When you start a business, you know that it’s not going to be all rainbows and puppies (unless you’ve opened a rainbow and puppy store, of course). You expect some hard times, long hours and time spent away from your family, friends and hobbies. But what if the stress of owning a business starts seriously impacting your quality of life? Stress can be a motivator, but too much of it can bring your business and your life to a crashing halt. There are lots of ways to battle small business stress without throwing in the towel.
What Does Small Business Stress Look Like?
Stress can come from a lot of different areas when running a business. Or, if you’re really unlucky, stress can come from all directions at once. Slower-than-usual sales, employee disputes, taxes, administration, marketing, promotions, lack of a work/life balance—all of these can contribute to higher than usual levels of stress.
Everyone reacts to stress differently, but there are some very common reactions you should be on the lookout for:
- Lowered energy levels
- Upset stomach, including heartburn and nausea
- Tense muscles and various aches and pains
- Chest pain and a racing heartbeat
- Frequent illness from a lowered immune system
Some of these symptoms, like chest pain, can even send you dashing to the doctor. Stress is a serious problem, and one you need to face head-on. While you certainly can go for years in a very high-stress environment, it will just as certainly have lasting, detrimental effects on your health and well-being.
Dealing with Stress Productively
Sometimes, it’s all too easy to take your stress out on the people around you, from employees to family members to the barista at the coffee shop. That’s not who you want to be, though, and we have some tips for dealing with stress in a productive fashion.
1. Get Out of Reactive Mode
One of the most common stressors for small business owners is dealing with the many small and large decisions that have to be made every day. If you find that you’re constantly running from crisis to crisis and reacting to each one with an immediate action, you’re not doing your health or your business any good.
Stop reacting, especially quickly, and start looking for patterns to the issues that come up.Are you in a panic every week because your biggest vendor tends to deliver goods late? Do you have to play complex scheduling roulette to avoid workplace conflicts?
Maybe it’s time to take a step back and look for fixes for these problems on a bigger scale. Take a 10,000-foot view of your business and resolve issues in ways that keep them from reoccurring constantly.
Tim Ferriss, author The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, calls it the “lead domino” concept - find the one thing that, if you changed it, would make all the other things that you need to do much easier. If there is one source of inefficiency or stress that recurs over and over and causes a waterfall of other stresses, tackle that first. You might find that even something as simple as eating the same breakfast every morning or wearing the same clothes every day reduces your stress and automates your life. By freeing yourself of certain decisions, you are better able to take on the important problems.
2. You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
If you handle all of your business backend functions all by yourself, stop. You might think that one person should totally be able to handle all the tiny details that go into running a business, but try this experiment – for one day, keep a journal of every task you perform, and how long it takes you. At the end of the day, you may be shocked by just how much you do, and how much time those tasks eat up.
To solve this problem, consider hiring part time help to run the administrative tasks of your business. Even someone who comes in for 10-15 hours a week can save you from drowning under your to-do list. Automation is another life-saver. If you need some quick copy for a flyer, don’t spin your wheels doing it yourself, especially if you’re not a writer.
Go to fiverr.com and hire someone to do it for you inexpensively. Invest in tools like Proposify, which lets you template your proposal-writing process. For small teams, you can use Asana to communicate between your team members, even on their cell phones, for free. You can assign tasks and manage work schedules on the fly in a fraction of the time.
Whatever tools you choose, you can shave a lot of time off of your daily grind and lower your stress level.
3. Work like a Boss
If you’ve outsourced some of your administrative tasks, you can take advantage of this piece of advice: give yourself a work schedule. That may seem impossible, but try to set a schedule and stick to it. You don’t have to be the one to close the shop up every single night, or open it every morning.
Delegate responsibilities and claw back some of the time you used to spend with family and friends. Enjoy your hobbies again. Take some nice, long walks. In no time, you’ll start to feel less stressed and burdened by your business obligations. And when that happens, you’ll be amazed at how much your stress symptoms lessen.
Don’t Hesitate to Find Help
All too often, stress can morph into a profound depression, anxiety or both. When you realize that your stress has left you feeling emotionally and psychologically depleted, don’t stand on pride. Find help as soon as possible. Some of the signs that you’re experiencing depression are:
- Anxiety, irritability, general discontent
- Loss of interest or pleasure in favorite hobbies or activities
- Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
- Fatigue, loss of appetite, restlessness or excessive hunger
- Lack of concentration
- Suicidal thoughts
For a full list of depression symptoms, you can visit the Mayo Clinic. If at any time you consider suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately. Are you bewildered about where to start looking for a therapist? There are seven tips here that can help you find the right one.
Above all, just remember that you are not alone. Many successful entrepreneurs have fought stress and resulting depression, and you can, too. Reclaim your life without sacrificing the success of your business.