Money advice is a stressful role; based on our research we know that around two thirds of advisers have experienced an increase in stress in the past year and a similar proportion expect it to increase further in the next twelve months. However, when we are in a stressful situation it can be difficult to identify or address it, which can contribute to problems such as overwhelm, burn out and struggling to switch off. By understanding stress, and your own responses and needs related to stress, it can be easier to manage and reduce it, and to address stressful situations before they become problematic.

The value of recognising stress

To some extent, pressure can be useful for helping us feel motivated and engaged. For example, many people find it easier to get something done if there is a deadline to aim for – the deadline creates a little bit of motivational stress. Stress or stressful situations are normal and aren’t harmful in and of themselves, and stress can even be beneficial in some circumstances. However, if stress goes unaddressed in the long term, it can build up and have consequences for both physical and mental health.

It can be particularly difficult to recognise and act upon stress in a high pressure environment. In circumstances where it is normal to be very busy with lots of competing priorities and lots of factors out of one’s immediate control, it is easy to get used to having stress as a constant companion. Additionally, when we are stressed it is often because the situation we are dealing with is taking up a lot of mental or emotional bandwidth, which reduces the time and resources available for self-reflection and self-care. This makes it even harder to notice stress, and is part of the reason why it common to only realise how stressful a situation was once it has passed.

Having a habit of checking in with yourself, for example through a meditation, a journal, or a daily checklist, can be helpful for carving out time to reflect on our emotional state and seeing if there are any needs we have that aren’t being addressed. Having a routine can also make it easier to stick with this practice of self-awareness even in more stressful times. By recognising stress, we can take steps to self-soothe, address the root cause of stress where possible, access help if desired, and help to prevent stress rising to a level where it impacts wellbeing.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can be felt in all parts of our selves – our bodies, emotions, behaviours, and more, can all be impacted by stress. The stress response begins as a physical one, but can cause changes to our behaviour and emotional state. While there are some common symptoms of stress, everyone responds to it uniquely. It is worth considering how you can tell you are stressed – what signs and symptoms you notice in the moment. If you are not sure, someone who knows you well may also be able to tell you what they notice about you when you’re stressed. Some common symptoms of stress include but are no means limited to:

  • Physical symptoms such as nausea, muscle tension, stomach pain, headaches, trembling, chest pain, high blood pressure, fatigue and sleep problems;
  • Behavioural signs, for example being more irritable or snappy, being tearful, eating too much or too little, partaking in cigarettes, drugs or alcohol at a higher level than usual, finding it harder to make decisions, remember things or concentrate, and withdrawing from people around you;
  • Emotional symptoms like feeling irritable, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, worried or lonely.

If you have an awareness of what to watch out for in yourself when experiencing stress, you may find that it is easier to notice this in the moment.

Tackling Stress

If you do notice you’re stressed, there are many things you can do. It may be that you are aware that the stressful situation will be short-lived and you can offer yourself some reassurance and find ways to debrief once it has passed. Talking to someone about the situation can also be a useful way to destress and think about potential ways forward. Taking a few minutes to step away from the situation can be counterintuitive but very helpful. When we are in a state of heightened stress it can make clear thinking more difficult, so even when it feels like easing the pace is the last thing you should do, taking the space you need can be clarifying and help you better address the issue at hand. You might use the time to do something you find soothing, such as taking a few deep breaths, getting a hot drink, or going outside for a few minutes. You may prefer to do something that helps you feel in control, like changing task to something unrelated, tidying your desk, or writing a prioritised to-do list.

Think about what works for you – just like the signs of stress, everyone’s needs for de-stressing are different, and it is worth considering what helps you and taking steps to make sure these techniques, where appropriate, are to hand at work.

This article is a companion to the e-learning module Feeling Overwhelmed. This module takes around ten minutes to complete and can be returned to at any time. For more information about stress, consider attending MAS’ workshop Stress Management and Resilience – see upcoming dates here.