by Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D, Founder and Chief Clinical Director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center
The statistics for entrepreneur success are somewhat alarming. Some studies report that only half of self-start businesses will survive into their fifth year. To be one of the success stories, not only do you need a solid business model, you also must learn to manage the stress which comes along with running an empire.
A good business plan provides the best start, but avoiding excessive stress and burnout is what will sustain you over the long haul.
What Stress Is.
It is common to hear people say that they are stressed, but very few people stop to consider what that term means. What we refer to as stress is actually the body’s way of reacting to danger. In ancient times, humans were likely to experience a stress reaction only in life or death scenarios. Our modern conceptions of survival depend in large part on the amount of money that we are able to earn. So, not getting our work done can equate to our body experiencing this form of primitive fear. In the distant past, facing down a hungry lion triggered our body’s flight-or-fight mechanism to ensure survival. Today, a looming deadline produces the same response.
Stress Effects On the Body.
The good part of stress is that it prepares our body for action. It provides us with a boost of adrenaline, necessary for running away or combating an opponent. It is only problematic when there is not a physical danger to address. In this case, the high state of physical alertness lingers, and the extra energy is unspent.
This excess energy can take a toll on the muscles, joints, and organs of the body. Headaches, sexual dysfunction, muscle aches, chest pain, migraines, weight changes, and digestion problems are all associated with experiencing excessive stress. If left unaddressed, stress can compromise the immune system over time. This can lead to chronic illness such as fatigue, diabetes, asthma, heart problems, ulcers, and tumors. Any one of these dangerous physical conditions can knock you out of the game.
Stress Effects on the Mind.
The surge of chemicals released during times of stress do not only affect the body. The brain’s ability to function properly is also impeded. The flight-or-fight response is not concerned with the future or the past. The urgency is in the immediate, and all our physical resources become devoted to that cause.
This means that our storing of memories becomes compromised. Our ability to process incoming information becomes narrowed, and any ability to make plans for the longer-term future takes a back seat. Mental signs of stress include insomnia, confusion, memory impairment, irritation, and inability to focus on a task. As an entrepreneur, lacking these mental resources can result in organizational chaos.
Burnout is the culmination of all this stress, as it relates to working toward the future. It is a form of learned helplessness, where the demands have exceeded the resources. The result is that there appears to be no point in continuing to struggle. Once having reached this point, it can be very difficult to recover. This is particularly true for the entrepreneur, as time marches on and the work demands pile up. Burnout can mean the end of your entrepreneurial dream. This makes it of utmost importance that you learn to manage the stress before it reaches this point.
Tips For Managing the Stress.
Making the time to care for yourself can be difficult as an entrepreneur. In particular, during the early years of the business, you are often expected to wear many hats and attend to every situation which arises. It may be impractical to expect that you can divert large chunks of time away from these tasks. That being said, failing to carve out some regular time devoted toward your own wellness is a recipe for disaster. Employing the following tips may help avoid eventual business burnout.
Tip #1: Get Physical.
With all the excess energy present during stress, one of the best ways to deal with it is through burning it off. Schedule in a few times a week for physical exercise, such as going to the gym or taking a power walk. Exercise also increases endorphins. Endorphins can lift your mood and also work to restore your body with usable energy (if the stress has already progressed to the stage of fatigue).
Tip #2: Relax With Purpose.
The presence of stored energy during stress is also what makes relaxation techniques so useful. If you don’t want to burn off the stress through cardio exercise, you can use techniques such as meditation, yoga, or massage therapy to disseminate the excess energy. Purposeful relaxation also provides the mind with the space to clear itself of worries. This way, you can approach mental tasks from a renewed perspective.
Tip #3: Just Say No.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the benefit of a boss to enforce state laws about taking breaks and not working overtime. There is a huge temptation to fill up every possible moment with attending to business matters. A preemptive strategy toward avoiding a buildup of stress is to limit yourself to reasonable amounts of work. As enthusiastic as you are about building your business, stay mindful of the need for your continual good health. Learn to turn down extra job opportunities if they come at the expense of your mental or physical wellness.
Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D is an award-winning licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Chief Clinical Director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center. The center has locations in both Malibu and San Francisco.