Growing a business is similar to a high-speed roller coaster -- it has ups, downs, twists, and turns. You're simultaneously thrilled yet horrified, and once the roller coaster ends, you're itching to hop on the next exhilarating ride.
The idea of entrepreneurship is romanticized in the media. We're supposedly part of an elite team that consists of the dreamers, doers, and do-gooders of planet Earth. Our journeys are glorified and packaged as fairytales, which often inspires others to take the risk and follow a similar path -- just look at the lives of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.
But aspiring entrepreneurs beware. This lifestyle has an ugly side that is sometimes overlooked and rarely discussed. Most of us are so excited to jump on the ride that we dismiss the warning sign before plopping in the seat.
Between growing pains, operational costs, deliverables, deadlines, and juggling multiple personalities at work/home -- including clients, employees, stakeholders, family and friends -- being the chief executive is immensely stressful. What's worse is if you're not effectively managing your stress levels, the excitement will undoubtedly have adverse effects on your health.
The potential causes of stress
If you're an entrepreneur, you've already accepted the fact that stress is part of the job. Dr. John Demartini wrote five main causes of stress:
1.) We do not clearly define what is truly most important to us -- our highest priority or priorities and focus our attention on what is most meaningful and productive in our lives and we end up having to put out fires all day doing lower priority tasks and other people's agendas.
2.) We set unrealistic expectation on ourselves and others by expecting ourselves or others to do actions that are not truly most important or highest in priority and thereby feel we betray ourselves or feel betrayed by others.
3.) We don't reflect on what we do each day and ask what is truly working and not working and refine our actions and skills so as to master our lives we let animal habits make us victims of our histories and not masters of our destinies.
4.) We don't eat to live, we live to eat. We don't spend to live, we live to spend. We don't socialize to live, we live to socialize.
5.) We don't give ourselves permission to say no to other people's unrealistic expectations and low priority distractions we don't take advantage of time and life managements systems
According to a 2014 Stress in America study of 3,068 adults age 18 and over by the American Psychological Association (APA), stress is prevalent among Americans.
Of the respondents, money was the most commonly reported stress factor, and "is a somewhat or very significant source of stress for the majority of Americans (64 percent) but even more so for parents (77 percent), Millennials (75 percent) and Gen Xers (76 percent)."
What's more, "42 percent of adults say they are not doing enough or are not sure whether they are doing enough to manage their stress, and 20 percent say they are not engaging in an activity to help relieve or manage their stress."
There have been additional studies that suggest entrepreneurs have a higher rate of mental health problems.
Unfortunately, your issues aren't going to magically disappear, and as leader it's vital you maintain your health for the benefit of yourself and your business. So here are several solutions to consider for living a healthy and well-balanced life.
Schedule quiet time.
Give yourself permission to unplug from your work environment, even if it's just for a few minutes out of the day. I take periodic 15-minute quiet-time breaks that consist of sitting on the balcony and playing a few rounds of Connect-Four on my iPad -- it relaxes me.
Lydia Fayal of AdmitSee provides a nap room at the office. "I've never used it to actually sleep," she admits, "but sometimes it's nice to just sit in silence to clear your mind."
Likewise, Angela Copeland of Copeland Coaching schedules daily quiet time -- whether it's participating in a yoga session, or taking a walk. Natalie Siddique of Moja Gear says she requires specific hours of the day to be spent practicing yoga, meditating, hiking, or rock climbing -- and even encourages team members to take periodic climbing trips outdoors.
Ted Tieken of ExtraOrigin blocks 5-10 minutes of silence to practice mindfulness meditation. "I've found that clearing your mind completely once in a while, allows your subconscious insights to come through," says Tieken. "For me, meditation lets nagging thoughts in the back of my head come to the forefront and be dealt with. Work is a lot less stressful when your mind is clear, and you don't have nagging thoughts in the back of your head screaming and trying to be heard."
Trust your team, and disconnect.
That said, it's okay to completely disconnect once in a while -- especially if you have a talented team filled with A+ players. You shouldn't be afraid to step away from your business.
"I'm an entrepreneur, so I know how frightening it can be to take a vacation, or even turn off your phone over the weekend," says Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation. "We treat our companies like they are our children. But honestly, as long as you hire a team you trust, your business will survive a few days without you at the helm. Just take baby steps -- maybe an extra day off here and there. Then, when you see the office didn't burst into flames without you, you can take more and more time off. Getting a chance to unwind and relax is vital to your mental wellbeing."
If you're a one-man team, consider outsourcing tasks that absorb a mass amount of energy. Download a time-tracking app to record each activity. Analyze the results over a two-week period, and then develop a strategy to outsource your most stressful time-consuming tasks. I know how difficult it is to relinquish control, but it's a necessary step for growth, and will relieve much of the burden -- so it's an investment worth making.
Eat clean. Exercise often. Get sleep.
A proper diet and exercise does wonders for your mental and physical health. It's easy to get immersed in the whirlwind of work and either forego meals, or indulge in fast food out of convenience. In The State of Obesity's 2014 analysis, obesity rates in America remain high and have more than doubled over the past 35 years.
Productivity Psychologist Dr. Melissa Gratias suggests entrepreneurs block off time on our calendars to exercise, eat, and participate in enjoyable activities. But most importantly, we must honor the time we've blocked off.
During the fall and winter, I hit the gym hard to weight train. When spring and summer roll around, I participate in outdoor activities like rollerblading or nature walks. You shouldn't treat exercising as a chore, and you can choose fun fitness activities that suit your lifestyle -- whatever gets your blood pumping.
Couple diet and exercise with a good night's sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults between the ages of 26-64 get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes our schedules do not permit us to receive the recommended amount of sleep, and if that happens, try scheduling periodic catnaps throughout the day for a quick re-boost.
How are you handling the stress of starting, growing, or managing your company? What other coping mechanisms should we add to this list? Let's continue the conversation in the comment section. As entrepreneurs we're all experiencing similar stressors, and it's good know there are others who can relate.
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