Tips for handling stress for financial sector professionals

Maite-BaronBy Maite Barón, CEO, The Corporate Escape™

This is the sad reality.

If you’re under too much stress at work, then today your job ‘killed’ you a little bit more, chipping away at your health and leaving you vulnerable to anxiety, back-ache, migraine, twitches, indigestion, heartburn and eczema – at best – or worse still, with depression, hypertension and a heart attack to look forward to.

And you can’t say ‘it won’t happen to me’ because no one can accurately measure the stress building up inside, or the trigger point, major or minor, that will be the final straw that breaks the banker’s back.

You may know colleagues who have already taken a ‘hit’, those who left it too late to make a life-saving change … but it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

Of course, in finance, work-related stress comes with the territory, so no one really needs to tell you the causes because you ‘feel’ them every day.

The unremitting pressure that keeps some motivated, but sends others crashing. The overwhelming sense of lack of control that leaves you feeling exposed should things go wrong. The ever-present backdrop of job insecurity that sets you wondering ‘Is it my turn next?’ The long hours culture and unreasonable workload that keeps you away from family and friends all do their bit to raise the pressure.

Even being overlooked for promotion can lead to stress-induced illness, proving it’s not what rung of the career ladder you’re actually on that really matters, but the one you think you should be on that does.

If you’re determined to stay on this path, along with the five million who are greatly stressed by their jobs, see your doctor. A periodic check-up can be greatly reassuring and will help determine how close to the edge of your personal ‘stress cliff’ you may be. Then book a break: preventing exhaustion and burn-out is easier than trying to recover from it.

Time spent relaxing with family and friends is a great way to recharge the batteries, but don’t expect total rejuvenation: just last year, researchers at University College London found that the blood pressure of those who didn’t like their job stayed high … even when they weren’t at work.

Of course, there is an alternative to the stress of your job – and that’s to say goodbye to it entirely. In fact, it may be time to think the unthinkable, and consider leaving behind the ‘trophy job’ you’ve worked so long and hard for.

But if the idea of doing that is just too hard right now to contemplate, here are six thoughts that may help you change your mind.

1. Understand that you have changed
You’re not who you were last month or last year, let alone the person who took on the job a decade ago. Your ambitions, attitudes and priorities have morphed over time, and what you wanted then isn’t necessarily what you want now. Give yourself permission to believe this and recognise alternative futures.

2. Leaving an über-stressful environment isn’t a sign of weakness, but one of pragmatic intelligence
So there’s no need to cling indefinitely to a job you don’t like, believing things can only get better, as they almost certainly won’t. Don’t buy into the ‘macho myth’ of stress. Treat US President Harry S Truman’s words ‘If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’ not as a challenge, but a piece of sound advice to anyone who recognises they’re human and not a robot.

3. Know that things won’t change for the better unless you make them change
So if you don’t like the situation you’re in, take active responsibility and start looking for ways to move in the direction you want. Others have got out before you. Now it may be your turn to use what you’ve learned to start your own business or consultancy – or something else entirely.

4. Start to change the way you think about ‘change’
All through our lives we learn to fear the instability that may come when the status quo is threatened. It’s a perfectly natural reaction, but a potentially limiting one, as what we fear often fails to materialise. However, when you learn to see change as a creative rather than a disruptive force, you can shrug off the self-limiting beliefs that imprison you. Then, no matter what your age, gender, background or location, you’ll always know you can do something else.

5. Stop making excuses
It’s easy to rationalise away the bad, but by concocting reasons why the world’s against you, you drain yourself of energy and stop looking for alternatives. Do this too much and you’ll have your excuses ready even before you try something new.

So don’t allow the usual mantras – I’m too old, I don’t have the time, money, contacts, skills, or … whatever – to divert you from seeking another future. It’s these disempowering, limiting constraints that will keep you stuck when it’s time to move on. Find new ones to replace them.

6. Don’t keep investing in your past when it’s not going to give you the returns you’re looking for
Just because you’ve put great effort into getting where you are, maybe over one or more decades, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing the same for the next ten years.

Pressure may be positive, but stress never is. So if it’s something you’re feeling, you don’t have to put up with it. Seek help, advice and support on how to get to where you want to be in life, rather than where you’re currently trapped. There’s a world of possibilities out there. For some, they may be still in banking. For others, they may be elsewhere. It could be worth finding out.

By Maite Barón ‘The Corporate Escape Coach™’, author of ‘Corporate Escape: The Rise of the New Entrepreneur’.

You can download two free chapters of Corporate Escape here. (