If you’re an entrepreneur, you already know that it is often a very stressful lifestyle. From early startup to ongoing business management – even if your company is successful – there is a long list of things that can keep you stressed out and burning the candle at both ends. If it’s not financials, it’s operations. If it’s not operations, it’s scaling for higher growth or launching your next startup.
And when you are the person in charge, it can be hard to switch off. But you need to learn how, because being constantly stressed is not only a poor way to live, it can have grave impacts on your health as well.
While stress in small doses is actually useful (like when you’re being chased by a lion), chronic stress is harmful. Because here’s the thing: while your conscious mind can differentiate between physical danger and being constantly stressed, your body cannot. It responds the same way to the threat of the hungry lion as it does when it is overwhelmed with life stress, and its response is to kick into fight or flight mode.
In fact, according to helpguide.org, our bodies can react to emotional threats as strongly as a life-or-death situation. This is a big problem when you consider how many of us are constantly stressed out. It can lead to a huge host of health conditions including digestive issues, depression, anxiety, insomnia, autoimmune conditions – even heart disease – and many more.
This is why being able to identify when you are suffering from stress is vital. WebMD lists a range of emotional, physical and cognitive symptoms that may indicate your body is trying to tell you something – particularly if you are experiencing a number of them. Emotional symptoms may include becoming easily agitated, having trouble relaxing, negative self-talk, depression or feeling like you are losing control, while cognitive symptoms are racing thoughts, relentless worrying, having trouble focusing, forgetfulness and poor judgment. And when stress manifests physically, it is often in the form of tiredness, insomnia, headaches, digestive distress, body pain, rapid heartbeat, chest pain and other worrying symptoms.
It’s also important to be able to identify your stressors, which aren’t always obvious. Aside from the clearly stressful, big life challenges such as divorce, losing a loved one, getting fired, etc., there are many minor causes of stress in our daily lives. From an unrealistic deadline to an argument with a coworker, being stuck in traffic, to generally having too much on our plate, stress often becomes part of our daily landscape without us even noticing.
Plus, we all have different stressors. What stresses out one person may not even bother someone else. The key is to figure out what your triggers are and how to deal with them. Because although many times we can’t avoid stress, the good news is, we can learn how to manage it. Shifting your perception and thought patterns, developing strategies for combating a crushing workload, and creating a healthier lifestyle, are all ways you can start fighting stress today.
Change Your Mindset
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes a simple shift in perspective can significantly improve the way you react to stress:
- Focus on what you can control. There are things in our professional and personal lives that are simply out of our hands. Identify what you can control and focus your attention on those things.
- Ask yourself how important it is. When something is bothering you (like for example, you’re replaying that dumb thing you said in an important meeting over and over again), stop the hamster wheel and think about how important it is in the grand scheme of things. Sure, you’re agonizing over it now, but will you even remember it a year from now? Try to keep things in perspective and save the worrying for the truly important things.
- Write it down. You know the scenario: it’s the middle of the night, but you can’t sleep because your mind is going over and over all of the things that need to be done. Rather than spending hours obsessing about it when you should be sleeping, take a few minutes to write it all down. Your brain will stop worrying about it not getting done because it knows you have a list, and you can finally relax.
- Remind yourself of all the good things. While you can’t simply sweep the bad things under the rug and pretend they’re not happening, you need to remember all the good things that are happening too. Celebrate when you hit milestones – even if you’re not reaching them all – and remind yourself of everything that you’ve overcome or achieved to be where you are today.
Managing Your Workload
Here are some ideas to help you organize, prioritize and plan, so that you can keep ahead of the game and nip that stress reaction in the bud:
- Make a plan. Don’t let the tasks for tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year sneak up on you. Knowing what is coming up and when it needs to be taken care of is the best way to manage your time, workload and hopefully, the stress that goes along with it. Start each week off with a plan, incorporate a daily checklist and spend a little time at the end of each week working on longer term goal setting and planning.
- Prioritze. If there’s one thing you can bet on, there will always be more things that need to be done in a day than is humanly possible. Rather than trying to do it all and getting discouraged, prioritize what is most important and get those tasks done first. If you have time for anything else, great, but if not, you know the vital items are accomplished and you can move the other tasks to a list for later.
- Focus on one thing a time. Many people think they’re being more efficient by multitasking, but the truth is the complete opposite. Productivity actually decreases with multitasking. Instead, focus on one task a time and move quickly on to the next only when it is complete.
- Delegate tasks. We like to think we are the only one that can handle the things on our to-do list, but there are often a number of tasks that could be handed off to someone else. Take a good, hard look at your list and delegate anything that can be handled by an assistant or someone else on your team. Or consider what it would cost to hire someone. If your time is worth more focused on other things, it might be worth the investment.
- Take a break. This may sound counterintuitive when you have a to-do list a mile long, but taking a break will actually help you retain focus and keep stress at bay. We’re not machines. We need short breaks at regular intervals to help clear our minds and recharge our bodies. If you’re the type of person that gets wrapped up in work and forgets to take breaks, set a timer on your phone to remind yourself every hour.
Looking after your health can make a huge difference when it comes to handling stress. The fitter you are physically and mentally, the better equipped you are to deal with the challenges entrepreneur life throws your way.
- Get some exercise. Even if all you have time for is a walk at lunchtime, take time every day to move your body. That endorphin hit will help keep you going throughout the day, your mood will improve, and you’ll sleep better.
- Eat a healthy diet. When we’re stressed, it’s all too easy to reach for fast food, sugary treats, caffeine or alcohol to keep us going or help us relax. Try to avoid reaching for your favorite comfort food or drink. Instead fill up on healthy fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and substitute sodas, caffeinated drinks and alcohol for water or herbal tea.
- Take a time out. Give yourself time to decompress. Whether it’s a short daily meditation, walking the dog or taking a bath, there are many ways to fit in just 20-30 minutes a day to unwind. Allocate some time at least once a week for some dedicated self-care as well. Remember: if you don’t treat yourself well, no one else will.
- Lean on your support network. Hopefully, you have family members and friends you can count on when you need support. Be sure to make the time to connect and spend quality time with your loved ones, and if you don’t already have a support network, consider joining professional or social groups to start building one.
- Talk to someone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s talking to a friend, a mentor, finding a life coach or if stress is starting to really impact your life in a negative way, a therapist, don’t bottle up your feelings. Talking your problems through with someone you trust can sometimes make all the difference.
The entrepreneur life can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but with the right tools and support, you can overcome the challenges and embrace your success.