For the past couple of weeks I’ve been on a speaking tour across Australia. At one seminar I met a man who runs his own business. Like many small business people he has periods of not enough work, followed by times of too much work. The start of the year was quiet for him, but now he has three big contracts and is working twelve-hour days plus he has a young family. He supervises staff, sometimes travels away from home and is constantly dealing with clients. He is so busy that he was reluctant to come along to the Passion to Profit seminar, despite buying his ticket weeks ago. I did feel for this man and I’ve been in similar situations myself – pushed to breaking point however, I do have a few secrets when it comes to coping with stress.
When it comes to stress management, the first thing you need to establish is where the stress is coming from. Sometimes we end up feeling like we’re under attack on multiple fronts, but there can also be unacknowledged sources of anxiety. For example I once had a friend who was doing a PhD, but he was also in an unhappy relationship. He complained of being constantly stressed by his studies, but the true source of his distress was the relationship. He only stopped feeling stressed when he admitted to himself and his partner that he was unhappy and needed out. Where is your stress coming from? If you are uncertain, keep a stress diary and note in the diary when your stress levels peak.
If a heavy workload is the source of your stress then be realistic about how long the situation can be sustained. Isabel Parlett, from the renowned Parlance Training Company, once said, “The sure-fire recipe for failure is to suck it up and try to do it all”. Scott Ebiln, author of the book Overworked and Overwhelmed: the Mindfulness Alternative, wrote: “The only person who is going to keep you from feeling overworked and overwhelmed is you.”
If you are pushing yourself to breaking point, then something will soon give, and it could be your mental or physical health that will break. To save yourself you need to accept that not everything will get done, and you need to be realistic and decide what will be completed and what will not get done. Doctors in the emergency departments of hospitals have to make these calls in dire circumstances. Identify the most important contracts to your company and fulfil these requirements first. Organise your workload not just by deadlines, but to satisfy your most important clients first. You need to be able to differentiate between the “must’s” and the “should’s” when you’re under pressure. Also do not be a perfectionist. Just get the job done to the best of your ability given time constraints.
Always know that there is an out. If your job is stressing you, consider leaving and following another passion. If your business is crushing you, consider selling it or shutting up shop. Yes, it may cost you. You may even have to move house, but I’m sure your health and well-being is ultimately more important to your family than money. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world had failed businesses. Just remember, you have choices, even in times of stress.
All work and no play will lead to a break down. You must take time out for exercise. Go for a walk in a park once a day, walk to the shops for a coffee with a friend. Keep doing the things you like. Make time for reading or doing your favourite hobby. Get plenty of sleep. Do not live on sugar and coffee while you work late. It would be better to get up early, eat well and do some work before 7am.
Do not worry about variables you cannot control. At the end of the day, worrying about what you can’t control is not going to help the situation. If you have done a good pitch for a new contract, you have to then let the cards fall where they will. You might get the contract, you might not. The worst thing for stress is trying to control the uncontrollable. You will only get more stressed and feel like a failure. Reserve your energy for what you can control – how you organise your workload and interact with staff. I love the verses from Matthew, when we are told very firmly that worrying is a waste of energy: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry!”
Adjust how you see difficult situations and stay positive. For example if you get stuck in traffic do not get angry about wasting your precious time, but view it as a chance to relax and take a few deep breaths.
Try to have a sense of humour, but this is easier said than done. Have you had the opportunity in your life to spend any time with ex-servicemen? Soldiers that have served in war zones have faced stresses that few of us can imagine. One of their coping mechanisms is humour, even in the darkest times they and their mates have made light of the situation. Sometimes being able to laugh in times of extreme adversity keeps you sane. Remember that cheesy line from the Titanic movie that Leonardo DiCaprio mutters before the ship sinks, “I don't know about you, but I intend on writing a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all of this.” Indulging in some gallows humour, when stressed, helps relieve tension.
Do everything you can to eliminate other sources of stress from your life. Avoid people who stress or tax you in difficult times. If the TV news makes you anxious, stop watching it. Neglect a few domestic chores for a while.
If you cannot get on top of your stress you must seek professional help. You need to talk to your GP. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
When you are really stressed, stop and think about the good things you have in your life – your health, your family, a country that is not at war or ruled by a dictator. These are blessings.