The following guest commentary is from Noah Kass, clinical director of the Realization Center, one of the largest addiction treatment centers in New York City.From novice day traders to seasoned hedge fund managers, anxiety is synonymous with life on Wall Street. Regretting past missed calls and obsessively worrying about future earnings is a favorite Wall Street pastime. In today's column, we look at two readers battling anxiety. In challenging thoughts and questioning belief systems, we can reduce anxiety and concentrate on becoming successful professionals. Q: I work for a major bank, am relatively young and desperately nervous about losing the money I have earned. I feel so focused on becoming wealthy that my life is becoming unmanageable and I am always looking at my bottom line. I have a great family and great friends, but do not always appreciate them. Any help you could offer, I could use. Thank you. A: The accumulation of wealth feels like Wall Street's everything. The one with the most money wins. No major revelations, just a fact. Now for an opinion. You stated: "I have a great family and great friends and a great life." Do you know how lucky you are? Every day, I treat people who would love to be part of a family, any family. It is disrespectful to not recognize your fortunes. You need to break the cycle of identifying and valuing only the quantifiable. Talk to a Wall Street veteran who has seen the cycles, the trends, the fads, the bulls, the bears, the ups, the downs, the scandals, the tops, the bottoms, the bubble, the burst... They will tell you what experience has taught them: Self worth is not the same as net worth. I get that you want to be rich. Join the club. There are many of us around these days and membership is by donation. Want is not need. The way you measure success is limited. Of course you are hyper focused on your finances. It is easily definable, requiring you to look outward not inward. It is harder to evaluate if you have loved fully, given generously and listened to what Gandhi calls the "still small voice of conscience." These are all factors that in my eyes make someone successful. Fear keeps you looking at your bottom line, holding you hostage. Being ritualistically obsessed with your finances will not create wealth any quicker Try watching a clock ticking. It does not make time go faster. People succeed when they feel confident.
Your fear of losing money could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You need to keep working hard, but need to be focused less on the outcome. By and large, smart, hard-working people usually come out ahead. Value your net worth, but also place value in that which comes from the heart (your family and friends!) That combination is unbeatable. Q: Having grown up in the '60s, the market felt like another world to me. Even 40 years later I cannot believe that I chose to do this for a living. Sometimes regret kicks in and I want to be free from all these constraints, like I was back then. Now I am panicked, then I felt free. In addition, I am now drinking more then I should and know it's connected to this anxiety. Also, I feel like the values I had back then are so different from what I have now and this is, I know, based on the world of Wall Street. A: The '60s, panic, drinking, anxiety, where do I start!? Many "flower power" men marched for civil rights and participated in Bob Dylan sing-a-longs but found themselves turning to the confined but often profitable Wall Street cubicle. To someone who experienced this way of life, the stock market can feel emotionally constrictive. But the values of fairness, equal opportunity, protest, liberation, can live in you regardless of your profession. Whether you are an abstract painter in Union Square or a trader at Goldman Sachs ( GS), freedom and peace are essential to living a fulfilling life. Your description of Wall Street is somewhat short sighted. I have seen the biggest insiders -- men like Stanley Druckenmiller, Leon Cooperman and Paul Tudor Jones -- embody the Hebrew phrase "Tikkun Olam," a philosophy roughly translated as repairing the world. These men give so much more then they take. Your values may have changed but Wall Street is not responsible. You are. Of course another hallmark of the '60s was drugs. You stated: "I am now drinking more then I should and know it's connected to this anxiety." We often abuse mood/mind altering substances as a maladaptive behavior to get us through the day. Temporarily altering our mind set may allow us to escape "panic" and "anxiety" if only for the moment. The problem is over time drugs and alcohol lose their effectiveness as a coping system and create more problems. It is very difficult to address issues of identity, while you are abusing alcohol. Anxiety is a natural physical and emotional response to danger. It is normal. However, when it leads to fear and panic, it must be addressed.
Anxiety will not get out of hand if we learn to regulate negative emotions and physical reactions stemming from our thoughts, feelings, and bodies. Be it learning controlled breathing, challenging our often rigid thought system ("this is the right way of thinking, that is the wrong way of thinking), or utilizing journals to give us an outlet to express our emotions -- controlling anxiety, like most things, involves the utilization of skill sets. You have been using alcohol as a self-medicating method. You are not getting at the fear and panic, you are merely masking the symptoms. In your case, it is the "masking" of conflict between past and present choices. I would urge you to see a therapist or attend a self-help meeting. It is time to stop living in the past, accept the choices you have made, and resolve the real issues staring you directly in the face. Conclusion Controlling our anxiety is essential to being financially successful. Dwelling in the past or catastrophizing about the future, prevents us from living in the here and now. It stops us from doing the real work needed to regulate our emotions. We cannot rewrite history nor can we predict the future. We can only live in the present and keep trying to do the best we can. Please continue emailing me your thoughts and questions to "ASK NOAH" at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have profitable and peaceful week. Noah Saul Kass