Get the lowdown on stress and tips on how insurance agents can help reduce it.
What is stress?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress is simply the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response, and it isn't "bad" by nature. We're designed to experience stress to help keep us alert and motivated. So if a quick deadline gets you energized or if you work well under pressure — you could be experiencing some of the positive side effects of stress. However, when we experience prolonged periods of stress, it causes physical and emotional wear and tear on the body — leading to distress.
If you experience any of these symptoms (and yes, it's a long list), you could be experiencing distress:
- Upset stomach
- Elevated blood pressure
- Chest pains
- Problems sleeping
- Panic attacks
- Change in appetite or weight
- Low energy levels
- Racing heart
- Shaking or trembling
- Muscle tension
If stress is impacting your well-being, you're not alone. Recent studies show that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world — with 45% of us feeling "a lot of worry" during the day, compared to 39% of people globally. But by contrast, Americans also reported having more positive experiences than the rest of the world — with 64% saying they "did something interesting the day before", compared to 49% of the general population. So if we experience so much positivity, where does our stress come from?
What stresses you out?
Recognizing your stressors is the first step to helping eliminate them. To help discover what they are, ask yourself these questions:
- When was the last time you felt stressed?
- Was it acute stress — the fight-or-flight response based on an event? Or chronic stress — which is more subtle but longer-lasting?
- What are the biggest issues you're facing?
- What can you do to help alleviate your stressors? What's not in your control?
- Is there a single cause? Or can you categorize your stress by a situation like social or work?
Common causes of stress
You may have found you have a few (or a bunch of) stressors in your life — which is normal. Stress can come from a wide variety of places and what impacts one person may not impact another, but we can typically place our stressors into one of two categories.
Your stress breaks down into two categories: life and work.
Causes of life stress include:
- Mental health issues including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and grief
- Life milestones like moving into a new home, getting married or getting a divorce
- Negative experiences ranging from the death of a loved one to a traumatic event or national tragedy
- External factors including increased financial obligations or taking care of an elderly parent
- Internal factors like feeling uncertain about the future, unrealistic expectations and fear of change
Causes of work stress include:
- A heavy workload
- Working long hours
- The culture of the organization
- Lacking support, direction or purpose from leadership
- Dangerous work conditions
- Physical job demands
- Feeling insecure about future opportunities
- Lacking a say in the decision-making processes
- Facing discrimination or harassment
- Task-related stress like giving speeches or traveling
- Jobs that are not designed well or simply aren't the "right fit"
- Low salaries
Whereas life stress is very unique to our individual life circumstances, it's easy for most of us to relate to work stress. As an insurance agent, you're often there for clients in some of their worst moments — which can be inherently stressful. Let's talk about a few ways we can all help reduce and better manage work stress.
How insurance brokers can help eliminate work stress
Build a to-do list around your stressors with these 4 steps:
You might be able to pin point your work stress to one specific cause (like management or traveling) but even if you can't, if it's a combination of all of the little things or something you can't quite put your finger on — here's what the founder of the Work Life Lab recommends:
- Start by stepping away and cleaning stuff up. Too overwhelmed to think clearly? Whether you need to clear out your car from a few days on the road, organize the papers piling up on your desk or dig through your email — start by decluttering.
- Next, do the little tasks you've been putting off. Take one hour to get through all of those sticky notes, flagged emails or smaller withstanding tasks you've been putting off. This should give you some relief.
- Now ask yourself: what am I worried about? Even if you don't know what's causing you stress in the "bigger picture" — focus on what's causing you stress you right now.
Develop healthy habits
You can create stress management tactics that relate directly to your stressors (for example, changing up your work environment or limiting your screen time) but only you will know what mechanisms might be effective. However, there are a few healthy habits we can all consider to help reduce stress.
- Create boundaries. This can be particularly hard for insurance agents when you feel like you might miss an opportunity or be absent when a client needs you — but everyone needs downtime and it's okay to unplug... really! Do what you can to guard your personal time and create systems that give yourself peace of mind about your time off, like providing clients with an additional emergency contact in your voicemail message and email signature.
- Embrace the road. Driving around all day to meet clients and prospects can be exhausting. But the founder of International Stress Awareness Week says that with a few simple adjustments, you can actually make it a positive experience. She recommends thinking about driving as your own personal bubble and embracing the "me time", giving yourself extra time so you don't feel rushed, packing healthy snacks and water, and letting go of what you cannot control. Add in a couple of breathing exercises, like inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to the count of three, and your hour commute could basically be a yoga session.
- Find an exercise routine. Exercise is one of the most recommended stress coping techniques by healthcare professionals — and yoga isn't your only option. Whether it's walking your dog, going to a dance class or lifting weights — what's most important is how you feel. Further, evidence shows that exercise doesn't only reduce stress levels, it also helps improve sleep, which is important for our stress levels and overall health.
- Get enough sleep. Over 30% of adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night and there's a big connection between stress and sleep. Sleep deprivation can also lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, depression, arthritis and kidney disease. If you're having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to a sleep schedule, practicing a bedtime ritual, avoiding afternoon naps, exercising daily, maximizing your bedroom for sleep, avoiding bright lights and electronic light in the evenings, and staying away from alcohol, cigarettes and heavy evening meals.
- Eat a colorful diet. Stress triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol (also called stress hormones) and the adrenal function is influenced by blood sugar levels — so a balanced diet can help our bodies manage stress. Here are a few tips to keep in mind: choose whole, natural and colorful foods (aim for 5 portions of non-starchy veggies a day), start the day off with a balanced breakfast (avoid sugary foods and too much caffeine), eat plenty of protein (from lean meats, eggs, beans, lentils and nuts) to help slow the release of sugar, have a regular meal schedule and replace highly-refined foods (like white bread, pasta and sweets) with unrefined foods (like brown rice, oats and rye).
- Talk to someone. Do you feel better about a stressful situation after you've vented to a friend, significant other or even yourself? You're not alone! Studies confirm that talking to someone who shares your feelings and even talking to yourself in the third person can reduce stress. Additionally, you may want to consider talking to a professional or visiting your doctor depending on your level of stress.
When I'm stressed at work, I find it helpful to look at the bigger picture — because being in the insurance industry doesn't only mean being there in the "bad" moments, it also means helping our clients become whole again — and these are the stories we cherish. Comment and tell us about a positive experience that reminded you of why you do what you do every day.
Want that warm-fuzzy-insurance feeling? Watch the video below to hear one client's powerful story.
Bri Burkhart, Marketing
Bri is an over-enthusiastic dog mom, pop culture fanatic and Instagram addict. She enjoys eating pizza, practicing yoga and hiking.
The real you is who your clients and prospects will connect with. Forget about perfect professionalism and get real to get better results.