Mental Health Week: Advisors speak out on industry stress, and how they stay on an even keel
Over the course of Mental Health Week in Canada, there’s been increased recognition of how the pressures of the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and life-changing disruptions have impacted people’s mental health. And as industry research has revealed time and time again, those pressures are just as clear and present for professionals in the wealth space.
“The pandemic brought about a lot of anxiety for me,” says Brenda Hiscock, Certified Financial Planner at Objective Financial Partners in Ontario. “Our company grew rapidly during this time, I bought a home and moved to a new town, and with changes on all fronts, I was overwhelmed.”
During that period, Hiscock recalls going through periods of sadness and depression, and suffering feelings of isolation; physically, she experienced numerous episodes of migraine headaches. Burdened by those challenges, she found herself with less capacity to take on new clients for a period of time, and was spending less time communicating with her family and friends.
Kristen Fazio, Insurance Advisor at Professionals Insurance, says she has been fortunate not to have experienced major mental health issues during her career. But she fully understands how the pressures of the job could impact people in the field.
“When you think about the life of a financial advisor, there’s a lot of different pressures that people might not feel in other industries,” Fazio says. “A lot of the time, you're running your own practice. And you’re trying to balance being available for your clients and fully protecting them, but also prioritizing your own needs. So it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and anxious, wondering if you’re doing the right things.”
For many advisors who put their clients’ interests first on a daily basis, empathy can be a double-edged sword. While it helps in understanding someone’s situation and anticipating their needs, it’s not something that can be turned off necessarily, and it can lead to increased stress especially when uncertainty rears its head.
“With the recent increase in inflation, and market volatility, many clients understandably have concerns about their financial future,” Hiscock says. “I find it difficult not to take on some of that stress sometimes.”
“For the most part, we deal in the intangible. It’s not like we’re selling a product, and we get to walk away when the transaction is done,” Fazio says. “When someone buys a life insurance policy from me, they might have to make a claim on that one day. Or they may suffer a disability, and you as an advisor have to be there through that challenging period. To some degree, they become your family, and hundreds of lives are weighing on your recommendations.”
To help manage her anxieties, Hiscock says she has made some key changes to her habits and lifestyle. Around one year ago, she turned off her email notifications, and was surprised at how much difference it made to no longer hear that tension-inducing “ping.” She also sets alarms reminding herself to take breaks and eat – an essential system as she tends to get lost in intensive numbers work. Beyond that, she recommends exercise to let people release the stress they hold in their bodies; yoga, her activity of choice, has been effective in seeping calmness into all areas of her life.
For Fazio, dealing with the stresses of being a professional advisor means setting clear limits. One part of it is differentiating between what’s within her control and what’s outside it. By making an effort to put things in perspective, she can clearly assess when she’s done everything she could to prevent an adverse outcome; at that point, she’s able to let things go.
“I think the other big part too is setting healthy boundaries with your time. At the end of the day, we are people who run our own lives and have families in addition to running a business,” Fazio says. “We need to make sure that we are prioritizing our own mental health and our own stability, because we can't really be there for our clients if we aren't at our best. Let your clients know that that's part of how you chosen to run your practice, and that's going to help you serve them better.”
Beyond that, both Hiscock and Fazio say it’s important to for advisors to seek support from others when facing struggles with mental health.
“I got honest with my employer, and told him exactly what I was going through. I am incredibly lucky to have an employer that is supportive and understanding,” Hiscock says. “If it is safe, let your employer know what you are going through. … During some more challenging times, I sought therapy to break some old patterns and habits that were no longer serving me.”
“Being an advisor with your own business can be very lonely, and our industry can come off as perhaps a bit competitive. But I think it’s important, especially for a young advisor, to build a network of support,” Fazio says. “It can be with colleagues in the same stage of their practices, veterans who can serve as mentors, or even entrepreneurs in general who run into the same sort of challenges. I think having another voice to work things through, and a sounding board to voice out what’s going on, can really reduce the stress.”