According to the City Mental Health Alliance (a coalition of organisations that have come together to improve mental health conditions in the City), there are some important figures regarding the state of mental health among British workers (1):
• 40% of employers seeing an increase in reported mental health problems
• 50% of long-term absences in non-manual workers accounted for by stress
• 70% of people with a mental health problem fully recover
While the last figure is broadly encouraging, that still leaves 30% who don’t manage to fully recover, plus the inevitable impact that mental health issues have on teams, businesses and families. And, of course, as well as having a social impact, there is also an associated financial impact. In businesses across the UK as a whole, £26 billion pounds is lost every year (1) as a result of mental health problems among employees. This is broken down into:
• £8.4 billion in sickness absence
• £15.1 billion in reduced productivity at work
• £2.4 billion in recruitment costs
Stress at work is, clearly, a great contributor to both physical and mental health problems. This is especially true of constant stress, as the human body is not designed to deal with this on a long-term basis.
Risk taking challenges our human physiology on a daily basis. Trader’s often believe they enjoy the stretch of a challenge and work well under stress. Whilst they may still be delivering good performance, you cannot over ride the internal physiological response to risk taking. Entering the high performance stress free zone for sustainable long term performance and energy levels requires a deeper level of emotional self-awareness and regulation.
What happens during a stress response?
When a stressful event happens, we have an emotional and physiological response. It is how we react to stress that causes problems. Negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger and worry set off a chain of biochemical changes in our body. The body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn creates a chaotic heart rhythm, confuses our decision-making processes and can even cause cognitive shutdown, resulting in sub-standard performance.
On the other hand, if you stay with positive emotions, the body releases a hormone called DHEA, leading to an energising effect during which the heart rhythm is more coherent, you achieve improved mental clarity and therefore better decision-making and more productivity (2).
The world’s great leaders, musicians, athletes and Olympians find their personal formula to create the greatest possible chance of success – what is yours for managing emotional stress? Is it working or do you even have one? If not, what is stopping you finding a formula that works? In a trading environment you rely on financial formulas for success. You do not leave your emotions at the door of the trading floor? Of course in life the options for a personal formula to manage emotional stress are not metrics driven or a clear cut black or white but come in various shades of grey!
How can we stay with the positive?
Everyone is susceptible to mental health problems and high achievers, especially on the trading floor, are no exception due to the day-to-day pressures of their jobs.
One approach that can help build resilience to stress and help return to your stress free high performance zone more quickly is a technique called HeartMath®. This is a simple and effective method using biofeedback technology, which can help you be improve your mental, emotional and physical health in real time. It works on the principal of controlling the natural variability in your heart rate by focusing on your heart, your breathing and feeling positive.
When we are stressed, our heart rate is uneven. By bringing it back to a regular pattern, we feel calmer, focused and have more mental clarity. Learning this through the HeartMath® techniques can be done in a few one-hour coaching sessions or group training. It is quick to perform and the biofeedback technology gives you an instant overview of how you are performing – perfect for rational thinking city types. The benefits of practising HeartMath® regularly are (2):
• improved cognitive performance
• improved memory and concentration
• better decision-making
• increased calmness and feelings of wellbeing
• better emotional stability
Prep and re-set – don’t panic!
As described in a recent webinar (2) for traders organized by HeartMath®, there is a situation that you’ve probably been in very often. You start the day with a ‘perfect’ trading plan. Then something happens – you get angry if someone doesn’t co-operate; you get irritated or anxious if something doesn’t pan out the way you intended; you make a bad decision and you might even have feelings of panic.
A way to get over this is to prepare. Perhaps you feel you don’t have time, but you could spend just 15 minutes at the start of the day going over your trading plan. Spend 5 minutes of that time practising HeartMath® and set yourself up for the day. Then before an important phone call, meeting or presentation, you can practise for as little as 2 minutes and even perhaps another 30 seconds during that important call. Another 5 minutes at the end of the day to help you wind down and assess your achievements may be all you need to get rid of that stress, become more resilient and achieve better results – and at the same time avoiding those stress responses that could do you damage and impact relationships with customers, family and friends.
1 City Mental Health Alliance fact sheet
2 HeartMath® webinar