Running a business is a unique experience. Even when you talk to other entrepreneurs, they can have very different businesses and struggles than you experience. There are a few experiences that infiltrate every entrepreneurs life. One of the most dominant themes that we hear from entrepreneurs in every industry and growth stage is stress.
Stress is a huge factor in everyone’s life (not just entrepreneurs), but too often people don’t know much about it or misunderstand it. Stress actually plays an important role in all of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Stress isn’t just a psychological condition, it can actually affect our physical bodies substantially. Stress can make us eat in strange ways, it can make us more irritable, it can mess with the rhythm of our breath and heart beat, it can make us more susceptible to colds, and dozens more.
Since stress is such a crucial and influential factor in all of our lives, how do we handle it? What can we do to manage our stress?
One of the easiest ways to manage stress is to change your outlook a bit. Tons of people accept too much of the worst perception of their problems. There are 3 ways to head off this thinking so that you don’t unreasonably assume the worst.
- If your first reaction to every struggle you have is to blame yourself, you’re going to have a bad time. So you had a bad day, that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible entrepreneur. You had one employee quit, or one sales meeting fall through. Don’t rush to internalize that problem. Remember that you won’t always be perfect and that’s fine, and that there are dozens of other factors in any situation that are totally outside of you control. Accept your legitimate errors and learn from those mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up over every single problem that comes up.
- The words ‘always’ and ‘never’ are dangerous. If you find yourself using these you might be falling into the permanence trap. When you’re struggling to build your social media audience, you might think to yourself “I’ll never get to 5,000 followers”. When those thoughts hit your mind, you’re already preparing and accepting failure. Similarly, when something bad happens we slip into thinking that it’s permanent and unchanging. Have one PR slip up and you think you’ll have a bad reputation for the rest of your life? That’s permanence thinking in action. Recognize when you’re thinking/talking like this, stop yourself and remember, this won’t be forever.
- When we get hit with a problem or a failure and we generalize it to the bigger picture that’s pervasiveness. Just because you fail a math test, doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Just because you got a bad yelp review, that doesn’t mean you’re business is terrible. Similarly, when you spill the coffee in the morning, does that ruin your whole day? When
One stress management asset that doesn’t get enough recognition is your support system. Managing stress is much easier when you have strong connections with the people around you. It goes a long way when you have people who empower you, people who provide a sense of trust, and people with whom you have relationships built on trust.
When the stress hits you (and it will), who will you turn to? Too often entrepreneurs and other business owners feel like they have to bottle up that stress and deal with it themselves. Some might even suggest that sharing your struggles is a sign of weakness. Talking out and sharing your stress with the right people can have some serious advantages. Number one is that when you actually verbalize what’s stressing you out, it really changes your perspective. If just saying it doesn’t work, then your friends can generally help you put your problems in perspective. While you should totally be working to recognize when you are stressed out, if you miss your own cues then great friends will often recognize that you’re in a stress meltdown.
This probably sounds too obvious to be true, but you’d be surprised at how many people totally ignore this. If you aren’t taking advantage of your support network around you, then you’re staying stressed out for no good reason.
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Stress is mostly normal. We all feel pressures of deadlines and competition. Stress becomes a problem when it’s overwhelming. If you don’t utilize recovery, then you won’t make it through the toughest times. I don’t mean taking Sunday off either. I mean take a few minutes multiple times a day to just relax and ignore the rest of the world. If you don’t take a few minutes to decompress then you will burn out. Your ability to manage stress is like a mental muscle. If you don’t take rests, you will get over-exhausted. You don’t have to run a marathon of stress, you can take a few minutes to get yourself back on track.
Like they always say, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Taking care of yourself is a huge part of managing stress. If you don’t feel good, you won’t perform well. It’s one of the most time-tested and well-known ways to manage stress. It starts with maintaining a healthy diet, a strong sleep cycle, exercising regularly, and practicing good hygiene. These seem like obvious parts of life, but when life gets stressful these are the things we tend to write off first. Make self-care the part of your daily routine that can not be written off. Keeping a sound body is crucial to keeping a sound mind.
Keep a sense of purpose
One of the most underrated ways to avoid the mountains of stress is to really make sure that you care about what you’re doing. If your work gives you a sense of purpose, it won’t even seem like work – you’ll probably enjoy it. This isn’t a simple fix, but it goes beyond stress. People who feel a sense of purpose in their work are also more engaged and less at risk for depression and anxiety.
Keep in mind though that passion is different from purpose. Passions come and go. Purpose is concrete. So don’t quit your job because you’ve spent three weeks dreaming of being a barista and want to start a coffee shop. If you want to find purpose you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. When you’re 85 and know your days are numbered – will you regret your life, and what work would seem meaningful looking back. That got a little deep, but if you really have an issue managing stress quick fixes probably won’t help.
So get out there and build something great (stress-free).