Running a small business has its highs and its lows. As the owner, you are the face of the business, and how you manage your stress says a lot to staff and clients about how you manage your business. The good news is that, once identified, stress can be managed.
Identifying the signs
While stress is an internal state, when we are unable to deal with it effectively it can manifest itself in a variety of ways recognisable to those around us. These manifestations can be categorised into five interconnected groups:
Behavioural: You may notice your behaviour towards staff and clients changes when you are under stress. A common reaction is being snappy or abrupt. Not only is this an ineffective way of managing your team, it is especially damaging when directed at existing or potential clients. Other behavioural signs include immediate behaviours such as nail biting, pacing, twitching, or more delayed ones such as increased drinking or smoking.
Physical: We often dismiss the physical signs of stress. However, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia or even high blood pressure can result from mismanaged stress. Changes in diet such as eating too much or not enough can also be an indicator.
Emotional: Managing your emotions in business is crucial. It tells others how in control we are, and can influence how those around us are feeling. Emotional signs of stress can include frustration, anger, or even mood swings. Emotional instability in the workplace not only affects group dynamics, but can also make staff reluctant to discuss concerns in fear of your reaction.
Psychological: Stress can affect the way we think. Recurrent negative thinking and a negative attitude are primary examples. While we all experience the psychological effects of stress at times, in more severe cases, depression and/or anxiety may become an issue.
Interpersonal/social: Part of managing business stress effectively is successfully separating your business life from your personal one. Indicators this is not happening can include disagreements or arguments with your partner, friends or family relating to the business, excessive time at home dedicated to contemplating problems relating to the business, or a general sense that you are often “taking work home with you”.
So what can you do to overcome, or at the very least manage, these stress factors?
Modify your attitude
Your attitude towards a stressful event can make all the difference. If you can accept that stress is a normal and unavoidable part of not only business, but life, you will be able to approach the situation as a challenge rather than a crisis. Try to look at things from different perspectives and, if possible, find the positive in a negative situation. If you take the approach that you can learn from every scenario, problems become opportunities for improvement for your business.
Manage the event or situation
They say that when it rains, it pours, and in business stressful situations often come on strong and fast. To manage various stressful situations at once, aim to practice time management and set priorities. Identify the tasks which are most important and work your way down. Have backup plans in the event of the unexpected and avoid procrastination, which can lead to even more stress, and try to think ahead.
It is also important to learn how to say “no”. Business owners often avoid this as they do not want to come across as not participating or difficult. However, sometimes it is necessary in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Remember that it is better to do a few tasks well than several tasks half-heartedly.
Make yourself a priority
Listen to your body and pay attention to the physical, emotional and mental signs that you may need a break. It’s easier said than done, but make relaxation and rejuvenation a priority. Consider it a benefit to your business and make the time. Develop a support network so that you are able to discuss the things that are concerning you, and don’t be afraid to ask for external or professional help if you feels things are getting out of control.
Stress is more often than not a given when running a small business. The key is to recognise the signs and take the appropriate steps to overcome them. By doing so, you will not only be in a better headspace, you will also have a clearer direction to take your business forward.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.