Managing the stress of running a business

For most, stress is unavoidable when it comes to running a business, and as the boss, your life is a maelstrom of activity that sometimes can be very difficult to navigate. So, how can you avoid ‘burnout’ and the detrimental effects to your mental and physical health and well-being?

Published in Essex Director magazine, Summer|Autumn 2022
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Business Psychology: managing stress

Probably the first thing we should do when we are under stress is to be honest and admit we are under pressure, and then to try and get to the root of the cause. After all, if you don’t know where the problem comes from, how can you fix it?

We are habitual creatures that run on 95% autopilot – which we must if we want to be able to function efficiently. It is very easy throughout our lives to develop habits that run subconsciously, which are detrimental to our day and our state of being. Therefore, to change anything, first you must become aware of what you are, or aren’t, doing.

The causes of stress and anxiety can be very complex. They can start at home or at work, with either being the trigger for the problem. What tends to happen, is that people build up layers throughout the day. Small things happen that generate an internal response which if not dealt with straightaway leads to a massive build-up of emotions that will surface at some point, probably as a meltdown.

So, what are the signs to look out for?

Here are a few:

-You have extreme mood swings, from the very high to the very low.

-You are excessively worrying or fearful.

– You are making uncharacteristic mistakes, due to fatigue, lack of motivation or poor timekeeping.

– Your self-esteem is low, you are interrupting conversations, and taking on too much.

– There are changes in your usual behaviour which are unexplained.

– Apart from the obvious solutions of a good diet and getting enough sleep and exercise, adopting rules or values that govern our lives will ease decision- making and reduce the turmoil.

Here are 10 tips that might help you to manage the stress better:

– Plan ahead: Be prepared and get into the habit of planning your time; where are you going? what are you doing? and make sure you have long enough breaks between appointments and meetings – whether face-to-face or online – to enable you to gather your thoughts and note any follow up actions. Ideally, you should try to look at least one week ahead if you can. Strive for excellence not perfection.

– Play to your strengths: Know and accept what you are good at and take responsibility for things where you know you can make a difference. Don’t micromanage. Delegate effectively the things that others could do just as well, and give over the whole task, so that they own it.

– Take control of your life: Accept full responsibility for everything you do in life, irrespective of others’ input.

– Focus on the solution, not the problem: Take charge of your thoughts and how you react to outside events. If you think negatively, you’ll approach the problem negatively. Try and change your mindset so your questions are more positive. Also, take feedback constructively; appreciating the opportunity to learn from the experience.

– Spoil yourself: Make the effort to meet up with friends regularly and have some ‘me’ time.

– Be grateful: Take time in your day to write down five things you are thankful for.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’: If it’s going to be detrimental to your family, work or health, be prepared to have bold conversations that tactfully speak the truth and say ‘no’ to people.

– Practice mindfulness: Take a break and go for a walk. Deep breathe several times a day and bring yourself back to the present, so that it can be enjoyed and fully appreciated. Use all your senses to take in the moments. Proactively put time in your calendar to take a 15-minute mindful break in the morning and afternoon; time away from your desk and your PC, perhaps where you can read a book or magazine, or do a crossword.

– Mind your language: Speaking as a victim adds to the stress. Change negative words you use regularly to positive ones. Say ‘blessed’ instead of ‘stressed’ or ‘challenge’ instead of ‘problem’.

– Keep a pen and paper by your bed: At night, when your head is about to explode due to endless mulling, don’t try to fight your way through, but write down what’s bothering you. Alternatively, before going to sleep, write a list of things you need to do the next day. This ensures your mind is clear and can take a rest for a few hours.

Whatever you choose to do, pushing things to the back of your mind, whilst continuing to firefight, just doesn’t work. What we resist will persist and in the long-term, ongoing stress will cause great damage to the mind and the body.

Taking stock as soon as possible is the kindest thing we can do to ourselves and our loved ones; procrastination is not an option!

Managing the stress of running a business 1

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