Effective stress management is key to the success of living as an entrepreneur. Being constantly pulled in multiple directions is part of what we thrive on but it is also a catalyst for stress. As entrepreneurs, we are comfortable with the chaos that comes with building a business but if we aren’t careful, the chaos can take control.
It is important to address the mental and emotional components of being an entrepreneur to ensure that we, not the chaos, keep hold of the reins. While everyone manages stress in her own way, we’ve put together some thoughts to help you start that conversation whether it is with yourself, your team, or a trusted advisor. Managing your stress will help you give your best to your business and everyone involved in your endeavors.
WHY ENTREPRENEURS FEEL IT SO INTENSELY
It is hard to start a business and the public attention given to the examples of overnight success creates an unrealistic standard for other entrepreneurs. In the first months (and, often, years) of a company, the founder has to do everything, including tasks that don’t necessarily line up with his strengths. Fortunate are those who create a startup as a partnership or team with colleagues who possess complementary skills!
Independent business owners also find themselves alienated from the life they once knew. The 24/7/365 nature of a startup pulls people away from family and friends. It can necessitate putting aside time-consuming hobbies, as well. Eliminating things like running or yoga classes might provide some extra time but it takes away a healthy stress reliever. And while our loved ones can be sympathetic, if they’ve never been there, we worry they don’t really understand or are tired of hearing about the business.
We also don’t always feel the rewards of our efforts because we are pouring every dime of profit back into our startup. We feel guilty about spending money on vacations or other non-company related expenses. We forgo little pleasures in life like manicures or massages for the same reason even though, in moderation, the benefits would outweigh the expense.
I realize the above paragraphs are not news flash worthy. The hope is that you realize you are not alone. Every entrepreneur has felt the difficulties, stresses, and hurricane of emotions that are your life. The good news is there are ways to combat those challenges that seek to wreak havoc on our psyche.
HOW TO DO IT
1. Acknowledge your physiological needs.
Many people pride themselves on the three to four hours of sleep they purport to get each night. I would be a barely functioning zombie without at least six or seven hours. Know your body and provide it the rest it needs so it can provide you with the cognitive abilities you need to run your business. If your body is screaming for a nap, take one. (You know the boss, it’s okay.)
Provide your body with nourishment beyond coffee and quick junk food. Stay as healthy as possible by drinking lots of water and real food. Reserve a chunk of time each week to prepare homemade meals that you can grab and heat up throughout the week. I realize that not everyone likes green food but do what you can to hit all the food groups!
2. Be Your Own Coach and Cheerleader
Set aside weekly time for game planning. Clear your mind of the minutia and focus on the big picture. Creativity rarely happens under the stress of daily tasks. Regularly remind yourself why you are on your current path. Re-center your mind by reading your mission statement or a list of how you are providing valuable contributions through your work. Do whatever it takes to make sure you continually believe in what you are doing, especially in times of challenge.
3. Have a Strategic Approach to Email
Every time we stop what we are doing to look at our inbox, we lose focus and productivity. Especially if we insist on replying to every email right then and there. Think of your email like you (should) think of your cell phone – it is for YOUR convenience, no one else’s.
Just because an email comes in, doesn’t mean it needs to be read and responded to right then. Unless you are waiting for information, have set times throughout the day that you check your email. Prioritize those messages into “now”, “later”, and “way later” folders and address them in an appropriate time frame.
4. Stay Connected to the World
Take it from someone who tries to convince people that interaction with the grocery store cashier should count as socializing, you need to leave your workspace. Regularly. It doesn’t always have to be about business, either.
Networking events and professional development sessions are awesome, but it is just as easy to remain anonymous at those places as it is in your workspace. Have lunch with a family member, coffee with a friend, or go to your monthly book club. Acknowledge that humans are social critters and stay connected on terms that work for your startup and for you.
5. De-clutter Your Work Space
Your physical surroundings impact your productivity. In your physical area, have a place for everything you need and keep everything in its place. Clear out coffee cups once the coffee is gone and use the trash can appropriately. Electronically, have designated folders for the documents related to various aspects of your business and only keep on your mobile the apps that you actively use.
6. Get Outside
The whole fresh air and sunshine/vitamin D thing is real. Five minutes of sitting in a patch of sunshine won’t throw off your schedule. Neither will a quick walk around the block.
7. Practice Self-awareness
Don’t ignore the signals your mind and body are sending you. Understand your personal signs of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, unhealthy diet, and anything else that will impede your ability to function at your best.
Are you a graphic designer who has a migraine kick in every time you take a job that requires the delivery of giveaway goodies? Maybe you need to handle only the design portion and tell your clients to find someone else to handle the production and delivery aspects of the job.
You might lose some existing business but new clients won’t know the difference if you advertise that your service is graphic design, period.
Suffering at the expense of clients and jobs outside of your wheelhouse won’t help anyone. Notice any physical reactions that seem to correlate to various parts of your work and make changes that serve your best interests.
Part of being self-aware is understanding when your emotions are getting the best of you. Avoid making decisions on days when you know you are emotionally stretched. If you can’t put off the decision, do what you can to calm your mood before addressing the decision. Take a walk, meditate, whatever it takes to make sure your best self is determining how to handle the situation at hand.
8. Gratitude and Generosity
When the negatives start to overwhelm you, take a few minutes to mentally or physically make a list of the things for which you are grateful. Remind yourself of how far you’ve brought your business and the challenges you’ve overcome on the way. Then use that energy to make a positive impact somewhere else in the world. Generosity encompasses more than time and money. You can influence the people around you by being generous with your compassion, your empathy, and your forgiveness.
9. Let Go
Speaking of forgiveness, holding on to negative emotions towards others or yourself can be harmful to both your business and you. No one is perfect. You will make mistakes. People around will make mistakes. The best thing to do is not spend time asking, “Why me?” or “Why now?” Rather it is better to acknowledge the current situation and your emotions surrounding it and then to determine how best to move forward. The same can be said for regrets. Startups aren’t built on would’ve, could’ve, should’ves…
MINDFULNESS AS A STRATEGY
The last several ideas on how to combat stress delve into the concept of mindfulness. The Cambridge Dictionary defines mindfulness as the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm. It doesn’t take a lot of time to integrate mindful behaviors into your day, simply a bit of effort that will help you be more present and effective in your endeavors.
Help reduce stress and anxiety
Allow more effective prioritization of tasks and minimize task switching
Improve your focus and reduce distractions
Increase your working memory and build productivity
Help build a sense of community within your team
Some people find it helpful to remind themselves to be mindful by setting an alarm to go off every so often and practicing something as simple as mindful breathing. (Use the vibrate setting if noises bother you.) Mindfulness practices can also help you respond differently to stress. Instead of having the stress suddenly explode in your mind, you can proactively address it in your mind prior to reaching any sort of breaking point.
Since the topic of mindfulness could fill a series of articles, here are a couple of resources to get you started if you are interested in learning more on the subject:
The non-profit organization, Mindful, offers a community of support and numerous resources:
The Mindfulness Institute offers programs, professional development and more:
Combatting the stress that comes with entrepreneurship and owning a business is essential to the success of your brand. It is all about striking a balance between your personal and professional lives and being continuously aware of your goals, how you are trying to reach them and how your work is impacting you.
The experts at Strategy Driven Marketing are not psychologists or mindfulness experts. But we are, ourselves, entrepreneurs. We know, firsthand the challenges of pursuing a dream and all of the hard work that goes with that quest. We’d love to use our experience and expertise to help you take your business to the next level. Contact us today to get started!