How to Manage Stress as an Entrepreneur
Stress is the bane of modern life, and it is important to understand how to manage stress. Thousands lose their jobs every year due to stress-related health issues and the pandemic has made matters worse. For entrepreneurs, stress can be the hunter’s spotlight at night that paralyzes them and stops them in their tracks.
Yet, life also holds many opportunities and ambitious people through the ages have found ways to overcome all manner of difficulties, including stress. Do some research on the life journeys of highly successful people and you’ll find overnight success is a myth. Instead, you’ll find tales of working day and night for years, battling seemingly insurmountable odds.
How did they do it? How can you do it?
Understand how destructive stress is, then handle it
In order to beat the enemy, you must know the enemy. You must understand what it hides in its underbelly. You must take it seriously.
What does stress do to the body? Research into the effects of stress on the body goes back to 1936 when Hans Selye published an article in Nature that resulted from his observations of rats under stress. He found that no matter what the source of stress, the rats always presented with the same damage. They developed ulcers, enlarged adrenal glands, and atrophy of immune system tissues. He came to the conclusion that every disease can be traced back to stress.
Take a moment to digest that information. Stress makes us sick. It is essential to acknowledge the fact and not ignore it.
Stress won’t go away and you can’t ignore it, so what can you do?
Change your perception
What is your perception of life, yourself, people, your career? Is your glass half full, or half empty? Perception is the lens through which we see the world and make sense of it and our perception of reality has everything to do with how stressful we experience life. How we view things can significantly increase or minimize our stress. For instance, loud music is a great joy to some people, but the same loud music can be a stressor for someone who needs silence.
If you keep in mind that physiological response to stress is the result of perceived stress, rather than what’s happening, you’ll realize that you have the power to minimize your stress by changing your perception, how you think about the event. In psychology, this technique is called reframing, and it’s extremely effective.
It works by making you more aware of your thoughts, recognizing them as cognitive distortions, and then actively changing them.
What are cognitive distortions? They are very easy to recognize once someone has pointed a few of them out to you. And once you recognize them, it’s almost impossible not to change them. A cognitive distortion is a way of thinking about a situation that distorts the reality of the situation in some way.
For instance, all or nothing thinking. This kind of thinking uses words like ‘always’, ’never’, ‘nothing’, and ‘everything.’ Someone pulls in front of you and immediately you think: ‘people always pull in front of me.’ But you forget that you’ve been driving for more than an hour in the city, and up to now, all the other drivers have stayed in their lanes.
Another classic example is what one psychologist calls jumping to confusions. In other words, before you have all the facts and wait for matters to take their course, you decide that what has now happened is utterly disastrous.
Do yourself a favor and educate yourself about cognitive distortion. You don’t need a therapist to realize the insanity of it.
Really understand the importance of sleep and its relationship to stress
While it is true that the experience of stressful events leads to the inability to sleep or poor quality sleep, it is also true that not getting enough sleep prevents your body from doing one of its important jobs: reducing stress hormones. In fact, research shows that loss of sleep causes stress hormones to increase.
Making matters worse, increased levels of stress hormones reduce sleep quality and the ability to sleep. This, in turn, leads to more stress and less sleep. As you can see, it’s a vicious cycle.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Matthew Walker, formerly a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a neuroscience professor at the University of California, and author of “Why We Sleep,” has studied sleep for more than 20 years. He says sleep deprivation creates a toxic protein build-up. This toxic sticky protein is related to Alzheimer’s, demolishes the immune system, activates stress chemistry, leads to cardiovascular disease, causes cancer-related molecules to proliferate and increases appetite.
If you don’t get enough sleep, make a plan to change that for your quest on how to manage stress. Doctors recommend no less than seven hours of sleep.
Watch your diet
When we’re under stress, we tend to eat what’s most convenient, and that’s often anything from the fast food place around the corner. Most people eschew sensible dietary protocols thinking it’s boring and robs them of one of life’s pleasures. For those who do realize the importance of a healthy diet, knowing which protocol to follow is very confusing as every week, scientists come up with research results that seem to contradict previous advice.
Whatever diet you follow, consider sticking to some basic health-enhancing practices:
- Leave out sugar – it has no benefits whatsoever.
- Ditto for processed foods – nothing in packages and little bags.
- Pay attention to prebiotics and probiotics – for a healthy biome, you need both.
- Avoid inflammatory foods – sugar in all forms, soda drinks, processed foods, refined carbs (bread, crackers, pastries), and margarine.
- Include anti-inflammatory food – leafy vegetables, broccoli, celery, salmon, blueberries, pineapple, chia seeds, flaxseed, ginger, turmeric, walnuts, and coconut oil.
- Beware of trans fats – present in fast food and processed food.
- Don’t eat food that you love but makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
- Drink filtered water.
You depend on your brain and body to function optimally, so feed them properly.
Have an exercise routine
There is nothing like a good workout to help one relax and recharge. It’s good for your overall health and it’s great for understanding how to manage stress.
For some of you reading this, exercising regularly is a no-brainer, and you are already reaping the benefits, but we’re not all crazy about exercise. Some people don’t enjoy playing sports or working out at the gym. If you are one of those, you can settle for jogging or long walks. Do something you enjoy – you stand a better chance of sticking to something that gives you pleasure.
Don’t neglect personal relationships
Even if you are an extreme introvert and can spend your entire existence in a lab, you’ll feel utterly empty when you’ve made that impressive breakthrough and you have no one to share it with.
Getting a startup off the ground requires a lot of time and effort and most entrepreneurs work on their businesses to the detriment of their personal lives. However, close relationships with family and friends are vital on the entrepreneurial journey and can provide much-needed support in trying times, which are part of starting any venture.
Starting your own venture can be a very lonely journey and the process is made less daunting if you have a friend or two that you can trust and share the highs and lows with.
Learn to delegate
When you have a great idea for an innovative product or service that you believe will make an important contribution to the world, it’s tempting to do everything yourself. In reality, being an innovator, doing the hiring, sales and marketing, and all manner of routine tasks every day wears you down over time. The hours you work get longer, and the work just seems to increase.
Learn from one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time – Sir Richard Branson. He is famous for depending on other people to get the work done that he knows he is not best suited to. “Most entrepreneurs are driven personalities, but you can’t overcome challenges and bring new ideas to the market through the sheer force of personality alone. You need to learn to delegate so that you can focus on the big picture,’’ he writes.
He says to do it even if it’s difficult and you don’t want to.
Also, don’t wait until the situation is forced upon you. Realize from the outset that you’ll need to trust other people to do some of the work and plan for that. This way you can make a considered decision, which will be less stressful.
Allow yourself a break
You are your company’s most valuable asset, so you must take care of yourself. Entrepreneurs work very long hours and this can be counterproductive in the long run. Taking a break from work, whether it’s an hour or two, a day or two or a week, is important. It helps you to consciously disconnect, reassess and gain new perspectives. It’s a fact that many people can corroborate: the best ideas arise when you are completely relaxed and occupied with some mundane task like getting dressed, making the bed or picking up seashells.
Stepping away from your daily routine for a while can do wonders for you and your business. You may think that you can’t afford the time, but a break will allow you to return to work revitalized and refocused.
Being an entrepreneur is challenging and stressful, but it shouldn’t take over your life completely. Don’t sacrifice your personal life for career success. When you do that, you miss out on important events that give meaning to life. Make time to catch up with family and friends – that’s the best way to destress. They’re your trusted critics, your best allies, and most loyal supporters. Now is the time to prioritizing your ability on how to manage stress.