As if there aren't enough threats to your business, the biggest hazard may be one you can't see: chronic stress. Hiding in plain sight, this toxic saboteur can ruin the best-laid plans with a trip to the ER and a sinkhole of medical bills. You may think you're handling it, but that's usually an illusion, supplied by the adrenaline released by the stress response, which masks the damage to your body by giving you a sense you're powering through it.
Brian Curin, 39, thought he was managing risk well as president of the footwear retailer Flip Flop Shops, which has more than 90 locations. Yes, there was pressure, but he exercised and ate well. He did feel a little off, though, and had a faint ache of something resembling heartburn.
Curin decided to pay his doctor a visit. Blood work, a resting EKG and a respiration test were negative, but a stress test and an angiogram turned up a big problem: four blocked arteries, one of them at 100 percent--not what Curin expected at his age. Without open-heart surgery, he could have been dead within weeks.
"I was extremely lucky," says Curin, whose wake-up call prompted him to start a campaign, The Heart to Sole: Creating a Stress-Free America, to lobby for stress-testing at all companies and to support the American Heart Association's My Heart. My Life. program. "If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not. Get it checked out."
Long-term risk-taking and the demands of wearing multiple hats make entrepreneurs easy prey for chronic stress, which compromises the immune system, increases bad cholesterol and decreases the good kind. Bravado and busyness can keep entrepreneurs in denial mode until the paramedics arrive.
You're not much good to your business from six feet under. Keep the sirens at bay with these essential strategies.
- Pay attention to your body. Insomnia, heart palpitations, anxiety, bowel issues--they're trying to tell you something. See your doctor.
- Make stress-testing as routine as dental checkups.
- Cut stress by reducing time urgency. Every minute is not life or death.
- Identify the story behind the stress and reframe it from catastrophic to a new story: "Yes, I've got 300 e-mails, but I can handle it."
- Build stress-relief techniques into your schedule--meditation, progressive relaxation, exercise, a hobby.
- Set boundaries. Sixteen hours of work a day is not sustainable. Find the "just enough" point in a given day or project.
- Hire somebody. Doing it yourself can cost well more than the price of a helping hand.
- Step back. Brains have to reset every
- 90 minutes. Breaks increase mental functioning and interrupt stress.
- Get a life. The best stress buffer is a life beyond work. Remember that?