Managing Stress when you Manage Yourself
Being self-employed can be great. A flexible schedule, no-one breathing down your neck, making you conform to their ideals. This freedom can help ignite the passion you need to be successful in your business.
But it can also be stressful.
The Dream Business?
Long hours? No guarantee of regular pay cheques? Unable to separate the professional from the person? These are all part of the price you pay in having the freedom to do something you love.
Entrepreneurship, and building a portfolio career, are becoming more and more commonplace at both ends of the career journey -- for young creatives starting out, and also for professionals, seeking time freedom and flexibility.
We are trying to build the dream business to support our dream life.
But the reality can be very different.
However much you idealise self-employment, the stress never goes away: the pressure of constantly bringing in business, a sky high to-do list, plus a family to support, and spend time with if you're lucky, leaves little time for relaxation.
And your business will only be as good as your health. Failing to spot the early signs of stress, continuing to work those long hours, and not taking care of your eating and exercise, means your business will suffer in the long-run.
If time for yourself seems like a luxury to fit around the business, then remember, it's actually the opposite that is true: when you take care of yourself, your work and business will thrive.
Fight, or Flight?
'Stress' is what happens when the brain can't cope with the pressure we pile on, and a physiological response is triggered. This is the 'fight or flight' response; a hardwired reaction in the brain that goes back to the days when we faced regular physical threats, and had to fight for survival.
Much of human behaviour is driven by our amygdala, the part of the brain that sets off this fight or flight responses. The amygdala can't tell the difference between different stress triggers, and different degrees of stress. Which means, unfortunately, that it can't tell the difference between a looming deadline and a looming sabre-toothed tiger.
The job of the amygdala to differentiate between stress that might kill us and stress that we can ignore is made even harder if it's already under pressure, or in constant expectation of a stressful situation. It goes into overdrive, and that's when stress can fall over into extreme anxiety and even a simple stressor can make you feel utterly terrified.
You may think you have heard it all before, but try to implement these five ways to manage stress on a daily basis. Prevention is better than cure, because an overload of stress can cause serious medical problems such as heart attacks and strokes. And serious health conditions have a serious cost to your business.
Ways to Manage Stress: You
These simple and easy-to-implement ideas will improve your mental clarity and productivity, and make you feel more positive and more energetic.
1. Breathe better
Breathing allows your brain the oxygen you need for greater mental acuity.
Focus on your breathing for a few minutes at your desk before starting work. Close your eyes for just seconds and sit back in your chair to take a few deep breaths.
You should immediately feel calmer.
2. Eat Healthily
Your eating habits are key to managing stress.
Avoid temptation and stay off the carbs during your working day. Keep a stash of nuts, seeds and fruit around you at all times. This combination of foods will stabilise your energy levels during the day and give your brain a natural boost.
3. Cut Down on the Caffeine
Maybe you may think that a cup of coffee will give you energy? The buzz you need to finish a project or boost your creativity?
Not so. Caffeine actually hinders your mental clarity. It forces your adrenaline to keep pumping through the night and stops you relaxing properly into sleep. And a continued poor sleep pattern affects your output.
Instead, start your day with a healthy morning ritual.
If you must have coffee, stick to one cup in the morning only. Keep your body awake and lively during your workday by drinking water, so that your body is hydrated and therefore gets the energy you need.
4. Go Outside
Make time to get into nature, even if you don't really want to, or don't feel you need to. Spending time in nature, and getting some fresh air can boost your brain power, improve your problem solving abilities, and help you relax.
It's the perfect stress-buster.
5. Practice Meditation and Relaxation
Meditation, as I'm sure you know, is a fantastic way to manage your stress levels.
As busy as you are, even if you don't think you have any time to spare for this, or that your mind won't settle, it is a technique worth investing your time in.
Research shows that engaging in meditation and relaxation techniques definitely increases your productivity and creativity. And if meditation feels like a stretch, there are plenty of alternatives.
A Helping Hand?
At some point your self-employed venture will be able to employ others, permanent or temporary; a helping hand to help to assist with work.
And while this will help you grow your business and expand your influence, you can find yourself having to help your employees, and even virtual contractors, manage their own stress.
A larger company would have a HR department to help out if an employee was facing stress. But, if it's just you and one or two staff, or a couple of virtual assistants, then it falls to you to help them deal with any stresses, work-related or personal.
According to research data published by mental health charity MIND, one in ten people have resigned from a job due to stress. And three in five say that if their employers took action to help with stress, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be more likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work.
Working Relationships and Stress
Sometimes, it's the relationships in the workplaces themselves that are the source of stress. It's an unconscious reaction, but we are constantly monitoring our feelings about the people we are around. Can we trust them, what did that expression, or those words really mean, do we need to be suspicious of their motives? It sounds sinister, but we do it without thinking -- again, it goes back to those early human defence mechanisms.
And, again, it causes a physiological reaction.
When we hear the voice of someone we trust, the levels of the stress hormone cortisol go down, and the levels of the chemical oxytocin (which triggers feelings of happiness, love, trust and attachment) rises. Overall this means we feel less stressed.
Of course, vice versa -- we are around people we don't trust, and we react by producing cortisol, and lowering our levels of oxytocin.
Ways to Manage Stress: Others
Don't let stress in your small business or freelancing enterprise, get to levels where it becomes difficult to manage.
Be aware that others may be feeling stressed, even if you're not. This can lead to unhelpful or counterproductive behaviour and, unmonitored, can come as a surprise to you, the business owner.
If you sense this could be happening with one of your team members, then take an active role in understanding their situation, and helping them deal with it. Managing those relationships, and supporting a positive working environment will make for a happier, and more productive workplace for everyone.
1. Establish the Facts
Share your observations of the behaviour you've seen in a non- judgemental way and ask your colleague how they see the situation.
2. Talk Feelings
Describe how the behaviour made you feel and ask the other person how they are feeling.
3. Let them Know your Expectations
As a colleague or leader let them know there are certain things you expect or need from this person. In return find out what they need from you in terms of support.
Agree to a framework that both parties can commit to. This will increase trust, engagement and eventually performance. It will decrease fight or flight reactions that lead to stress.
Prevention is better than cure
Stress can be a drain on your energy and your health, and, ultimately, a cost to your business.
Take simple steps to manage it before it becomes a problem.
This post was written by Laura Morrissey. Laura is a writer for Everything Disc, specialising in motivation and team building in the workplace.
Ready to try out one or two of these tips? You never know till you get started…