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8 Ways to de-craze, unwind and refocus on your business

8 Ways to de-craze, unwind and refocus on your business

Ever snap at a customer who grates on your nerves? Hastily throw together a marketing proposal only to later realize you misspelled your prospect's last name? Are you so overwhelmed by deadline pressure, market competition and bills that you're wondering why you went into business for yourself in the first place?

If you're like most busy entrepreneurs, the good news is: You're not going crazy. The bad news is: You're stressed. High blood pressure, insomnia, frequent headaches, foggy thinking, lack of energy--they're all signs that your body and mind are working overtime. While it's not possible to work in a stress-free world, there are ways you can manage stress. The process begins with knowing where to look for the causes of stress in your life.

"Stress is an inside job," says Lorraine Colletti-Lafferty, chief operating officer of clinical services at Human Synergistics International, a management-consulting firm in Plymouth, Michigan. "Feeling anxious and out of control isn't caused by what's happening to us, but rather by how we relate to our circumstances." A business associate, she explains, might thrive on deadline pressure and do his best work under such circumstances. "You, however, might feel stymied and tell yourself, `I can't work this way.' So, recognize that stress isn't an outside force; it's what we do to ourselves in response to a situation."

Fortunately, stress isn't all bad. Ever get an adrenaline rush when you've signed a big contract or aced out the competition to hire a dynamic new employee? You're experiencing positive stress. "When you are really doing something meaningful, your capacity to replenish yourself is high," says Doug Kruschke, owner of InSynergy, a Marina del Rey, California, management-consulting firm. But when your work depletes your energy and makes you miserable, it's time to pause. "Take inventory of what's driving you crazy, and learn how to keep yourself on an even keel," Kruschke suggests. Here are eight stress-reducing tips to get you started:

1. Practice positive self talk. When you talk to yourself, do you say: "How could I be so stupid?" or "I'll never be asked to join that business group. I don't have what it takes"? Negative self-talk like this feeds your insecurities and raises your stress level. Instead, change your mental dialogue and practice positive self-talk. Tell yourself: "I'm doing a great job," "I can meet this deadline," and "I'll be asked to join that club because I'm an asset to its membership." Such statements, Colletti-Lafferty says, give us encouragement and affirm our value as human beings.

2. Get organized. If you don't make lists of all the things you need to accomplish, you're bound to feel overwhelmed, says Edith Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., a New York City-based trend-analysis consulting firm, and co-author of Office Biology (see sidebar for ordering information), a book about workplace productivity and health. Stress builds, she explains, when "we keep reviewing what we have to do without doing it. Once you write it down, you can dump it from your mind."

It's good practice, therefore, to make a daily or weekly list of tasks you want or need to achieve. Rank them in order of importance, and tackle one task at a time. Be sure you accurately estimate how much time a task will take. For example, if you allot an hour each week to review the books with your accountant, but your meetings end up taking the entire afternoon, you need to block out more time. Otherwise, you'll constantly feel frustrated and behind schedule. Remember, what you don't finish today can be put at the top of tomorrow's to-do list, or can be delegated to an employee.

3. Learn to delegate. As an entrepreneur, you're by nature a self-starter and want to manage and control your business. But that doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. Learn to delegate tasks to your employees or hire independent contractors as needed, so you can focus your attention on projects demanding your special talents.

4. Exercise daily. Your body reacts to stress in different ways, from full-blown panic attacks and muscle tension to stomach problems and headaches. The best remedy is vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, racquetball, tennis or a workout at the gym. By raising your heart rate and taking full, deep breaths while you exercise, you'll feel more energetic and less stressed. If you can't get to the gym, take frequent breaks at work. Ten-minute stretching routines or quick walks around the block will have you feeling like new.

5. Watch what you eat and drink. Cut down on the caffeine and sweets; too much coffee and cola will fray your nerves. Never skip lunch; you need to fuel your body and mind during your work day.

6. Find a diversion. All work and no play will cause any entrepreneur to eventually lose his cool. "Find ways to replenish your reserves," Kruschke suggests. Some entrepreneurs need a frenzy of activity: a busy travel schedule, or regular, competitive games of tennis or racquetball. Others seek more quiet time: working in the garden, reading mystery novels, or trying their hand at gourmet cooking.

"Reconnect with people who are important to you and with things that give you a broader perspective on life," Kruschke says. "Nature will do that. Take a walk on the beach or in the forest." He also suggests becoming involved in volunteer work that's nonbusiness-related. Volunteer activities can take your mind off your own stress and give you a quick sense of accomplishment.

7. Create a pleasant environment. Where and how you work most definitely affect your attitude and stress level. Attractive pictures on the walls, a potted plant on your desk, soft background music, and proper lighting are all conducive to a pleasant and productive work environment. Keeping a neat and clean office will help reduce your stress level, too. It not only lets you quickly find what you need, but also gives you an important feeling of being in control of your work area.

8. Lighten up. As the timeless proverb goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." There's no better way to calm your nerves and put a lightness in your step than to laugh. Go tell your employees a good joke, watch an "Andy Griffith" or "Saturday Night Live" rerun, or read the comics. They're all great ways to let the stress melt away.

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This article was originally published in the March 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stressbusters.

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