Stress Management

3 Stress-Killing Strategies Business Leaders Can Take

Arguably the most important step in overcoming entrepreneurial stress is simply accepting that anxiety is normal.
3 Stress-Killing Strategies Business Leaders Can Take
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Founder of The 20 Media
7 min read
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You know why you’re here. Stress. So, let’s talk about three ways to tackle the problem.

Related: Finding Your 'Stress Sweet Spot' to Perform at Your Best

1. Recognize the normalcy of anxiety.

This may sound strange but is actually one of the biggest differences between high-stress and low-stress individuals. Research reported by Adrian Wells in the Journal of Cogitive Therapy and Research found that metaworriers, who “worry about worry,” was one of the most prominent attributes differentiating high worriers from nonworriers.

Wells and other researchers have found that the negative interpretations of anxiety, like “If I don’t stop worrying, I’ll end up an emotional wreck,” contribute to the intensification and persistence of anxiety.

Similarly, research by British Institute of Psychiatry researchers W. Mansell and D.M. Clark found that people who suffer from high social anxiety are more likely to rate others as noticing they are anxious, and then interpret this as a bad thing.

Arguably the most important step in overcoming entrepreneurial stress is accepting that anxiety is normal. In Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders, psychologists David Clark and Aaron Beck wrote that based on empirical research, The greatest differences between clinical and nonclinical anxiety are evident in the ... strategic processes responsible for the persistence of anxiety." 

The authors went on to say that people who focus on their personal strengths and coping resources successfully reduce their anxiety, while people who interpret their anxiety as weakness and deficiency cause their levels of anxiety to go up.

And in the entrepreneurial world? You'll never meet an entrepreneur whose job isn’t causing stress. So, again, reducing stress starts with accepting its banality.

Related: Workplace Stress Is at a Record High. Here's What's Causing It.

What's more, if you do believe that anxiety is abnormal, consider that Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, once wrote on his blog, “First and foremost, a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day to day -- one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over." 

Added Andreeesen: "I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs," who typically, he wrote, are battered by uncertainty and risk, which magnify those entrepreneurs' levels to incredibly high, then incredibly low, stress levels at whiplash speed.

2. Connect with your peers.

The financial benefits of networking with peers in the business community are undeniable, but in a culture that is so necessarily focused on the business motivations of networking, we often forget to mention how important networking is, as well, for our emotional well-being and quality of life.

According to the RHR International CEO Snapshot Survey, half of the CEOs surveyed acknowledged experiencing feelings of loneliness, and 61 percent believed that isolation hindered their performance.

Pretty dismal stuff, but, writing in Fast Company, Jeff Booth, CEO of BuildDirect, suggested a solution. Entrepreneurs, he said, can address loneliness by reaching outside their company to other CEOs. “Fear and ego are two of the main causes of this kind of isolation," Booth told me. "Lots of other CEOs out there were experiencing the same challenges ... I just had to look outside my own company and immediate circle to find them.”

Debby Carreau, CEO of Insired HR, meanwhile, in an article in Entrepreneur, emphasized the need to find a place to have unfiltered discussions. “For me, becoming a CEO has been much lonelier than I ever imagined," she said. "Many CEOs believe they must appear bulletproof ... They also need to find an environment where they can be vulnerable and learn and grow in a safe trusting environment.”

Kristi Hedges, an executive coach who works with CEOs, recommended, in an article in Forbes, joining “a CEO professional development organization ...[forming] your own informal advisory group, ...[and getting] a coach or a mentor.”

Entrepreneurs who view all potential peers as competitors, who see networking entirely through the lens of how it can profit their company, are ultimately less likely to build lasting business relationships, or their businesses for that matter. They are also more likely to suffer from stress.

If stress is becoming a major issue for you, odds are your peer group has something to do with it. Research by Annette Greca and Hannah Harrison found that among those surveyed, feeling like part of a group (even as a low-status member), having supportive close friends and close romantic relationships dramatically reduced feelings of social anxiety. Meanwhile, victimization from peer groups and unsupportive friendships contributed to social anxiety.

Point to virtually any successful person and odds are, you can find a quote from him or her saying something along the lines of “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” That particular rendition of the quote comes from Oprah Winfrey, but it’s a sentiment so broadly stated by so many successful people and re-shared on so many Facebook walls that it’s practically passé.

That’s unfortunate, because it’s so true and so often neglected.

3. Prioritize.

The above advice can go only so far if a big contract is about to fall through, debt is piling up or revenue is dropping through the floor. Ultimately, while the very definition of "entrepreneur" implies stress, we all have the tendency to create much of this stress ourselves by taking on more than we can handle.

To achieve success in your business, you have to prioritize so you won’t run that business into the ground taking on more projects than you can handle. But, while you may have mastered the following skills in the business sphere, it's time you also mastered them on the personal level. 

  • Delegate more, and avoid micromanagement. Hire new talent if the work isn’t getting done to satisfaction.
  • Learn to say “no” to that extra 10 percent, because it will feel more like 50 percent when you actually try to tackle it all.
  • Track the amount of time you spend on tasks. You'll quickly discover that certain tasks are eating up way too much of your time, for very little benefit.
  • Take a fresh look at your business and ask how you would do things right now if you were starting from the ground up. Or look at your business as if you were a consultant hired to evaluate it as an outsider. What processes would you throw out? What would you change to make it a less stressful environment?

Related: Stress Kills! 5 Ways to Keep Your Stress Levels Low.

Recognize and accept your stress, connect with your peers and reprioritize your business tasks. Do that and you'll likely see a dramatic change in your ongoing quality of life as an entrepreneur.

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How to Manage Stress and Anxiety as an Entrepreneur