“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” Neil Young sang in his classic 1979 anthem “My My, Hey Hey.”

It may be a good song, but it’s bad advice, according to Hymie Anisman, a neuroscience professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, who specializes in the effects of stress on the immune system. Burning out from stress is a terrible fate that should — and can — be avoided.

“There are many people who are under a lot of stress who might not even know they are under stress,” Anisman says. “There are many subtle symptoms for people who are experiencing burnout.”

These can include fluctuations in your weight, trouble sleeping and a lowered immune system.

Stress is “smart,” Anisman says, and will find a weak link in your body to bring you down: “I can’t think of a pathology that hasn’t been linked to stress in one way or another.”

As the RRSP crunch approaches, Anisman offers some tips on how you can develop a strategy to manage and minimize stress now, and throughout the year:

> Know the symptoms and how to relax
If you are feeling anxiety or some of the milder symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, you might already be stressed.

Remember that no two people are alike, so it’s up to you to find out how you best cope with “stressors” or stress-inducing events and conditions. For example, consider the methods that have helped you relax in the past.

> Learn to live with uncertainty
We like to have control over our lives and to see the world as predictable. When things are beyond our control, however, we become susceptible to stress.

Financial advisors are vulnerable to many professional uncertainties, such as changes in the markets and the behaviour of clients. The key to coping with events over which you have no control, Anisman says, is to learn to tolerate uncertainty.

Take stock of what you can change and what events are beyond your control.

> Talk it out
Social support can be an effective way to combat stress. It can be as simple as having someone to talk to, or developing a relationship with a friend or colleague who understands the stresses you are experiencing.

“If I had to give someone advice,” Anisman says, “[I would say that] proper social support is the best thing they could have.”

In stressful situations you experience many hormonal changes that can have a negative effect on you, mentally and physically. When you have someone to support you, Anisman says, those “bad” hormonal change are less likely to occur.

“Support from an ‘in group’ member helps you see the world in a better way,” Anisman says. “And it helps you deal with the stress, so you can commiserate over it.”

Forming a strong relationship with another advisor may help keep you in good mental form.

This is the first instalment in an occaisional series on battling stress. Next Friday: managing stress and making it go away.