Stress, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll



Market Correction: The day after you buy stocks.”Anonymous

For everyone, work can be stressful at times. For some unlucky few, it is stressful all the time. I suppose even librarians have stressful days too. A little stress is actually a good thing; it sharpens the mind and reflexes and keeps you on your game. Anything more than a little, however, is a killer. And stress does kill. People die in finance from stress overload. Young people too.

If you work in broking, you will find that stress is all around you; it is inescapable because you are immersed in a fast paced, pressure cooker environment. Stress in finance cannot be avoided so you need to learn how to minimize its impact. This sounds simple but it seems to me most people are unaware of what stress is doing to them and as a result are unable to take action against it.

Dude, You Look Like Your Dad

I have noticed in finance how people age quickly. I think this has to do with being “stressed” and having a desk job where the only exercise is walking down the road to the bar after work. If you smoke on top of that, well then you know you are really tempting fate. There have been many times I run into a former colleague that I haven’t seen in five years or so and am amazed that they look 15 years older! I know quite a few brokers, traders and analysts much younger than (old) me who now look older than I do. Yikes. Who wants that? Is it unavoidable? Is that your fate in this business? I don’t think so.

The Wrong Way

Many people claim they can handle stress and they overeat, drink too much, or abuse illicit substances. That is hardly an effective remedy. This only makes the situation worse and hastens their tailspin. Don’t be a victim, take control.

Watch Out for Snakes

The best cure for stress is hard exercise. I don’t mean “binge” exercise either. Working out, whether at the gym, running, yoga, martial arts, etc, has to be a regular part of your life, like brushing your teeth. If you only exercise on Saturday mornings and really go at it, you are doing more harm than good. It is much better to do a little every day or every other day. You are also more likely to keep on exercising once it melds into your routine. For example, I like to run in the mornings before work.

Hong Kong Island, where we live, is very hilly and there are some great runs I do early in the mornings before most people are up. I run 3-4 times a week for about an hour or so each time. Because of the early start to my day I run in the dark, before the sun is up. Once I stepped on a bamboo pit viper (a poisonous snake) and it bit my shoe. Since then, I run with a light! If I didn’t run I don’t think I would be able to handle the stress this business puts on me.

Don’t Be a Dick

The other really important thing to remember is stress is closely linked to time – or lack of time. If you are running out of time to catch your flight, bus or taxi, the stress levels go through the roof. Let this happen every day on the way to work and you will die 10 years before your time. Don’t be a dick: get up 15 minutes earlier and take your friggin’ time. Rushing to work and just making it in on time may be the stress-filled way most people spend their careers but they are stupid. Don’t let that be you.

Whore’s Drawers

Another stress reducer that may not come naturally to some of us: keep a clean desk. As soon as you hit the trading floor in the morning you are busy and stay busy all day long. You don’t have time to look for that report, where are my pens, dammit, where’s my stupid calculator? etc. This only stresses you out first thing in the morning and sets the tone for your whole day.

When you leave work at night, take 30 seconds and reorganize your papers. Put your pens away, line up the reports you will need this week, reboot your computer and leave a clean working environment. When I was starting out this was taught to me by an old British broker (“Stocks are up and down like a whore’s drawers,” he used to say). It is good advice and I have found it allows me to come to work and everything is where it should be. I can immediately hit the ground running with all my tools right at hand where I need them. No confusion, no chaos, just bliss.

Two Tickets to Paradise

Vacations are important for stress reduction. In Asia, many people don’t take their fully allotted vacation time. They are nuts. They can’t escape the day to day pressures that a change of scenery (thankfully) provides. We choose vacations with the children in mind (we have two) but always pick a place that is totally different from where we live and work. Just getting away for a week or two removes months, if not years, of worries and lines from your face.

Treat stress like electricity: you need a little to light your way and keep you going but don’t lick your finger and stick it in the socket!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Colin Stewart
    October 26, 2011
    12:57 am #comment-1

    Derek – I have recently been informed that my cortisol levels are excellent. This almost seems unfair with all the stress I have been under the least my body could do would be to have the decency to show some appreciation for the effort! Ha ha. C

    • Derek
      October 26, 2011
      4:45 am #comment-2

      Colin, Some of us thrive on stress. Perhaps you have another career in waiting like Formula One racing or landmine disposal? Thanks for commenting. Cheers. Derek

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