Stress is real. So are its effects. Whether you’re navigating a sudden storm at sea or feeling anxious about a major decision, your brain and body mobilize to protect you. These instinctive reactions help us respond to immediate physical threats … but unfortunately, they also rob resources we need to make complex financial and life decisions. But don’t take our word for it – take a look at the science.

Traditional economic theory has assumed that people make decisions in a so-called rational way, and therefore, they will calculate costs and benefits, and focus only on decision-relevant criteria. That's not how people make decisions at all. When we are experiencing emotions, imagine it's like a weather system: it affects everything.

Dr. Jennifer Lerner Professor of Public Policy and Management, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

The Science Of Behavioral Wealth Management

Our brains are constantly navigating a continuous loop of environment, emotions, and behavior. Recognizing what happens in the brain during this loop can help you control yourself and your world a bit more.

Human behavior, emotions, thoughts and environment are a continuous loop

This is Your Brain on Stress

Here’s a simple primer about the specific brain areas and functions that get involved when we’re under stress.

Bad investing decisions
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This is Your Brain on Stress

Prefrontal Cortex Prefrontal Cortex

This area is responsible for “executive functions” – complex human thought like abstract reasoning, analysis, decisions, planning, and willpower.

The Limbic System The Limbic System

This primal area evolved to protect us from danger without wasting precious time or resources. It connects directly to the sympathetic nervous system and governs involuntary, automatic functions (heartbeat, breathing) and emotions (anger, anxiety).

When Stress Happens

Fight or Flight Fight or Flight

When the limbic system senses danger, it unleashes a brain chemical that causes a chain reaction known as “fight or flight,” preparing you for physical battle or escape. And you can feel it – increased heart rate & blood pressure, clenched muscles, negative feelings.

Your Brain's CEO Goes AWOL Your Inner CEO Goes on Strike

To prepare for running and fighting, blood drains from parts of your body considered less important -- like your prefrontal cortex, your brain’s “CEO.” That might have been useful when your ancestors stumbled upon a tiger, but it’s not so great for modern stress like, oh, deciding whether to start or sell a business.

Talk About Bad Timing!

In an effort to preserve our safety, something else happens: all those stress chemicals crowd out positive brain chemicals like dopamine, creating strong feelings of discomfort that we feel compelled to stop. Suddenly, our brains find it harder to understand, retain & analyze information, solve problems, and think creatively.

That’s why people under stress can unintentionally make irrational decisions without their normal diligence and care:

Hoard Cash
Hoard Cash

Studies have identified a tendency for certain people to hoard cash under stress.

Shift Risk Profiles
Shift Risk Profiles

Stressed men & women can suddenly flip between conservative and high-risk investment preferences, putting financial plans at risk. (Interestingly, studies reveal that men typically shift further than women.)

Snap Decisions
Snap Decisions

Your brain is wired to make decisions quickly – after all, we make thousands each day. Under stress, our brains can react before we even realize it. Not a recipe for your best work.

Tunnel Vision
Tunnel Vision

Since your brain isn’t as prepared to process new information, it may consider fewer choices and hone in on a solution without your normal, systematic scanning and analysis.

Deer In Headlights
Deer In Headlights

Just thinking about stressful financial issues can increase your stress level even further, making decisions that much tougher. Ouch!

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That’s where JOYN comes in

We’ve built our new Behavioral Wealth Management model to handle these kinds of situations. When you’re under stress, we help you understand what’s happening via specific techniques to reduce your stress reactions. Our mission: help you think clearly, consider all your options, and make choices you’re less likely to regret.

Visual Presentations

Since stress affects info processing and memory, we strive to share information visually since it’s typically more effective than talking or text documents alone. Helps address slower information processing, difficulty organizing new information & performing complex analyses.

Visual Presentations
Spotlight on the Positive
Spotlight on the Positive

When you’re feeling anxious, this exercise can help you focus on the good things in your life so you can see the world from a more complete perspective. Helps with reduced creativity due to a focus on negative outcomes, problem solving and anxiety.

Alternate Story

This exercise helps you recognize how fear may be driving your perspective and helps you see alternative possibilities that can generate positive emotions. Helps with anxiety, problem-solving and reduced creativity due to a focus on negative outcomes.

Alternate Story
Frequent Check-Ins
Frequent Check-Ins

As we work with you, we ask questions to make sure that you’re retaining the information, then review material as needed. Helps with slower information processing, difficulty retaining new information, problem solving and complex analysis.

Illusion of Control

You can’t control everything in life. We help you focus on what’s in your control and the options available so you can feel more positive and confident. Helps mitigate the failure to conduct normal breadth of research, failure to consider all possibilities, and hyper-vigilance.

Illusion of Control
Trusted Advisors
Trusted Advisors

We invite you to bring in people you love and trust. Their perspectives can help provide a more complete picture and clarity about the best way forward. Helps address the failure to conduct normal breadth of research and consider all possibilities, hyper-vigilance, problem-solving and anxiety.

Visual Presentations
Visual Presentations

Since stress affects info processing and memory, we strive to share information visually since it’s typically more effective than talking or text documents alone. Helps address slower information processing, difficulty organizing new information & performing complex analyses.

Spotlight on the Positive
Spotlight on the Positive

When you’re feeling anxious, this exercise can help you focus on the good things in your life so you can see the world from a more complete perspective. Helps with reduced creativity due to a focus on negative outcomes, problem solving and anxiety.

Alternate Story
Alternate Story

This exercise helps you recognize how fear may be driving your perspective and helps you see alternative possibilities that can generate positive emotions. Helps with anxiety, problem-solving and reduced creativity due to a focus on negative outcomes.

Frequent Check-Ins
Frequent Check-Ins

As we work with you, we ask questions to make sure that you’re retaining the information, then review material as needed. Helps with slower information processing, difficulty retaining new information, problem solving and complex analysis.

Illusion of Control
Illusion of Control

You can’t control everything in life. We help you focus on what’s in your control and the options available so you can feel more positive and confident. Helps mitigate the failure to conduct normal breadth of research, failure to consider all possibilities, and hyper-vigilance.

Trusted Advisors
Trusted Advisors

We invite you to bring in people you love and trust. Their perspectives can help provide a more complete picture and clarity about the best way forward. Helps address the failure to conduct normal breadth of research and consider all possibilities, hyper-vigilance, problem-solving and anxiety.


More Science Behind Our Model

If you’re really into brain science, enjoy these “fun facts” and discoveries about your brain, stress, and decisions.

  • The stock market may make you sick

    According to a 2013 study, “daily fluctuations in stock prices have an almost immediate impact on the physical health of investors, with sharp price declines increasing hospitalization rates over the next two days. The effect is particularly strong for conditions related to mental health such as anxiety,” and may increase U.S. health care costs by as much as $650 million annually.

  • The Tulip Bulb Bubble

    In the 1600s, flipping tulip bulbs became so popular among Dutch investors that the price of a single bulb, (the Semper Augustus), was higher than that of an entire house. (Care to guess what happened next?)

  • Brain change

    Researchers who study the effect of stress on learning, memory formation, and decision-making are finding that stress can actually change your brain. Some studies suggest that chronic stress may even shrink your brain over time.

  • Money thoughts can create expensive decisions

    Stanford University researchers found that subjects primed with thoughts about money were willing to pay more for a bottle of wine than subjects who were primed with other thoughts.7

  • Competition also ups the ante

    In another Stanford experiment, researchers auctioned off a $20 bill. The winning bid received $20 and the loser had to pay the bid amount. So what was the winning bid? $28. What a bargain!8

  • Say what?

    Chronic stress can lead to “cortisol dominance,” which, over time, can degrade your attention span, memory, and ability to learn. Definitely something to avoid when possible.

  • The high cost of stress

    Scientists estimate that up to 90% of illness and disease is related to stress, with estimated annual costs of $100-300 billion to the U.S. economy.9

  • Money arguments can predict divorce

    Financial stress is considered the #1 cause of divorce in the U.S., and the frequency of your disagreements can predict your fate. If you disagree about money about once a week, you’re 30% more likely to face divorce than your friends who disagree only a few times a month.10

  • Relax – doctor’s orders

    Stress is considered a significant health problem. It’s been directly linked to life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. It may also affect our immune system.

  • Lower Quality of Life

    Stress has been known to cause other physical, emotional, and behavioral problems, from muscle tension and migraines to increase alcohol intake to unwind, feelings of frustration, worry and exhaustion. Talk about a downer!

  • A gut-level response

    Your stomach and digestive tract aren’t considered essential when your body is in fight-or-flight mode, so blood drains from these organs. Hello, nausea: high stress moments can make you lose your lunch.

Join Us

When wealth advisors look and sound the same, how do you choose? A coin flip? Pick your neighbor? Why leave such an important decision to chance? Instead, join us at an upcoming workshop. Hear recent research, discover new insights, and experience JOYN’s transparency and expertise firsthand.

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