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It seems as though stress and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. The symptoms of mental stress that come from building a successful business can include anxiety, depression, poor sleeping habits, weight changes and other health concerns. But these effects are not inevitable, and being a successful owner and/or executive doesn’t require them.
How stress affects the body
Stress hormones are released to help the body perform at its optimum level in circumstances like dealing with an external threat or other danger. Adrenaline and cortisol play a significant role in this fight-or-flight response. Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” because of its ability to contribute to the release of a cascade of other stress hormones. It also can harm learning and memory functions, and affect the parts of the brain responsible for emotions, which is why people under stress can often feel overwhelmed and out of control.
The second category of stress hormone, collectively called glucocorticoids, is released when the body gets stressed for an extended period. It affects the immune system and has been linked to conditions such as chronic fatigue, ulcers, high blood pressure, mental health problems and alcohol/drug abuse.
It’s important to note that the effects of stress on your physical and mental health depend on many factors, such as genetics, gender, lifestyle, personality, coping mechanisms and resilience. Successful entrepreneurs recognize this threat to wellbeing, and apply the following strategies to address it.
1. Keep perfectionism in check
Struggling to be exceptional may feel like an admirable approach, but it can also be counterproductive. Although you may not be able to make perfectionism go away entirely, there is a healthy way to tone it down so you can stay in your Zen state. First, practice being in the “here and now” daily, which will help you keep stress levels low and anxiety about the future at bay.
2. Move your body
Exercise has been proven to decrease tension and short-circuit anxiety. It also causes the body to release endorphins, which are not only natural painkillers but also produce a feeling of wellbeing and can increase mental and physical vigor. And this doesn’t require a three-hour workout at the gym; any type of movement is great. If time is an issue, go for a brisk walk, stretch your legs when you are on a phone call or simply stand up and take a deep breath before starting a task. Small and simple practices are enough to keep anxiety in check.
3. Hire help or otherwise delegate
Don’t take on $10 tasks if your job needs to be focused on $1,000-plus projects and the bigger picture. An entrepreneur must know how to delegate. The ability to trust others to handle smaller jobs is essential to unburdening yourself and fostering creativity, and paying for such talent is an excellent way to improve mental health. Get over your perfectionism and let them do their jobs!
4. Learn to pace yourself
As passionate as we are about seeing our businesses succeed, we are physically incapable of doing so all day every day. You are not a machine, and if not careful may end up feeling exhausted, so embrace a steady speed, as well as your limits. It’s essential to know when to turn off the laptop, take time to decompress and enjoy yourself and your loved ones.
5. Put it on paper
Serenity can come to you simply by writing down problems. I am a big advocate of journaling — a powerful outlet for emotions that helps you understand what’s going on in life dimensionally, and a variety of mental health experts recommend it for dealing with negative thoughts. So, take time to think of what’s going on in your head and put in on paper, and don’t worry if the result is seemingly a disorganized stream of consciousness. So much the better!
6. Make a to-do list
Part of getting organized is assessing tasks and assigning priority to those that need carrying out now — in the process determining other tasks that should perhaps be delegated. Are some of these worth stopping entirely? In my experience, it’s simply amazing how much extraneous and/or unnecessary stuff takes over our heads. I find it helpful to make three daily tasks priorities, as well as apply the 80/20 rule: 80% of your productivity will come from the 20% of tasks that are the most valuable.
7. Connect with other entrepreneurs
Sometimes we just need to vent, or receive empathy or helpful feedback. It’s always beneficial to hear others’ experiences with similar struggles — a recognition of the stress you face is an excellent way of gaining perspective and reducing anxiety. So, make an effort to surround yourself with peers you are comfortable with, maybe a few with even more successful businesses for an extra dose of inspiration.
8. Get a hobby
A good outside-of-work passion gives the mind pause and flexibility. Akin to recess when we were young children, taking on hobbies offers an opportunity for fun and light-hearted activities that can punctuate and brighten an intense day. Some suggestions include golf, hiking, dancing, yoga or cooking classes.
9. Find your Zen state
Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged in China in the 7th century AD — one that emphasized meditation practice and insight into the mind. To we modern adherents, it simply means embracing ways of escaping daily nagging thoughts and other distractions. The key to Zen is finding balance, which allows the mind and body to be in a harmonious state. Deep breathing exercises and meditation can be very effective in this pursuit, and can even be engaged in just about anywhere. They both cleanse the consciousness and allow you to simply let go.
10. Action beats anxiety
Six in ten Americans report feeling anxiety or stress every day, and apart from the negative health effects mentioned above, those feelings are debilitating for entrepreneurs and their staff. If anxiety threatens to paralyze, I’ve found that a sure antidote is action. Be decisive: The result may not be the best decision or choice, but trust me, it is better than being hobbled.
11. Set boundaries
Boundaries are essential for entrepreneurs, especially because they are tasked with developing an entire organization and so can easily become overwhelmed. So, learn to say “No,” because each time you do, you say “Yes” to things that are necessary. Others may not be comfortable with your “No,” but that’s ok. In the end, you are responsible for your own wellbeing, as well as that of your business.