Saturday, November 2, 2013

Small Business Tips - Dealing with stress

Stress in small business
When you're running a small business, there will very likely be times when you experience stress...... times when you're feeling overwhelmed and feeling as though you're "just barely hanging on by your fingertips"

How well you deal with these stressful periods will become one predictor of your future success and just as importantly, your ability to enjoy it.

So let's have a brief look at some of the dynamics of stress  and what you can do to manage your stress levels and stay healthy, resilient and positive .....

  • What can be the effects of stress?
This may surprise you, but not all stress is bad. Some level of stress can actually energise us and contribute to enhanced performance. If you've ever played competitive sport, you will probably have experienced the effects of a bit of healthy pressure ...... An important game that you want to win - you feel excited and you're looking forward to the challenge.. You feel alert and keen. You encourage your team-mates and feel confident in your ability to bring your "A" game to the table.

But equally, you may have experienced the effects of excessive pressure when you played. You've felt tense and nervous ..... you find yourself worrying about making mistakes and losing the game. Your anxiety interferes with any enjoyment of the game - what's more, your decision making and reflexes seem to have slowed down. You get tired more easily and lose sight of the bigger picture. Nothing seems to be going right - you just want the game to be over.

Well, the effects of stress upon you in your business aren't all that different. If you can manage the level of stress and keep it within a healthy range, then that moderate level of pressure can bring out the best in you. But too much stress for too long a period - and you can damage your health, as well as the fabric of your business. It can contribute to tension headaches, indigestion, sleeplessness, moodiness, irritability and lethargy. Sustained high stress levels can lead to burnout and even depression.

  • What can cause stress in business?
Different people can become stressed by different things - you can put two different people in the same situation and they don't necessarily both become stressed. One might feel comfortable and another might feel anxious and threatened ....... It all depends upon how people perceive their ability to handle a situation. When you have confidence in your ability to meet the demands that you are encountering, then you won't become so easily stressed - until you over-extend yourself, that is.

Putting aside individual differences, some of the most common causes of stress for small business owners can be things like ....
  1. Cash flow problems
  2. Economic downturn
  3. Staff absenteeism and under-performance
  4. Demanding customers with unrealistic expectations
  5. New competition
  6. Long working hours
  7. Conflict in the workplace or at home
  8. Change and uncertainty

  • So, what can you do to cope with stress?
Well, the best thing is to prevent your stress levels from escalating and becoming "too much". In other words, monitor yourself and learn to recognise some of the early signs that you're becoming overly-stressed - then do something different. If you're getting too stressed, then you've got to change something - either in the situation or within yourself ..... Sometimes by changing the way you are looking at a situation and the way you're thinking about it can actually change the way you feel about it. A shift in "perspective" can sometimes help us to let go of stressful emotions. Learning to accept what is - rather than dwelling on what we think should be.

As corny as it sounds, the old saying really does apply in business...... "Control what you can and adapt to what you can't control". There's no point thinking or worrying about those things that are beyond your control to influence. So, spend your time and mental energy more wisely on identifying what you can improve.

For example, you can't change the fact that a new competitor has entered your part of the market. So you do your research, You learn as much as you can about their products and services. You identify points of difference that you can exploit and leverage - the same way that you've done in the past, with other competition.

The point here is that you were likely initially feeling threatened by the "unknown" factor - but once you've collected information then you can start making informed decisions about any necessary changes to your marketing strategy moving forward. The anxiety of the unknown is reduced as you start taking action. You can control the way you will respond to this new competitor, but you can't control what they will do.

  • Look after your physical well-being
There is no question that your physical and mental well-being typically go hand-in-hand. So care for your body ...... ensure you get enough sleep, eat nutritious food and get enough regular  exercise to maintain a reasonable degree of physical fitness. These fundamental routines will mean it's more likely you'll have the physical stamina to cope with the stressful and demanding times that arise in your business - and therefore you'll also be more capable of remaining mentally tough

  • Five quick stress management tips
  1. Plan ahead, manage your time and prioritise your tasks. This discipline is one of the best things you can do to prevent harmful stress in the first place
  2. Ask for help and advice when you need it. Avoid thinking that you've got to handle it all by yourself ...... Whether it is talking to your mentor, your spouse or even a member of your staff whom you trust. If you have a problem, try not to bottle it up - you're not the only one who might be able to find a solution
  3. Keep a healthy work-life balance. Avoid falling into the habit of spending excessively long hours on the business - it's meant to be e means to an end, not an end of itself
  4. Ensure you develop hobbies and interests outside of the business that help you to relax, switch-off and have some fun. A healthy sense of humour and a regular laugh is a great defence against mental stress
  5. Keep perspective when things go wrong ...... try to avoid sweating the small stuff. Ask yourself in the bigger scheme of things, how critical is this issue?

In the following short video clip, some of the common symptoms of stress are identified and some sound advice offered on simple ways of controlling negative workplace stress

There are many other ideas that can help you when dealing with stress  But above all, try and remember that a significant degree of stress in business can be self-created when we worry about stuff that may not even happen, or dwell upon things that are beyond our control to influence. As the wise man on the T-shirt proclaims, "Sh..t happens" When we can't change it, we've simply got to find a way to adapt and start moving forward again.

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential