In the year 2000, a widely reported study of Wall Street stockbrokers examined the relationship between their stress and their physical and mental health. It was determined that 38% of the stockbrokers surveyed were suffering from major symptoms of job burnout, anxiety and depression and a variety of associated physical symptoms. Nearly a fourth of the participants actually met the criteria for major depression. And this was before the 2008 economic disaster!
In an annual survey, the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence examines job stress in the U.S. For the past several years, the surveys have indicated increased levels of job-related stress in many occupations. The August 2015 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine now reports that people with high job demands and job-related strain have a greater risk of getting a variety of illnesses.
These included jobs where the employees perceive there are large demands on them but feel they have relatively little control over those demands. Think about your job as a financial professional. You have zero control over the fluctuations in the markets and the world economy, yet when there are precipitous drops, the demands on you increase dramatically. You might face disgruntled clients or your own anxiety about your responsibility to preserve and enhance their wealth.
Medical and psychological journals are filled with data showing the strong relationship between stress and virtually any physical maladies, from chronic colds to cancer. Unfortunately, when we get sick, we seek a doctor for medication and rarely does the doctor have the time or inclination to ask about our job or life stressors.
Why And How Does Stress Affect Our Physical Health?
It goes back to when we lived in caves. In order to survive in a very dangerous world, we evolved with a built-in protector -- the fight/flight/freeze nervous system. This system was developed to alert us to danger (such as a saber-toothed tiger lurking outside the cave), and once we perceive the danger, a series of rapid chemical and electronic changes take place in our bodies. Our blood pressure increases so blood will efficiently move to all our muscles and the brain; our respiration increases to quickly bring oxygen to all of our cells; adrenaline pours into the bloodstream for a boost of alertness and energy, etc.
To efficiently fight the danger, the body shuts down all unnecessary systems during the time it fights the threat, including the immune system.
Here is the problem: The fight/flight/freeze nervous system gets switched on each time we worry or stress about something. That could be dozens of times each day! Think about blood pressure, muscle tension and adrenaline spiking each time. The worst part is that we continuously shut down our immune system, making us much more vulnerable to illnesses.
So how can we take control over the fight/flight/freeze nervous system, and is it even possible?
The answer is stress-busting techniques for everyday problems. Some examples are relaxation techniques, meditation, mindfulness breathing exercises, physical exercise and an optimistic attitude regardless of circumstances.