In recent times, the healthiness of the banking profession is increasingly being raised as an issue. From traders who are at more risk of heart problems in their younger years, to investment bankers burning out or even committing suicide.
In banking there will always be times where your stress levels are turned up high. When you're in the midst of a transaction, long hours and stress are part of the deal and there seems to be little choice but just to get on with it. However by understanding how stress works, it is possible to minimize the short and long term effects of these 'crunch' times.
Daniel Browne, author of The Energy Equation – how to be a top performer without burning yourself out – spent 10 years researching on how to improve performance at work without impacting wellbeing after he narrowly avoiding burnout in banking and finance. Here are some tips from his book:
The body's stress response is a natural and useful phenomenon. Its purpose is to ensure that we automatically react to danger quickly. To fight or to flee. For the prehistoric man these crucial moments were few and far and happened for short periods of time.
However with modern work habits, our stress response can often be over stimulated for longer than required without any real danger. A perceived threat or danger still triggers our stress response.These periods of stress can be quite long whereas the body was only meant to be stressed for short periods of time. Over the long term, the activities of essential body functions are reduced. In stress mode vital functions are turned down; blood flow is diverted away from functions such as digestion and the immune system, making you susceptible to indigestion and illness.
In addition frontal lobe activity necessary for critical thinking and creativity is reduced, and our reptilian brain which is more aggressive and reactive kicks in, causing us to be stressed and snappy.
In heavy workload periods, we can become trapped in a stress cycle. Stress builds up throughout the day and is not released at the end of the day. The stress chemicals of cortisal and adrenaline in our bloodstream make it difficult to sleep and keeping us awake with worries and anxiety.
Having a poor night of sleep then makes it even more difficult to concentrate the next day reducing productivity and further adding to the stress of the day. Repeating the cycle of poor sleep, poor productivity, stress and frustration. Kept unchecked this stress cycle can lead to health problems and eventually burnout.
Interrupting the stress cycle can ensure that we are not overstressed, even in heavy work periods.
To counter the stress response we need to engage the parasympathetic response, the antidote to the stress response (the sympathetic response). This takes the body to its resting state. Simply put this calms the body down and has all systems functioning normally. There are a few simple methods we can use:
• Breathing – deep slow breathing encourages the body to relax and takes the body out of the stress response to a resting state. Breathe deeply into the abdominals so that your stomach rises when you breath rather than your chest
• Tuning into the body. When we get used to living in a stressed state we are less sensitive to tension and pain. By paying more attention to our bodies using mindfulness or meditation we can tell when we are in a heightened stressed state and need to start to calm our bodies down.
• One of the easiest ways to do this is to notice your heart rate. If it appears to be faster than normal this is a clear sign of stress and anxiety
• Avoid caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners, generally coffee, coke and diet coke. These will send you into energy highs and energy slumps.
• When you are under time pressure it seems easier to grab the nearest sugary snack. But it is even more important to take care of your body. Remember you are putting yourself in a position where you are having reduced sleep and are at a high risk of stress. Your body is likely to be functioning optimally. You will need to avoid overtaxing the body. Like a high performance car you need to give yourself the best possible fuel.
• Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Slow release carbohydrates and lean meats. organic as much as possible is advisable. Also take a quality nutritional supplement.
In the morning
• Incorporate gentle physical exercise to get the body moving and your circulation going. Anything from 10 mins of stretching, simple yoga, or light exercise to a morning gym session will put you in good stead for the rest of the day.
• Have breakfast. Have a quality breakfast which contains protein and or whole grains. Avoid sugary cereals which will make your energy levels spike.
During the day
• Take breaks. Often when we are busy we believe we should be saving as much time as possible. However this is a false time saving. The body needs recovery periods in the day. The body has a natural cycle of 1-2 hours so if you are finding it hard to concentrate, get up and have a break
• Take your lunch break. When in a state of stress your digestion is impacted. Eating while stressed reduces the intake of nutrients from your food. Lunch is an opportunity to not only take in some vital fuel but also to relax.
• Switch off after work. Let your brain recover. Clear your mind. When in a busy period your mind will be racing with things to do. The brain as an organ needs to rest as well. De-stressing by doing physical exercise shifts you out of the mind and into the body. It is a great way to de-stress.
• A good way to switch off is to write down all the things that are on your mind and set them as actions for the next day.
• This is especially important before bed. The brain needs to be in a state of alpha its activity is in a calm state. High brain activity makes it difficult to sleep.
• Switch off the phone after hours or turn it down if possible. If you need to be switched on resolve to check no more than once an hour
• Sleep hygiene. Going to bed in a heightened state makes it difficult to sleep. By relaxing before bed you ensure a better night's sleep.
• Aim to have 7 hours sleep a night. Studies show people who sleep 6-7 hours a night live longer. Make sure you go to bed relaxed to maximize the recovery period during your sleep.
• If you get tired during the day incorporate a nap of 20 mins this is a great way to revitalise yourself and improve your productivity in the afternoon.