Stress is a major problem and can cause all sorts of health problems. Small business owners have it worse than the general public. Studies show, small business owner's stress is two to four times higher than non business owners.
Life is stressful, so you're not going to eliminate stress completely, but there are certain stress relievers you can apply to reduce the amount of stress you experience with while running your small business. I've found that many small business owners get stuck in what I call the "stress cycle" which keeps them stressed and prevents them from truly enjoying their business.
What Is Stress?
First, let's talk about the stress itself. What is stress? Stress is just a physical response to some stimulus either externally (an alarm going off) or internally (that big presentation your have to give next week). This physical response is called the "stress response".
According to simplepsychology.org, "Stress is a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with. A stressor is the stimulus (or threat) that causes stress, e.g. exam, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job."
As you can see, there is something deeper going on (a stressor) which is triggering this stress response. There is a number of things which automatically happen to our bodies when we feel stressed. Our bodies are wired to respond to what we perceive as dangerous situation. Our heart rate increases, we breath a bit faster, our blood vessels constrict. Stress hormones are released to prepare us for what might come next.
So What Is Causing The Stress Response?
In the case of small business owner stress, I believe the stress that is felt is related to what a small business owner thinks may happen. Some call it the "fear of the unknown" or "anticipatory anxiety". Small business owners are especially susceptible to this since running a small business is notoriously risky. There may things that you just don't know or can't know. This process is what I call the "small business owner stress cycle"
You can see in the diagram there a three steps.
1. You think about a real world problem and dwell on all the things that may go wrong
2. These thoughts trigger feelings of anxiety or dread.
3. These feelings are uncomfortable so you want to "run away" from them. You never really solve the problem. You may even get stuck in a loop (this happens to me) and think you can solve the problem by ruminating on it.
One of my favorite authors is Henry Cloud. In Cloud's book, "Boundaries for Leaders", Cloud describes what can happen to our thinking when confronted with negative experiences.
Cloud refers to it as "learned helplessness" which was originally researched by American psychologist Martin Seligman. Seligman put this thinking style into three categories, the “three P’s” which are:
- Personal—bad things are happening because I am bad in some way.
- Pervasive—it’s not just one or two things that are going bad, nothing is going well.
- Permanent—I don’t think things are going to change. Nothing is going to be any different. So why try?
If you do not short-circuit this thinking, you get stuck in this loop and think things will never change.
How Do You Get Out Of The Stress Cycle?
You can see in the image below that there is a step inserted after you begin thinking of all the things that you think may go wrong. This step will short circuit the cycle.
1. Ask yourself, "what specifically am I concerned will happen". Asking this question will force you out of feeling mode into thinking mode. Many times our worries are general. There isn't something specific we are anxious about, so asking this question will challenge your thinking.
2. Commit to develop a plan to fix that specific thing you are concerned about.
3. Write that plan down. For example, if you are concerned about the customer that left you, determine why they left. Dig deeper and determine the root cause. Develop a plan that will keep the problem from happening in the future. You may find that the thing you were worried about is really not a big deal. Going through this process will challenge your thinking. I have found that just taking the step of developing a plan allowed me to seriously reduce my stress.
4. Stop and feel a sense of control returning. Notice how it neutralizes the stress you feel.
Do you need help solving some of the problems that are causing you stress?
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