Stress and the Small Business Owner

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Scream Cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a small business owner, and I am stressed out. Between keeping up with my work projects, taking care of my family, and trying to stay healthy, my life can be overwhelming. Sure I get to set my own hours and work from home, but that often means I work late into the night and skip meals to run errands. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely staying afloat.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report of May 2012, small business owners find managing their business the most stressful thing in their lives, twice as stressful as maintaining a healthy relationship with their significant other and almost three times as stressful as raising their children. The survey also revealed that small business owners make sacrifices in the other areas of their lives to run their companies, regularly giving up free time, exercise, and other personal priorities. So, not only are we stressed, we’re giving up the very things that can help us cope with that stress.

In an interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Rosalie Moscoe, owner of HealthinHarmony, a wellness consulting firm based in Toronto, says that there is not much a business owner can do to eliminate the stress, but we can learn to manage it. Stress has been known to cause weight gain, depression, and in some cases fuel disease. So learning to manage stress is well-worth the effort.

The Mayo Clinic and the National Institute for Mental Health both have lists of ways a small business owner (or anyone dealing with stress) can cope with stress, such as create realistic expectations, make a list of priorities, take breaks, and find outlets for stress outlet. Other sites suggest simplifying your life or taking up meditation. All good advice. But what can I do today to help lower the stress I’m feeling (other than hiring a personal assistant that I can’t afford)?

Organize what needs to be done. I’m in the process of prioritizing the work I need to get done in the next few months. I use a white board to keep track of my jobs. I’m a visual person, so I need to be able to see what’s going on at all times. My white board allows me to see how many jobs I’m working on now, when they are due, and what’s next in line. I also keep track of what jobs are completed and whether they’ve been paid.

Break down the jobs into steps. I currently have several projects in the works. Working backward from the deadlines, I have set up mini-deadlines for different parts of each job (e.g., for an editing job due next month, I need to edit 10 pages a day to be finished on time.) Just having a plan helps calm my nerves.

Make time to relax and spend with my family (forcing myself not to think about work while I’m doing it). This is harder than it sounds—not so much the making time for family as keeping my mind off work. When I’m pushing my daughter on the swing, I find my mind drifts to brainstorming article topics and “to do” lists. While this might sound like a great way to multitask, it’s really counterproductive. I lose out on having fun with my daughter, and I often can’t remember the great idea I had while pushing her on the swing. Even when I do remember, my stress level goes up just from spending my down time “working.”

Exercise. When I get exercise, I always feel better and more optimistic. Many medical studies back this up. The American Psychological Association claims that exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress, enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress, and giving the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. In a short article on the APA website titled “Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers,” they claim “the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies are in responding to stress.”

Stay positive. Several websites including the one for the National Institute for Mental Health, encourages stressed out people to dwell on the positive. We are to focus on the things we’ve done right at the end of the day rather than all the things we did wrong. That means instead of focusing on how I failed to finish editing a chapter, I can focus how I was able to solve a problem with my email. This isn’t always easy, but with some effort and a little positive self-talk, it can be done.

It seems beating stress involves using your mind and body to maintain balance and perspective. Attitude is probably the most important key to stress management success. It looks good on paper, but how will it play out in real life? Only time will tell. I’m sure I’ll have my good days and bad days, but I do feel better just having a coping strategy.

Share your stress relieving strategies by leaving a comment.

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