What happens when 83% of us suffer from work-related stress? It’s not a pretty picture.
According to Stress.org, stress causes the following:
- 10% of strokes, when the stress is work-related
- 3 out of 4 doctor’s visits
- An increased risk of heart disease (40%)
- An increased risk of heart attack (25%)
- Increased overeating or unhealthy eating (40%)
- Loss of nightly sleep
In other words, stress affects every area of your life: the emotional, the physical, the mental, and more.
And that’s just for anyone with a job. But what about entrepreneurs?
How is Stress Management Different for Entrepreneurs?
Working for a big company means that you have some degree of reliability: you can count on that paycheck coming in every week, so long as you show up to work on time.
In entrepreneurship? Not so much.
Entrepreneurs don’t only have more responsibility on their shoulders. The entire nature of their stress is different. Consider:
- Entrepreneurs have to worry that their business might fail. In fact, according to the SBA, about 20% of all small businesses fail the first year. An entrepreneur doesn’t only have to show up to work, but has to keep the company going—especially in those choppy early days.
- Entrepreneurs work long hours. Statistics suggest nearly one third of all entrepreneurs work 50 hours per week. And if you own your own business, these hours are sometimes a necessity—without the promise of overtime pay.
- Entrepreneurs are in a position of responsibility. It’s stressful enough working a tough job for your own paycheck. When you’re an entrepreneur and you have employees, you’re also responsible for the paychecks of the people working for you. This responsibility can add up to stress in a hurry.
- Entrepreneurs report more stress. According to Gallup, a slightly higher average rate of entrepreneurs report stress than the average worker. And given the stats you saw in the previous section, it’s fair to say that this can be a fairly concerning trend.
Since entrepreneurs have lots of reasons to feel stress, it only stands to reason that they can use lots of ways to mitigate it. But what are the most effective ways to reduce workplace stress, and which are most adaptable to the entrepreneurial lifestyle?
Tip #1: The Creative Hobby
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll hear lots of things about how you should be single-minded. Your job should be your life. You should work 16 hours a day! You should think about nothing else except your business, for no less than ten years!
That’s a great recipe—if your goal is burnout.
Mitigating stress, however, means that sometimes you’ll need to find productive ways to spend the rest of your time. And that word “productive” doesn’t mean you have to work. But if you can indulge in at least one creative hobby, you may find it more relaxing than even sitting on the sofa and watching television.
According to one study, indulging in a creative hobby like playing the piano or creating pottery, had a positive effect on cortisol levels—cortisol being the “stress hormone.”
Don’t think that this is time wasted, either, simply because it’s not spent on your business. Studies suggest that working on your creativity will make you better at work, which means that you can both reduce stress and boost performance.
Tip #2: Get Outside
An entrepreneur’s life is often inside. You may be on the phone in the conference room. Checking email on the computer. Taking a working lunch break. Anything to avoid being outside.
But according to the New York Times, a walk in the park is about more than simply relaxing. It may actively improve mental health.
As the statistics indicate, people who live in cities tend to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Scientists studying this phenomenon created a study in which they had volunteers walk for 90 minutes, outside, without any companions. These volunteers then allowed a brain scan. There were markers of improvements in mental health. According to questionnaires, they naturally dwelled less on the negative aspects of their lives than those who hadn’t completed the nature walks.
Tip #3: Make Sleep a Priority
The tip “get more sleep” is one that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s not really useful. If you could get more sleep that easily, you wouldn’t have to think about this tip, would you?
What’s the difference in “making sleep a priority”? A few things. Most importantly, it means that recognizing a good night’s sleep is a critical way to manage your stress levels. Getting even a few hours of sleep less than the daily recommended amount of 7-8 could mean impaired cognitive functioning.
Dr. Matthew Walker, author of “Why We Sleep,” gives people practical tips to make healthy, natural sleep an inevitability:
- Sticking to a routine. A regular sleep schedule is a great way to ensure that you fall asleep easily and naturally without relying on stimulants to wake up or depressants to make you drowsy.
- Avoiding stimulants, especially at night. If you drink a cup of coffee to wake up, consider what that’s going to do to you at night. By giving yourself stimulants at night, you’re only going to throw off the routine and make it difficult to wake up in the morning.
- Avoid drinks before sleep. Some people rely on alcohol to get them drowsy and sleepy, but alcohol can also impair the process of REM sleep, meaning that you’ll only give yourself a shortcut to lower-quality sleep—not to mention the health consequences of alcohol consumption.
- Keep a cool bedroom. Having a cooler environment—even just a few degrees before bed—helps simulate the experience of sleeping outside, when the temperature drops and our bodies are cued for sleep.
- Avoid blue light at nighttime. Blue light is higher-energy light on the visible spectrum, and that high energy light simulates the appearance of the sun, disrupting our circadian rhythms.
And what are the benefits? Heart health, potential cancer prevention, stress reductions, alertness, better memory, better mental performance, and more.
Tip #4: Admit You Need Help
Entrepreneurs tend to be Type-A personalities, people who are happy with blazing their own trail in life. This can sometimes come with a heightened sense of responsibility—which is good—but when taken to extreme levels, it can start to have a detrimental effect on the way you perceive and manage stress.
How so? Many entrepreneurs tend to take the “personal responsibility” mantra too far. It can be difficult to admit that the way you’re doing things isn’t the best approach. It can be even more difficult to admit you need help. And help can arrive in a number of ways, including seeking out therapy, seeking out more beneficial hobbies, or delegating different aspects of the business so you’re not constantly working 12-hour days.
Tip #5: Learn the Art of Saying “No”
Entrepreneurs who started their business from the ground up are familiar with the feeling of scarcity. In those early days, they said yes to every opportunity that came their way. Maybe you had to work 12-hour days because there was no other way to keep the business afloat.
But as the business grows, “no” can become more powerful than “yes.” Entrepreneurs need to abandon the idea that saying no is going to sink their business. It’s okay to be more selective with clients and opportunities. It’s okay not to expand to a new office if you don’t need it.
Saying “no” is more of an art than a science because every opportunity to say “no” will be different. Some opportunities will be just that—great opportunities to grow the business. Others won’t. It can be difficult to figure out which is which.
Before you do say “yes” to a new opportunity, though, consider this:
- Does saying “yes” to this opportunity put you at a disadvantage? Let’s say that you were to go to work for one client, who then eats up most of your time while representing a significant source of your revenue. Putting all of your eggs into that basket might seem beneficial in the short-term—thanks to the money—but it also means that if that client isn’t happy, you’re not happy.
- Does saying “yes” make it more difficult to run the business? Let’s say that you need to consider upgrading your office space. You feel like you need to grow the business—“if you’re not growing, you’re dying,” as many entrepreneurs like to say—but you’re not sure if the impact on your bottom line will be worth it. If a decision gives you less wiggle room in the future, might it be better to say “no” for the time being?
Tip #6: Create a Segment of Personal Time
Entrepreneurs are constantly pulled in all directions. You have responsibilities everywhere—family, friends, even at work. For some people—especially those low on the corporate ladder—at least work is a place of minimal relative responsibilities. Entrepreneurs don’t have that.
Emma Schermer Tamir fights this by creating a segment of personal time that’s hers and only hers. In this personal time, she’s not responsible to anyone. She simply has coffee and reads a book. This is not only a great way to take a mental break, but it’s effective: it means that she gets to experience at least one portion of her day when she’s not looking out for everyone around her. Entrepreneurs need that.
Tip #7: Delegate A Greater Percentage of Your Workload
Increased stress is one downside to being an entrepreneur. But the upside is that you have the power and independence to manage that stress if you so desire.
One critical power is the power to delegate. If you have the cash flow to do it, you can outsource your more stressful tasks to other people—employees, consultants, contractors, and even virtual assistants.
If you’re not familiar with the process of delegation, using a virtual assistant is a great way to dip your toes in the water. As long as you hire a virtual assistant with experience in handling what you need to delegate—say, bookkeeping—then you’ll have some confidence that they’ll do it better than you would. That kind of confidence is essential, especially for an entrepreneur who’s only done things themselves.
Start with one small task per week. Something that’s been annoying you. Something that’s been eating at you. Simply hire a virtual assistant for an hour or two and see if they don’t do a good job. You might e surprised at the results—and the amount of time they free for you. And once you understand that you can delegate a portion of your responsibilities, there’s no telling what you can attack next. The impact on your stress—and your life—can be immeasurable.