In these stressful times, as we deal with fears arising from the coronavirus pandemic and market volatility, many financial advisors are being inundated by scared and panicking clients worried about how their assets (and financial goals and futures) will fare. And while advisors have a responsibility to try to calm their clients and talk them off the ledge of these scary market conditions, advisors have their own health and emotional well-being to care for, as well. Because in times like these, clients who are worried about the resources that advisors may be managing for them often take their fear and anxiety out on their advisor, despite the advisor’s best efforts and intentions to help them weather the storm. And for advisors who deal with fearful, stressed-out clients day after day, meeting after meeting, the emotional toll that they experience can itself be traumatizing and, without taking time for self-care, can have serious adverse effects on the advisor’s own physical and emotional well-being.
As while clients may experience stress from painful events they experience directly (i.e., “Direct” trauma-related stress), advisors are more prone to “Indirect” trauma-related stress when dealing with so many of the same client fears and concerns (not to mention the direct trauma-related stress of what the market decline may be doing to the advisor’s own business). After all, when advisors take on one fearful client conversation after another, it’s often difficult not to start internalizing their clients’ concerns, whether in the form of “vicarious traumatization” (when the advisor begins to identify with the client’s concerns personally as if those concerns were actually their own), or through “compassion fatigue” (when the advisor begins to personally experience the emotional pain and suffering that they perceive the client is actually experiencing).
And unless the stress is somehow dealt with, a range of adverse symptoms can result – from physical changes to emotional, behavioral, and relationship changes. On top of being harmful to the advisor themselves, this stress can also have an adverse effect on the client relationship, because if left untreated, prolonged stress can result in an individual isolating themselves to avoid relationships (and the stress they’re inducing). Which in turn can halt the communication process between the advisor and client, ultimately leading to the client straying from their financial plan and even leaving the advisor altogether.
An effective remedy to cope with traumatic stressors is to practice self-care through self-compassion, which is a person’s ability to comfort and soothe themselves. Research has shown that self-compassion, unlike self-esteem, has been a key factor for individuals to motivate themselves through pain, failure, and feelings of inadequacy. Some simple suggestions to practice self-care include protecting personal time and setting hard boundaries on when to start and stop work, to communicate those time boundaries to others, and to create short ‘white space’ breaks throughout the day to mentally recharge. Additionally, meeting with clients outside the office can create a change of scenery and avoid an environment (e.g., the advisor’s office) that might trigger a stressful response, reducing (or stopping) the amount of news watched or listened to, and working collaboratively with a partner or in teams to share the load of client meetings that may be potentially emotionally charged.
Ultimately, the key point is that for financial advisors whose clients are currently experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety due to the current market environment, the stress of dealing with those traumatized clients can elicit severe trauma-related stress for advisors, and the symptoms of that stress, without proper care, can ultimately compromise the advisor’s ability to communicate effectively with their clients. Accordingly, advisors should practice self-care and self-compassion so that they can continue helping their clients stay the course of their financial plans, and without themselves suffering from the adverse effects of vicarious traumatization or compassion fatigue.