Q: How do I handle the stress of running my business?

A: Being an entrepreneur can be so stressful and overwhelming, there are times when you wonder if it is really worth it. Have you ever had a "UPS moment"? That's when the constant pressure finally catches up with you. The debts are mounting, your staff is growing, you get that nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach--and you long for the apparent simplicity of driving a delivery truck.

I used to feel like that all the time, but not as much lately. I've found that while stress is a part of everyday life and there is no way to do anything important (like run a business) without it, you can absolutely control how it affects you. I don't think it's the big crisis that gets you, but the constant pecking of little things every day, most of which you can't do anything about and many of which will not come true. Mark Twain said it well: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

If anyone knows what stress feels like, it's me. I've spent many nights sick with worry about my business problems. I could see the effect it was having on me, both physically and mentally. I talked to doctors, counselors and friends; I read books and listened to tapes. Nothing really helped. I'd return from a week-long vacation feeling great, but by noon on my first day back, it would be like I'd never left. I tried back massages, exercise and meditation, and they all helped a little, but I found that I was just treating the symptoms and not the real problem.

Unfortunately, there's no magic way to deal with stress. My experience is that you are going to feel it no matter what you are doing. There are two basic ways to attack it. First, you can make yourself more resistant to stress. Get in good physical shape; watch what you eat; get some interests outside of work; take up calming exercise such as tai chi or yoga. All these things will help, and you really can't go wrong with any of them.

If you really want to put a serious dent in your stress, however, you must understand what is causing it. For many of us, much of our stress is caused by that unknown feeling about the future--all the things that are "out there" that are going to come in and mess us up. There is a straightforward way to combat this--come up with a clear plan for your business.

Think about it for a second: When you are just zooming along (even if things are going well) without a clear idea of where you are going, you will feel stress in everything you do. All this stress comes from the unknown, and you'd be amazed at how much a clear vision of your business goals will sweep away much of that unknown. When you have a plan, you are usually too busy working on that vision to spend much time worrying. You tend to see setbacks as minor events, and because you see what is coming next in your plan, you are able to keep your imagination from blowing things out of proportion.

The feeling of not being in control is the most stressful of all. Remember that the more defined your plan, the less of that feeling you'll have. So get organized, figure out what you are really trying to do, and get busy doing it. If you can throw yourself into that plan, you won't have time to worry about all those little things, most of which you can't do anything about anyway.

Keith Lowe is an experienced entrepreneur who is a founder and investor in companies in several industries. Lowe also mentors new entrepreneurs; serves as past chairman of the board for Biztech, a nonprofit high-tech business incubator; and is a co-founder and officer for the Alabama Information Technology Association.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.