Stressed? Burn It Off. Write It Out. Know You Can.
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Stress is that consistently abstract yet ever present quiet killer that never goes away -- just like a bad habit. Stress shows its ugly face only in the most unwanted times and at the most undesirable opportunities, and it oftentimes serves as the source of behaviors that we never want to repeat.
There’s a reason why every entrepreneur should be concerned about stress. With the negative health impacts aside, stress in the workplace accounts for missed work, accidents, employee turnover and morale, company climate and higher insurance claims.
Did you know that 80 percent of workers experience job-related stress, and that nearly half want help in learning how to manage it? These are big numbers, especially when those employees affect not only the bottom line but each other. After all, attitude is contagious.
What’s worse is that stress is additive. Meaning, that without effective coping strategies to manage stress, it only worsens throughout the day. Not ideal for business, for you or for anyone around you. How do you know if stress is present in your life? Good question. The answer is, nobody has the right answer. Stress affects everybody differently. If you were to ask eight different people how they define stress and what stresses them out, you’d likely receive eight different answers.
At the same time though, we all know that stress exists, and it appears in two ways. First, there’s external stress that is thrown upon us, such as rush hour traffic, too many work meetings or that annoying car alarm that won’t cease. These are factors that are outside of our control but are stressful nonetheless -- perhaps because they’re out of our control.
The second way in which stress appears is internally. This is self-induced stress based on how we perceive a situation, event or personality. How we interpret a problem oftentimes is the problem.
Fortunately, we are fully capable of managing ourselves and our self-inflicted stress. Here are three ways to do so.
1. Listen to your inner monologue.
This isn't referring to the inner voice that should’ve stayed quiet but instead asked the one question nobody should never ask a woman -- “Are you pregnant?” Whoops.
It’s time like these where paying attention to what you say to yourself pays off for two reasons. First, we learn to manage our impulses. Second, we learn to feed our brain positive rather than negative mind food. What we say to ourselves under duress -- or at any time, for that matter -- is so important to how we feel and act and is one of the first things I ask clients as an executive coach. Positive self-talk is encouraging and helps to relieve stress. Negative self-talk, such as, “I’m not smart enough to do X" adds unneeded stress to an already pessimistic outlook.
Here’s a trick: Do away with contractions. Avoid using words such as “don’t,” “can’t, “won’t” and instead, flip them on their positive heads. Replace “I'm not smart enough to do X” with the positive opposite, “I want to learn how to do Y first (before attempting X).” By avoiding contractions, you train your brain to search for the positive (trust me, it’s not easy avoiding contractions), thereby mitigating any subsequent stress.
Related: Your Workplace Stress Is Killing You
2. Burn it off.
There’s nothing quite like a good exercise burn to get your mind off of stress. According to Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “stress erode[s] the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain…[and] shrinks certain areas of the brain… Exercise reverses these effects. Don't have time to exercise? Yes, you do (this is me waving the “BS” flag). Everybody has time to exercise, it’s just a matter of priorities. Remember, there is no time-management, only self-management. Manage yourself, and you manage your priorities. Manage your priorities, and stress levels dissipate.
3. Write it out.
In my recent book Managing the Mental Game, I explained how writing helps not only clarify our thoughts but also our emotions -- and subsequent stress levels). By reflecting on the emotions of past situations, you heighten your awareness of the feelings involved such that you can more easily identify them next time, which is key to building emotional intelligence.
Stress will always exist -- that much we can count on. Learning how to better cope with stress only makes you a more effective person, which positively impacts those around you.
Related: 5 Steps to Relieving Daily Stress