How to Recognise Stress as a Business Owner (and What to Do About It)
It’s no secret that stress affects anyone and everyone at some point in their lives, even if you do a job you love. With so much that remains out of our control on top of us fearing changing the things that are in our hands, it’s inevitable. What’s most important here is that you can recognise stress as a business owner and have your own tools to deal with it on a short and long-term basis. That’s what I’m here to help you with today!
But first, let me share my experience with you…
I’ve been battling my own mental health issues over the years, including severe depression and anxiety, and this has always played a part in my stress levels, both as an employee and a business owner. When I left my 9-5 back in 2015 after my darkest patch, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders, but it wasn’t long before new worries, insecurities and pressures dawned on me.
As the owner of Sparked Passion, it was up to me to make things happen, to do the work I loved with those I could support best, to be in charge of my own schedule, to save for taxes, to bring in enough to not only pay my bills but to actually live a good life. It was exciting but terrifying at the same time. Even now, it feels that way sometimes, despite me having more in place. Fast forward three years and I have a small team, bigger clients and a reputation to uphold.
Self-care is the key to stress-busting
Before we dive into the signs to look out for and what you can do when you start to feel stressed, I wanted to share with you something I posted on Instagram the other day…
“For so long in my businesses and my career, I felt I had to do everything myself. I believed it would take too long to explain and I could have done it myself in that time. I believed that somebody else couldn’t do it how I wanted it to be done and I’d have to do it all over again. And even worse? Sometimes I wanted to take all of the credit. Not to feed my ego but because I didn’t value myself.
It’s no surprise that this is totally unsustainable, but so many of us know this and continue to work 24/7, adding more to our own plates. We don’t want to let people down, we fear saying “no” will lose us opportunities and we let ourselves stay in this situation where we can’t or won’t let go of something that no longer needs us. Yet as I discovered in my previous job, you can give your all to something and never be appreciated. So you have to put yourself first and know your worth.
My mum (who is actually part of the Sparked Passion team) reminds me of this all the time - in order to manage anyone or anything, you need to manage yourself first. That means putting self-care to the top of your to do list.
Whatever feels true to you, whether that’s travelling, working out, meditating or spending time with your favourite people, make more time for it by not just acknowledging that you don’t have to do everything yourself but by taking those steps to make it a reality”
The biggest part of avoiding and managing stress is looking after your health and wellbeing as a priority. When you work for a company, they have a duty of care to their employees around stress, so as a business owner where you are your best employee, you need to have this same duty of care.
Stress = being the safety net in your business
Ultimately, you want to get to the point where your business can run without you. Through systems, outsourcing/delegating and leveraging, it’s totally possible. This doesn’t mean you’re lazy or don’t want to work (because trust me, even ‘passive income’ isn’t completely passive), it means you’re prepared for when the unexpected happens or when you want or need time off. As part of the Scaling for Passive Profits summit I purchased access to a few months back, Isabelle Mercier said, “get to a position where your business will sustain or grow without you in it - stop being the safety net”. This really stuck with me, especially as so much of our lives is unpredictable and we spend a lot of it being the core rather than letting the business itself be.
If you’re not at that point yet (I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not completely), that’s perfectly okay. And if you need to say “I know I’ve let these boundaries slide but it’s really important for both of us that we stick to them from now on and hold each other accountable” or “I wanted to reassure you that you’ll absolutely be getting your work by X but I’m going to take 2 weeks to myself so I can come back and do my best for you” then do - I’ve said both of these.
Forget the stress stigma as a business owner
We’ve come a long way and there is definitely less stigma around all aspects of mental health. Although, many people still don’t like to admit they are feeling stressed and see it as a sign of weakness. Even yesterday, I saw somebody post in a Facebook group asking people how they felt about business owners sharing their mental health issues in places where their target audience would be.
My personal thoughts are that it is up to you as an individual to share as much or as little as you’d like. YOU being the key word there - if you feel it could help someone but are concerned it might put a potential client/customer off then it’s your decision. Essentially, it’s another unnecessary fear. The pros outweigh the cons here. Do you really want to work with someone who would disrespect the challenges you’re so brave to face each day/week/month/year?
Recognise the stepping stones to stress
It’s no good burying your head in the sand in anything in life. People notice when something is wrong even if you don’t know what is wrong or why you’re feeling that way. What I want to delve into next is the physical and mental signs of stress as a business owner - all of which are or have been true to me. Being able to identify these is a stepping stone to working out the what and the why, then the how you’re going to do something about it.
One of the first signs is finding reasons not to get out of bed or go to work each day. You may have lost all interest in everything and are not motivated to do anything or are having difficulty sleeping and feel overtired. This isn’t just associated with stress but you may find yourself not wanting to face the day as you wonder “what’s the point?” or try to avoid whatever you need to do. You hope it just goes away and are thankful for the security of your bed.
Do something about it: Go to bed or wake up and write a list of things you’re grateful for or the positives from or for the day. Journaling has helped me to appreciate the small and simple things, and also helped me to let go of what has happened to have a better night’s sleep. Design your own routine for the morning where you put yourself first and do some activities you love to start the day off right. Follow this with diving into the biggest or most uninteresting task for the day so you can get it out of the way. For more inspiration, I recommend reading The Miracle Morning and Eat That Frog.
Feelings of overwhelm, lack of concentration, inability to solve problems or make decisions will all have a detrimental effect on any business. There will no doubt be a decline in performance, possibly affecting the quality of your work, mistakes being made and deadlines being missed. Sometimes the severity of this increases and your own demons rise up with the thoughts of not being good enough and more fears of failing which can lead to you slipping up again.
Do something about it: There are two main causes of this: trying to do/learn/be everything and trying to do/learn/be everything in the wrong environment. Audit where you work, what you consume and what you need to have in place to avoid each of these being a problem. This is absolutely something in your control, so whether you need to introduce checklists, create a space that is only for work, cut down on the amount of time you spend on social media or set intentions/goals to help you to find solutions, reflect on what has and hasn’t been working, then take action.
Negativity sets in and leaves you with a feeling of nervousness and anxiety. Whereas before, you were willing to tackle any new challenges/opportunities coming your way, you are full of fear and trepidation (traits you had to originally conquer in order to start your new job/career or start your own business)!
Do something about it: Mindset is as important as action, so those self-beliefs leaving you feeling low and unable to overcome the stress you’re feeling need to be turned around. This isn’t an overnight miracle, but as you’ve told yourself these negative things, you can definitely tell yourself positive things and start believing those instead. You could work with a coach or therapist, you could journal or use affirmations, or you could read mindset books such as my favourites: Radical Self Love, You Do You and You Are a Badass at Making Money. I also recommend doing other activities you love and developing your skills elsewhere. If you can motivate and feel good about yourself in one area, you can transfer that positive energy to other areas.
Even the most straightforward of tasks or minor changes you are being asked to make are a big deal for you as you are unable to cope and are feeling irritable and suffering from mood swings.
Do something about it: For me, forgetting to take my medication for more than 3 days has a huge impact on my behaviours and feelings including my ability to deal with things. But not just that - making sure I have enough sleep, leaving room for flexibility in my weekly schedule, setting communication boundaries about how I’m asked/told certain things, and evaluating whether it’s actually me who needs to be involved all make a difference to how I’m able to approach these situations.
At the end of your work day or at the weekend you are unable to relax or socialise with family or friends as you are constantly thinking about work and are unable to switch off from it.
Do something about it: You need a regular digital detox. Get into the habit of putting your out of office on and turning your phone/notifications off at every opportunity. This is all about setting boundaries with yourself about where and when you work. Even working from home means you need to have a set space where you’re in work mode and the rest of your home to be for play/rest. Journaling and exercise (especially yoga/pilates) can hugely help here too but mainly, it’s about telling yourself that things CAN wait.
I’m definitely one of those people who falls ill (and gets injured because I’m super clumsy) a lot. There are tons of symptoms of stress which range right up to severe. No matter whether it’s physical or mental or both, there are people who can help to reduce or eradicate them (yourself being one of them). From my own experience, here are some physical signs that I’ve had treatment for or sought professional advice on:
Difficulty sleeping and feeling tired all of the time.
Suffering from headaches, muscle tension and feeling nauseous.
Chest pain and breathing quickly (to the point of panic attacks).
Weak immune system - suffering from one illness after another and not recovering fully before you are ill again.
A loss or change in appetite - resulting in unintentional quick weight loss or weight gain.
Grinding or clenching your teeth or biting your gums.
And on that note...
Being a business owner isn’t easy. Whether you outsource to those who work remotely, have a team who work right by your side or you’re a solopreneur, you are always going to face tough times. But if you can start to recognise when you are starting to feel and act in this way, you can look at the factors (because it’s likely more than one) that have built up to this and make changes.
If there’s one thing you can take away from this post, I want it to be for you to pay attention to what your mind and body are telling you. Talk to someone or talk to yourself on paper - but get it out of your head so you can clear your mind for the amazing things you do and all you have to be grateful for.
*NB: This post contains affiliate links for products I use and love. This means that if you choose to purchase through clicking my link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend things that will help you to streamline and up-level your business.