occupational phenomenon in its international classification of diseases.
Yep. 2020 was a tough one.
The good news is that there are practical wellness methods financial industry professionals can use in 2021 to manage their daily stress and fight career-induced burn-out:
#1 EXERCISE EMPATHY FOR YOURSELF
You’ve heard the phrase “don’t beat yourself up” and this is good advice. Feelings of professional burn-out, especially those spurred on because of the pandemic, aren’t just the problem of one individual.
We’re all a product of our environment and our natural reaction to stress in the financial industry workplace isn’t unique. Our bodies and minds have evolved to deal with sprints or short bursts of stress, but not necessarily year-long marathons like we’ve experienced in 2020.
The difference between stress and burn-out is that burn-out creates feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, motivation loss, feeling defeated, and a sense of cynicism, failure and self-doubt.
So, before feeling bad for struggling with apathetic and negative feelings, be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you are not the problem — you are reacting to a problem. But as a problem-solving professional, understand that you are equipped with the tools to implement a solution.
#2 GET MOVING TO TRIGGER HAPPY HORMONES
A healthy body supports a healthy mind. It may be hard to get motivated before or after work to get moving, walking, or engaging in some strength training, but truly it is physical work that will support your mental work.
During exercise, your body releases endorphins — chemicals that interact with your brain receptors to enhance mood, reduce your perception of pain, and trigger a positive overall feeling. We can all use that, right?
CHALLENGE: Try moderate exercise for 30-minutes before work for one week — and see if it helps set a better mood going into the workday. Activity can help reduce your feelings of occupational cynicism by way of the scientifically proven euphoria that can result from a good workout.
Journal how you feel after each workday in which you started with a workout. Chances are your own emotional and physical KPIs will bear out the benefits.
#3 HERE COMES THE SUN
We talked about endorphins. Now let’s talk about better living through natural chemistry with serotonin.
According to Healthline, exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.
As a professional who faces Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every Chicago winter, 2020 forced my own home office into a room with even less sunlight, making my dark days even darker. I couldn’t work next to windows for a daily dose of Vitamin D, so I bought an artificial sunlight lamp. While it helped, I found that, for mood, nothing beats real daylight.
If you’re a financial industry professional working from home in a room that isn’t privy to sun, or in an isolated cubicle in the office, if possible, move to a location that offers normal daylight exposure and note if the change in location helps boost your mood and perspective in any small way.
#4 EAT BEFORE MEETINGS
When I’m in a meeting and my stomach is growling, there’s little chance that I’m concentrating on anything except what I’m going to eat. Even if I haven’t reached full-on hunger emergency, history has taught me that in about 20 minutes I’m a different person. I’m hangry.
Hangry professionals tend to not be positive or pleasant to be around. And in the long-term, these repeated hunger-related experiences can exacerbate negative feelings of professional burn-out.
Help keep a positive perspective by eating breakfast to start your day and by keeping water and healthy snacks within reach. Try to ensure that you eat prior to (not during) meetings. Even if it isn’t a full meal, a simple snack can help ensure that you can concentrate and remain confident, focused, and pleasant.
Foods rich in omega 3’s are good for concentration, while whole grains can help ensure lasting energy. When you’re planning your meeting schedule for the week, plan your pre-meeting snacks, too.
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#5 SET BOUNDARIES FOR BALANCE
With the pandemic causing so many financial industry professionals to work from home, 2020 was a year where it was difficult to ever switch out of work mode. Emails at 11pm, 1am, 3am…trying to outperform and increase output to outrun the anxiety of business uncertainty.
Without boundaries to create a sense of balance, burn-out is a certainty.
Jayne Hardy’s terrific TED post on setting clear work boundaries is spot on: Work boundaries help safeguard our time, our energy and our purpose, and how fulfilled we feel. Boundaries encourage us to have dedicated work time and dedicated time to recharge.
By clearly establishing a regularly set time to log on and to log off, windows to check and respond to emails, and delineating when to be offline – and communicating these boundaries to colleagues and team members – financial industry professionals can better ensure balance in burn-out management.
#6 GOOD SLEEP IS GOLD
Linked with the last tip, knowing when to log out, put away work devices, and to refocus on recharging is key. So many professionals are virtually connected with their phones and most check them before bed, setting themselves up to virtually continue working and problem-solving in their sleep.
Make it a practice to put down the digital devices at least 1 hour before bedtime. Instead, read a book (an analog one, not a digital one), practice breathing exercises, mediate, or listen to soft music. Develop cues that your body will recognize that it is time to shift into rest mode.
By establishing a dedicated downtime routine, you’ll be primed for better quality sleep, a better “brain recharge”, and likely a better overall outlook and ability to concentrate at work the next day.
#7 WE ALL NEED SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON
While the first six suggestions here may seem obvious, what isn’t obvious is to know when to turn to outside sources for help in addressing burn-out. While it can be isolating to deal with the anxiety within your own head, reaching out to others is one of the most effective means to overcome burn-out.
We’re social animals, so discussing how you feel face to face with someone who listens well, such as a partner, a friend who has “been there”, or a therapist can help unburden negative feelings and provide a different perspective.
Financial industry professionals have been through a heck of a 2020 and those facing burn-out are not alone. With acknowledgement of the condition and a commitment to trying new activities to help address negative feelings, there is light at the end of the burn-out tunnel.
Additionally, it helps to communicate internally with your team and with management if you are in actual need of the appropriate tools, technology, resources and support to achieve your work objectives.
Need help aligning your digital financial marketing strategy to your business goals? Connect with Gate 39 Media today and let us help.
Or book a quick call with me (Sarah McNabb) to learn how we can operate as an extension of your marketing team.
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