- 8 ways to de-stress: The small business owners roadmap to good mental health
- How to (healthily) soothe the stress of running a small business
- Stressed out business owner? Here’s how to regain your happiness
- The business owner’s guide to soothing stress and mental peace
- The busy business owner’s roadmap to refreshing mental health
The busy business owner’s roadmap to great mental health
The suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, medical, legal or financial advice. Please consult a medical professional for treatment of physical and mental health issues.
- depression (30%)
- ADHD (29%)
- substance use (12%)
- bipolar disorder (11%)
Contrary to the image projected by some, “business as usual” isn’t a series of non-stop home runs. It’s often a turbulent rollercoaster ride of ecstatic wins, stinging losses, and sobering lessons.
If the walls feel like they’re caving inwards while you’re helplessly watching them fall towards you, keep reading.
You’re not alone.
Why there’s greatness lurking within you (really)
For a third of Americans, however, the prospect of starting their own business is so petrifying they’d prefer to parachute out of an airplane.
66% of Americans dream of opening a small business. Despite the desire to quit jobs and pursue rewarding passions, most don’t actualize that dream. So, what’s stopping them?
- lack of knowledge
- limited capital
- financial insecurity
But, are these real root causes preventing people from pursuing their dream?
I’d say they are inherent obstacles to overcome. Financial security is achievable with careful cash flow management. Capital can be built or acquired. And thanks to technology, knowledge gaps are easier than ever to plug. Expert solutions to problems are, for the most part, a click or call away.
The real deterrents lurk beneath the mask of these intimidating obstacles: fear of failure and uncertainty.
But, you’re unlike most people.
Yes, you’re special.
Because you haven’t let fear thwart your ambitions or cap your potential.
It’s one thing to sit and envision building a business, but to leave the safe harbor and weather choppy financial waters in pursuit of your passion day after day,is an entirely different matter.
The fact that you’re in the field, playing to win, speaks volumes about your extreme courage. So when the pressures of business feel like they’re mounting, remember, you truly are special.
You’ve started something most people are scared to even consider attempting.
Why do small business owners feel stressed?
Staying afloat amongst the sea of responsibilities, the looming pressure to outperform competitors, and the struggle to sustain your family and employees, is tough.
Self-employment is both rewarding and stressful. But, what exactly is stressing small business owners?
Managing money and cash flow woes
If you’ve been in business for any length of time you’ve likely faced these scenarios:
- Work is inconsistent or unpredictable–there are times when you have more work than you can handle, and other times you have long periods of drought where you can’t find a customer no matter how hard you try.
- Payments for outstanding invoices haven’t entered your account yet, even though multiple reminders were sent.
- An unexpected large order comes your way. You struggle to procure supplies and staff work overtime while liquid cash begins to deplete.
You’re not alone.
In a survey including 3000 business owners, 32% reported they’ve had to not just cut, but forgo paying themselves for consecutive months to maintain positive cash flow. And 69% admitted to losing sleep due to cash flow concerns.
Passion-fueled burnout and being overworked
The tug of business demands is ever-present when you’re self-employed. There’s always another email to answer, customer to chase, or piece of unfinished paperwork to complete.
Unlike a job, there’s nobody to prioritize and set tasks for you, and there’s no set formal time to draw the line and help you “clock out”. The helm of the ship is yours to steer.
This means after all tills are emptied, electronics are switched off and shutters are drawn, defying the urge to “get ahead”, and “switching off from work mode” is extremely challenging.
Echoes of the bustling workday drive a subconscious wedge into the weary mind and, like a door that can’t be closed, disrupts critical relaxation that’s needed to recharge the body.
Whether you’re a freelancer or you manage a team of 20, overworking and the ensuing burnout is a major cause of stress. It’s been linked to diabetes, higher blood pressure, depression, memory loss, heart disease and in extreme cases, even death.
Passion fuels the creativity and hard work needed to power through obstacles in business. It’s the wrong type, “obsessive passion,” however, that’s been linked to burnout, feelings of overwhelm and poor mental health.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review highlights that entrepreneurs with obsessive passion “felt emotionally dependent on their work, had difficulty imagining their lives without their work, and felt their mood depended on them being able to work.”
Contrasted against entrepreneurs with “harmonious” (or non-obsessive passion), they were more likely to suffer from burnout and chronic stress.
How stress harms your health and productivity
Your body is wired to react to stress in a way that protects you from predators or threats.
When you encounter a potential threat—like a car speeding towards you during your daily commute— your body’s alarm system is triggered. A cascade of biochemical changes occur to help you deal with the threat at hand.
Adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and ability to exert energy, and cortisol, the “stress hormone,” are released. Cortisol suppresses normal digestive, reproductive, and immune system function to prime the body to react to an immediate threat.
While sudden, predatory threats are fewer nowadays, that doesn’t mean your body isn’t experiencing high levels of stress. When bills begin to outweigh income, the lights could turn off at any given moment and you’re out of runway…it’s a lot to process.
This form of lingering, chronic stress erodes physical and mental health. It freezes your body in fight-or-flight mode without an “off-switch” to regulate the stress hormones circulating your system. Prolonged exposure leads to anxiety, irritability, depression, memory loss, social withdrawal, and even weight gain.
That’s why it’s important to deal with stress in a healthy way that serves both your personal, and work life.
Please note the suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, medical, legal or financial advice. Please consult a medical professional for treatment of physical and mental health issues.
4 stress relief hacks for busy business owners
Whether you’re stuck in a stressful meeting, feeling chained to your desk, or struggling to slow down racing thoughts, telling yourself to “relax” doesn’t really work.
With the research-backed tips below, you can counter heat-of-the-moment stress and brighten your mood at will.
If you’re looking for long-term steps for better mental health, feel free to skip to the next section.
Stress hack 1: Exhale stress out of your body
Deep breathing, or meditation, is a renowned stress reliever. It lowers heart rate, stabilizes blood pressure and calms the mind.
Go to a quiet space and surrender your attention to slow, rhythmic 4-second-long inhales and exhales. You’re almost guaranteed to feel better due to the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system, which quells feelings of anxiety and encourages your body to relax.
For more information on breathing for better health, checkout out Mayo Clinic’s meditation guide
Stress hack 2: Use power poses to perk your mood
Body language and hormone scientist Amy Cuddy, found that certain physical cues — which she labeled “high/low power poses” — influence stress levels.
High power poses are more relaxed, dominant and assertive (head high, an upright back, hands on hips, with relaxed shoulders), while low power poses are guarded and withdrawn (head hanging low, chin resting on chest and arms close together).
In the study, subjects that held high power poses dropped cortisol levels by 25% in just 2 minutes. Lower levels of cortisol result in an improved ability to deal with anxiety and stress, and increase confidence-boosting hormones like testosterone.
Stress hack 3: Scribble your stress away
Grab a pen, some blank paper and let your thoughts flow freely.
Research suggests that the repetitive, rhythmic motions of doodling and drawing trigger a relaxed state that counters the body’s fight-or-flight system.
Stress hack 4: Regenerate your mind in nature
Most of us spend too much time cooped up indoors.
Whether you’re tapping away at a keyboard or hunched over a pile of paperwork, isolating yourself indoors for long stretches of time isn’t a good idea.
But, it’s hard to pry yourself away from work with deadlines looming.
Fortunately, there’s no need to “forest bathe” in a far-off reserve or take drastic measures to get outdoors. Recent research shows that just 20 minutes spent in a nature-like environment is enough to lower levels of stress in the body significantly.
4 simple ways to de-stress from the pressures of business
Step 1: Commit to the basic building blocks of health we all overlook
In a search to understand high-performers and productivity, career journalist Kevin Kruse interviewed more than 300 entrepreneurs, Olympians and straight-A students.
A key trait they all had in common was their prioritization of sleep, relaxation and taking breaks.
It’s a simple, but important lesson for mental health and high performance under pressure.
Schedule time for self-care and stick to it, no matter what.
This doesn’t mean excessive pampering or exhaustive routines. Instead, commit to the bare minimum:
Get enough sleep
Tailor regular exercise to your routine
Schedule social and leisure time
Step 2: Prioritize and delegate to decompress your mind
Dynamic needs and sporadic fires are expected in business. But, stressing yourself with too many tasks and minimal resources to complete them is a problem.
Willpower is a finite resource. As the day goes on, and as you complete tasks and make decisions, it becomes increasingly stressful to maintain focus. Hence, tackling all your tasks at once, and by yourself, is a recipe for overwhelm.
Instead, prioritize your most important goals and delegate where possible. It will imbue your day with a sense of progression and prevent burnout from overworking. If you don’t have employees, hire trusted part-time staff or ask family members for a hand.
Step 3: Ground yourself with non-work activities
“You are not your business.”
“You are not your net worth.”
No matter how many times you’re told the above, cutting the cord entwining your work and personal life together is tough. How do you separate the two key aspects of your life?
“Let go” by practicing a hobby or activity that brings you joy.
Whether it’s listening to music, journaling, or pottery classes, research shows that stress melts away while you’re engaging in activities and hobbies you enjoy — the activity itself was proven to be irrelevant.
“If we start thinking about that beneficial carryover effect day after day, year after year, it starts to make sense how leisure can help improve health in the long term,” Matthew Zawadzki, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of California.
Step 4: Don’t trust the hustle hype (why you’ll never feel perfect)
Successful entrepreneurs rise to superstar status in our society.
Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg, Gary Vaynerchuck…
Their names are synonymous with a grueling work ethic and gobsmacking success. The collective praise for their achievements is heard on nearly all social media platforms.
While motivational in nature, this glorification of “being your own boss” is sometimes more harmful than helpful — especially if you’re already experiencing business-related stress.
“How am I stacking up?’ or ‘How is my life stacking up?’ compared to what these people are presenting. I think that what happens is that the more you use the platforms, the more social comparisons tend to induce, and that relates to these decrements in how people are feeling.” — Oscar Ybarra, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michiga
There’s a causal link between social media, depression and loneliness. Measuring yourself against the glitzy achievements of others dims your own sense of self-worth. It makes it nearly impossible to feel content.
“The bigger the gap between where you are and your expectations of where you should be, the higher the stress,” says Moriarty, founder of the mental support site, 7cups.com
For the sake of your mental health, ignore the hustle hype. Don’t let social media coax you into feeling like you’re not doing enough. Even seasoned entrepreneurs slip into dark, “unproductive” periods at times.
It’s perfectly normal, to not feel all the time.
A healthy you is a healthy business
Just like building a business or overcoming any tough challenge, the roadmap to mental health is a journey of small, incremental changes.
If you’re feeling anxious, low, or depressed, know that you’re not alone. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
It isn’t a display of weakness. On the contrary, it takes a certain courage and strength — two qualities we both know you have plenty of — to accept vulnerability and move forward.
Speak to your doctor or therapist. Carve out time to care for yourself. Connect with your loved ones.
A final note: there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even after putting everything they have into their business, 90% of owners say the freedom, pride, and sense of legacy derived from their business makes their sacrifice and pain worth it.
We’re all on a beautiful and rewarding path, and we all make mistakes. Don’t let them discourage you.
Love and appreciate yourself. You are worth it, too.