Guest post by Danielle Norris, Marketing Content Manager, Superhuman Prospecting

According to The National Survey of Drug Use and Health sales is the 11th top profession for depression and mental illness.

And in a recent survey by PayScale, 73% of respondents rated the Sales Account Manager role as “highly stressful,” ranking it second on their full list of stressful careers. 

If you’re in sales, you’ve most likely experienced some sort of stress, anxiety, or mental burnout. Considered a “top performer?” Those statistics double as pressure to hit higher goals increases.

Results-based careers often rank at the top of these lists because of the constant pressure, lack of control, or unpredictable and long hours needed to find success. Which makes people performing in these roles more susceptible to experiencing things like anxiety, depression, and just overall mental burnout.

Of course, some stress can be considered beneficial – it works for the same reason incentives, commissions, and bonuses work. It drives activity towards a goal. In fact, many salespeople feel they benefit from a small push, as it enables them to achieve their full potential, securing better results for themselves and their company.

But when the market is down and sales feel scarce, people experience more negative stress-related issues. The fear of “what ifs” and not knowing how to be successful in a changing marketplace takes over, triggering long-term fight or flight type responses and chemical reactions within our bodies.

Add an unstable economy and a global pandemic into the mix and it’s a recipe for more intense mental and other health troubles.

Stress and Mental Health Effects

A report by the Framington Heart Study found stress may take a toll on the brain earlier in our lives, starting as young as 40. 

The study, which links stress to long-term health problems, measured levels of certain hormones and chemicals in the participant’s blood. It concluded that those with the highest levels of the stress-related hormone, cortisol, performed more poorly on tests of memory, organization, visual perception, and attention, than those with lower levels.

Naturally, our system limits the amount of cortisol, hormones, and other chemicals our bodies produce. When we experience certain events or changes in mood or fear response, these levels spike and then fall back. Meaning that once our brain has communicated the perceived threat or moment has passed, our adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones return to normal levels.

With continuous stress, the brain feels like it’s still under attack from all the pressure, and our bodies aren’t given the chance to return to normal. Those hormones and chemicals are still being produced at higher levels.

This overexposure is linked to six leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide according to the American Psychological Association. Other symptoms can include heart disease, weight gain, sleep issues, digestive problems, headaches, and memory impairment.

The study also found that cortisol could damage the immune system and suppress the digestive system, the reproductive system, and other growth processes. Even worse, these higher cortisol levels are often found to be associated with physical changes in the brain, seen as precursors to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Stress could be affecting your entire body without you even realizing it.

Headaches, insomnia, irritability (and so much more) – can all be caused by stress, so it’s important to be aware and proactive about your mental health. 

Breaking the Negative Cycle

According to The Oxford Handbook of Strategic Sales and Sales Management, sales reps who regularly experience high levels of stress “tend to be less involved in their jobs, less committed to the organization, and to experience lower levels of work and life satisfaction. So, if “stress in sales isn’t optional,” then what can we do as professionals to break the cycle?

Most experts agree that awareness is the number one tool in breaking out of a negative cycle. You may not be able to change your current situation, but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on your mental health.

Are you constantly tired and overwhelmed?

Feeling scatter-brained?

Have a shorter temper than normal?

Ask yourself, “what is REALLY causing me to feel this way?”

Try to take an honest approach by diving deeper into the root causes.

Jeff Riseley the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance presented a survey to 160 salespeople last year, asking them to select the top 3 workplace events they felt impacted their mental health the most.

The number one result?

Micro-management by leadership with 50% of salespeople listing it as having one of the greatest impacts on their mental health.

Missing target was named second with 40.6% of respondents and working with unmotivated salespeople came in at third.

“Micro-management and missing targets frequently feed into each other. Together they can create a downward spiral that promotes and accelerates declining mental health.” – Sales Health Alliance

When a sales rep misses their target, they experience a decline in mental health.  Leadership then has a choice – remedy the underperformance with positive coaching or put more pressure on the sales rep to succeed. While one style is obviously more effective, they both require a slight uptick in micro-management, which was noted in the survey to cause a slight mental health decline.

More Decline = More Missed Targets

Missed Targets = Decline in Mental Health

It becomes a never-ending cycle until the sales leader is forced to let them go for being demotivated or “not a good fit for the role.”

Directing employees to available mental health resources is a positive step, but what else can we do to make sure people feel heard, appreciated, and cared for.

Normalizing Mental Health Conversations

Have you seen the dancing guy? The lone guy dancing at a concert.  

One by one, people start to join him. Soon, there is a large group dancing. It’s a movement. It’s now socially validated. People join because they won’t stand out and they won’t be ridiculed.

It takes major guts to be a first-follower. It’s an under appreciated role. In the breakdown of lone guy dancing, we understand that the first-follower transforms the entire situation. Turning a lone guy into a leader.  

We can learn from this and apply the same concepts to make our world a better place by starting these necessary conversations.

Most people are affected by mental health issues at some point in their lifetime (one way or another), which means almost every workplace will have workers that experience these issues.

A 2019 s