How to Prevent Anxiety From Ruining Your Business

Some stress is a good thing and can even propel your business forward, but when stress turns to anxiety, it can be debilitating.

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By Lisa Evans

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As an entrepreneur, you battle uncertainty daily. Will you make enough money? Will you lose clients? Will the market suddenly shift and cause a change in your business plan? While studies have shown some stress can be helpful and even fuel your success, when stress turns into anxiety, it can be detrimental both to your mental health and to the health of your business.

Los Angeles-based psychotherapist John Tsilimparis, author of Retrain Your Anxious Brain, says anxiety happens when the body tries to protect itself from external threats. "All living things, throughout evolution, have stayed alive because this anxiety function protects them," he says. When the brain scans its environment and finds things that are threatening, it engages the fight, flight or freeze response system.

While early in human evolution, this system was engaged when humans felt threatened by a wild bear or some other predator, today this system can be triggered by fear of disappointing somebody, being late for a meeting, not making enough money or fear of being fired. These fears can serve as healthy motivators, causing entrepreneurs to be more ambitious, to seek out clients and set their watch five minutes ahead. "We need to always have something to be afraid of otherwise we become complacent; we don't create, we don't move forward," says Tsilimparis.

Related: How to Recover When Stress Starts to Build Up

But where stress crosses the line from being helpful to harmful is when it begins to impair your ability to enjoy life and function at work.

So, how do you prevent stress from crossing the line from provoking success to fueling anxiety? Tsilimparis has four suggestions:

1. Balance your need for perfection.

The old adage "in every failure there's success and in every success there is failure" certainly holds true, but individuals who suffer from anxiety often hold the belief that everything has to be done right. "They succeed at 100 percent, but fail at 97 percent," says Tsilimparis.

While there's nothing wrong with aiming high, perfectionism causes you to look at the world in all-or-nothing, black-or-white terms. This kind of thinking results in exacerbated stress levels and can be debilitating in our working lives. Imagine if you expect your product to be absolutely perfect. It may never make it to market.

2. Stop being a people pleaser.

Others, too, can feed your anxiety. Seeking to impress everyone you meet and being devastated if you feel you've disappointed someone means that your self-worth is defined by others' opinions of you. This type of thinking can be debilitating, especially for entrepreneurs. Tsilimparis says individuals who suffer from low self-esteem frequently doubt themselves and have difficulty making decisions because they're too afraid of the consequences and what others may think of them.

Related: How to Run a Business and Keep Your Weekends Too

3. Give up the illusion of control.

Of course, we know rationally that it's impossible to have control over everything that happens to us in our lives, but individuals who suffer from anxiety often have an incessant need to for control. The problem is the search for a guarantee that things will turn out the way they envision will only serve to make them feel out of control and fuel their anxiety.

4. Practice relaxation techniques.

Tsilimparis recommends deep breathing (breathing from the diaphragm to send a boost of oxygen to the brain) and progressive muscle relaxation (slowly tensing then relaxing muscle groups) to calm the body's stress response and help prevent an anxiety attack.

Related: How to Stop Feeding Your Stress With Food

Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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