I spent a decade or more over-stressed, miserable and damaging my health. I learned the hard way about the national epidemic of stress that exists in the UK, leading to physical and mental illness. I was an idiot and ignored it, but then so do many small business owners. If it isn't cash flow, the orders, the staff or the red tape, the long hours and poor lifestyle hit thousands of business owners daily.
One of the many arms of Mental Health Awareness week is to promote a greater awareness of the damage done by stress, but it is still up to us to be pro-active and help reduce our own stress levels. The best starting point to be clear on what causes your own stress. Some are easy to end, others less so. Some causes are temporary anyway, others are more long term. Sometimes, we are just being our own worst enemies and thinking ourselves into stress, by obsessing on what might happen. Start by jotting down your stress triggers and checking they are work the rewards and get rid of any that are not.
For the rest, here are some suggestions to help offset the worst of the demon:
- Breathe! There is reason behind the saying “take a deep breath”. Controlling our breathing is one of the key ways we can control ourselves and our emotions. By taking one, or more deep breaths, slowly and rhythmically breathing in and out to the count of say four, we slow all our panic down. When we are focussing on counting our breath in and out, we keep our focus in that minute rather than roaming around at sixty miles an hour on what we think we have to do and what could go wrong with it. Consider meditation, relaxation exercises or mindfulness which are all great for stress, as they too slow the body right down
- Make sure there is plenty of balance in your life. If you are under pressure at work, it is even more important to spend quality time elsewhere. Don’t worry about neglecting your work. Too much stress makes us lose concentration, so you will be able to catch up much better and probably faster for having had the down time.
- When you are taking that down time, don’t make it all about massages and sleep. You need to balance – as in literally balance the stress. So find a different sort of stress to put yourself under by giving yourself a completely different challenge, mental or sporting, but something that is at the opposite ends of the spectrum to what you do every day. Putting yourself under a different stress takes your mind right off the original one!
- Find some physical release. And yes, I know what you are thinking and that is excellent for stress! But in fairness all physical activities release pent up energy. And I all else fails, go somewhere remote and have a good yell. Simply put, supressed energy is bad, releasing is healthy.
- Break down your goals. Bounding in and attempting to tackle everything is a sure recipe for overwhelm. List out all your main goals. Break them into bite size. Tackle each bite at a time and don’t let yourself worry about the bigger picture.
- If your job or your business is making you too stressed, change it. We all think the world will end if we cease to do our businesses or leave a job we think we love. But the reality is that if it is making us ill with stress, our world will end a whole lot sooner anyway. If making such a drastic change seems impossible, make it easier by taking baby steps. Talk to your manager. Sign up for training to do something different. See if getting an assistant will help. But STOP waiting for someone to come along and change everything. The only one who can make that decision is you.
- Take me time on your own. However much we love our friends, our children, our partner, we all need time to be with our own selves, where we can relax and hear our own voices. Never under-estimate this. When we neglect this area, gradually our sense of our own identity gets eaten up till we are unable to recognize who we are or if we like jam or marmalade.
- Let go of what no longer does you good. So often we hang on to things that stress us out for no good reason other than failing to identify it, or avoiding facing up to it. What is past its sell by date might be a job; it might be the friend who never stops bitching or moaning, a bad eating habit guzzling something you don’t really even enjoy, or the clutter in your house that you have accumulated. Check for the things that don’t have any benefit to you and detach yourself from them.
- Take control of the bad patches in advance. Sometimes stressful times come from nowhere but often we know they are coming. We lie awake worrying about how we are going to cope for the next month because we have our end of year accounts to do and the parents in law are coming to stay. Channel that energy into something a great deal more positive. Recognize it is going to be a rough time and take some extra precautions. View it as a positive challenge and make it the time to cut down on coffee and booze. Step up your vitamin intake and take extra care of your nutrition. Plan in advance how you are going to take stress “breaks”, with your friends, walk the dog, go to the gym or do 15 minutes meditation every single day and actually do all that, reminding yourself that you have got this; you are in control.
- Laughter: all of us have different senses of humour so you want to find something that makes you personally howl with laughter, not something you are supposed to find funny because everyone else does. Bring out your secret pleasure: Find an old film or TV series that makes you laugh till your sides ache. Laughter is scientifically proven to be great medicine – and it is impossible to be both stressed and laughing at the same time.