Identifying and Reducing Stress as an Entrepreneur

by Darren Hockley, MD at DeltaNet International.

It was made official earlier this year, in the HSE’s health and safety at work report 2018/19, that we’re more stressed, anxious and depressed than ever.

Furthermore, since the report was released in January 2020, the world has suffered through the defining global health crisis of our time.

It’s true, the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest economic challenge we’ve faced since World War Two. Taking this into account, it seems natural that entrepreneurs – known for their risk-taking and business initiative – might be feeling the pressure of industrial slowdown particularly sharply right now.

It’s important that those focused on building their empire don’t ignore the signs of stress, but instead equip themselves with the tools to recognize and manage it effectively.

 

What does stress feel like?

Stress can be defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.

As entrepreneurs with a high workload and high work intensity (not to mention financial pressures and the burden of taking sole responsibility for hard decisions), it seems obvious that, to a certain extent, stress simply comes as part of the job.

However, it’s important not to forget the key motivations for entrepreneurialism; these often include things like freedom, flexibility, autonomy, and a sense of personal achievement. All these traits are proven to lead to happier, healthier individuals.

This means we shouldn’t just accept stress as an inevitability of business ownership, especially if it regularly outweighs feelings of accomplishment, success, and happiness.

 

Signs that stress may be getting out of control include:

 

  • Physical problems: If you’re getting minor illnesses such as colds more often, that can be a sign of stress wearing you down. Headaches and muscle pains may also suggest you’re under stress, especially if they’re happening more often than usual.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: When we’re overwhelmed, it can feel impossible to function at our normal levels. If you’re anxious, struggling with motivation and finding it hard to continue your day-to-day tasks, your stress levels could be getting out of hand.
  • Coping mechanisms: Most people use coping mechanisms of one kind or another to get through the harder parts of life. These can be healthy, such as exercise or a creative hobby. They can also be destructive, like drinking to excess regularly. With many of the usual routes to de-stress taken away because of the coronavirus, it’s true that many are finding it harder to handle stress constructively.

Managing stress

There are things entrepreneurs can do to help manage stress for themselves (and their staff members if they have them). Staying aware and not ignoring the warning signs of stress can help keep burnout at bay, as well as contributing to increased productivity, reduced sick days, and lower staff turnover rates for your business.

It’s not something we often hear in the business world, but prioritizing mental health is just as important as any other function your business needs to be successful and continue to grow.

As the leader of your company, it’s down to you to set the right tone from the top. Whether you have a team working with you already, or whether you one day hope to, members of staff will look to you to see that you take your own wellbeing seriously.

Setting the right tone here might be as simple as taking a flexible approach to work, so as to make time for personal/family commitments, or it could be hiring people managers who understand the importance of good listening-skills and empathy. Whatever form this sort of positive behavioral modelling takes for you, nurturing a strong, consistent tone from the top will go a long way towards setting standards of personal care and keeping a lid on stress in the future.

For business leaders feeling the pressure, connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs and business leaders is also a good way to manage stress. After all, who doesn’t need to vent out a problem or issue every once in a while?

It can be helpful to meet other people who have been through the same thing and gather feedback (maybe even a little empathy) on the subject. Doing so will help entrepreneurs recognize that others have been through, and successfully overcome, similar stressful problems, and this can help put things into perspective.

Extending this idea slightly, finding an experienced mentor might be better yet. A good mentor with an informed vision of the bigger picture can be invaluable. If you admire a businessperson in your community, it’s always worth reaching out to see if they’re free for a coffee.

As a final note, it’s so important that, as entrepreneurs, we keep conversation going around stress – no matter what industry we work within.

Cultures of silence surrounding mental health issues like stress have built up over decades, and it’s up to the next generation of business leaders to continually reinforce the positive behavioral change that’s needed to tackle it.