How to deal with stress as an entrepreneur or manager

April 28, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

Entrepreneurs and managers are some of the hardest working people. While the freedom to direct something is rewarding, having that freedom comes with the responsibility to ensure it’s done well. More often than not, that means long hours and plenty of stress. Rather than look at simplifying your life to have fewer problems, let’s look at how you can improve to better deal with them.

“Don’t wish it was easier wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge wish for more wisdom” – Jim Rohn.

To get things started, let’s get clear on a couple of things:

Why are you stressed anyway?

As a society we tend to use stress as a label for a range of things that in reality, are just the result of being afraid. When someone asks you why you’re stressed, the typical response is to rattle off a list of problems you’re having. While completely valid, at the end of the day, you’re stressed because you’re afraid of what others think of you, whether you’ll fail, or what you think of yourself.

How does stress start?

What typically starts the feelings of stress is the gap between what you expected, wanted or needed to happen, and the reality that unfolded (or seems to be unfolding). Stress is a perception that you’re becoming more likely to ‘fail’ at your task than succeed. I say ‘perception’ because the way you’re seeing things unfold isn’t necessarily the reality of what is actually happening. More often than not, it’s just in your head (more on that later). This brings me an important part of stress, which is:

How you define success

As I mentioned before, stress is often instigated because there’s a gap between what you wanted (success) and the reality of what occurred. While it’s practical to define success on certain things to achieve an outcome, applying this to your life in the wrong way can be damaging to say the least. If you’re measuring your success by how much money you have in your bank, whether you’re famous, or how many mountains you can climb, you’re relying on external circumstances to determine how you feel. You’re setting a rule in your head that says “unless I achieve/meet “X”, I’m not successful”, which means for the majority of time, you’re feeling unworthy or unsuccessful. It’s a pretty unpleasant way to go through life, and it also means that when something doesn’t go the way you want it to, instead of responding to the situations in your life, you’re reacting to them. Rather than make it difficult to achieve success, easy to fail, and something that’s external to yourself, change your definition of success to be easy to achieve, hard to fail and something that’s within yourself. An example of this might be, “I’m successful if I give it my best, and I fail if I completely give up without even trying”. This means you decide internally whether you get to be happy or not, rather than allowing yourself to be happy when you achieve ‘success’ externally. This way, you’ll happily achieve, instead of achieve to be happy. If you’re in doubt, just think about how well you perform when you’re happy as opposed to when you’re feeling down or depressed. Happiness produces success, not the other way around.

Why you’re doing what you’re doing.

When I was in sales, I learnt that people make decisions to buy based on two things: pleasure and pain. Granted, it’s a simple concept, but in essence, people will buy something because doing so allows them to experience more pleasure than the pain of parting with their money. Likewise, if someone is unhappy about their purchase, they feel that their experience of pleasure didn’t exceed their pain of parting with their money. It’s a very basic premise, but we often forget that as humans we’re wired to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. You do things because you are either trying avoid pain, or gain pleasure (or a combination of both). I’m bringing this up because your “why” is the driving force behind your life. It’s the way you look at the world, and the determining factor in whether you experience pleasure or not. It’s the link between what you do and the pleasure you get from it. To give you an example, let’s say you want to become an entrepreneur. You decide to build a business that makes prosthetic arms for amputees because your sister lost her arm to a rare disease and there’s nothing on the market that does the job for the amount of money she can afford. Your ‘why’ is your reason to help your sister and other amputees. Are you going to have failures along the way? Of course you are, but what’s more important? Hopefully your sisters happiness and quality of life. Of course, what’s important to you will be different, but understanding your “why” allows you to outweigh the pains (stress or fear) of what you’re going through with the pleasure you get in solving the issue or doing what you do. If you’re not feeling compelled to do your job, then maybe it’s because you haven’t recognised how (or whether) it’s important to you, and why you should do it.

Strategies to deal with stress

Now that we’ve gone through some of the fundamentals concerning stress, it’s equally important to look at how to manage stress on a day-to-day basis. This list of strategies will help you to change your state and help you to think through things clearly – after all, we’re human and none of us are perfect.

#1. Let it go.

Think about all the times you’ve had similar stresses in your life. It might have seemed like there was no way out, like the world would collapse and your life was in ruins, but in reality, you made it through and you’re reading this right now. What we imagine the stresses of life to be like in our heads are rarely as bad in real life. In fact, you’ve probably never experienced stress in real life as bad as you’ve imagined it in your head. Managing stress is about seeing things as they really are, not worse than they are. If you looked back 30 years from now, would what you’re stressed about, really be that important to your life? How old would you be 30 years from now? What would you say to yourself if you were looking back?

#2. Exercise

Exercise is an amazing (and medically proven) way to deal with stress. It gets your body moving, puts you in a different state of mind and delivers endorphins for a few days after. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, being in a bad state is only going to deliver poor performance. Even if it’s a quick walk to grab a coffee, or a game of ping pong, a little bit of exercise will go a long way to improving your mood. Where you’ll see the biggest benefits however, are when you start exercising on a regular basis. Either 30 mins a day, or longer sessions every couple of days, getting into a routine of exercise will actually give you more energy. When I first started exercising, the thought alone was uncomfortable because I associated hard work and effort. Now I cycle an hour every day, climb for 2-3 hours three times a week, and often spend my weekends climbing, cycling or hiking. If I don’t exercise for a day or two, I’m itching to do something and can’t stay still. I have more energy doing more exercise, than I ever did trying to “conserve” my energy sitting on my ass.

#3. Diet

I know, I know, it’s a touchy subject. Diet is important though. When you’re stressed, you look for a pick-me-up, which typically means high sugar, and high fat foods. They’re quick fixes to make you feel good in the moment, but end up making you feel worse in the long run. Eating regular meals with a diet of less processed foods will help give you energy, which keeps you in a better state and allows you to handle the stresses of your day.

#4. Sleep

REM sleep has been proven to regulate your mood. Make sure you’re getting your 8 or 9 hours sleep each night, and remember that having one big sleep-in on a Saturday doesn’t allow you to “catch up” on your sleep. It takes a few days of regular sleeping patterns, with enough sleep to get your body back into it’s cycle and recover. If you’re so stressed you can’t sleep, try running through a few of these strategies, or try some meditation with music, watching some comedy or reading a book/blog etc.

#5. Spend time out of your environment.

When you’re feeling stressed, more often than not, the last thing you feel like doing is getting out of your environment. Getting out of your environment however, gives you a fresh perspective, new ideas and a change of focus. Going for a walk, coffee, movie, concert or beer are all good ways to shake things up a bit. When you come back to your work, you’ll feel a lot more refreshed and ready to take on your challenges.

#6. Don’t break your promises.

Part of feeling stressed is the uncertainty around your circumstances. Saying you’ll do something, and then not doing it, plants a little seed of doubt in your mind and works against your self-confidence. Even if it’s something small, keep your promises with yourself. If you can, keep promises with others as well.

#7. Give back to yourself.

Being an entrepreneur or manager, chances are you don’t have much time. Even if it’s only a couple of times a week, spend an hour or two playing some music, taking a bath, going for a run or doing something you always think of doing, but push back because you don’t have time. Doing these things can often bring you back in tune with your happy self and get you in a better frame of mind.

#8. Talk to someone.

Ask a partner or friend to have a chat. Even if they don’t know anything about your problems, just talking through it can make a huge difference. Knowing someone is there for you, regardless of the outcome you’re stressed about reminds you that your problems aren’t as bad as you think, and you’re more valuable than you give yourself credit for.

#9. Seek professional help

If you’ve done all of the above (I recommend actually doing them), then another solution is to seek professional help. If you’re sick or injured, you go to the doctor. If you need help with your tax, you see an accountant. If you’re feeling down, there’s nothing wrong with getting some professional help. How you’re feeling is only a temporary state, and while it may have been like that for quite some time, there are ways to manage it and turn it around.

#10. Ongoing management

If you haven’t yet realised, managing your stress is an ongoing skill that you develop over time. There are times when you’ll forget what you know, finding yourself back in a stressful situation. The key is building stress management into your routine and lifestyle, making it something you just do, rather than think about.

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