As I’ve reflected on previously in my book, 20 Simple Shortcuts to Small Business Success, running a business never really gets easy, and it’s pretty much always stressful.
- As fast as one challenge is surmounted, another presents itself.
- Situations you thought were resolved unresolve themselves.
- Longtime staff move on.
- Economies change.
- Industries are disrupted.
And for the majority of my business life, I haven’t dealt with stress very well. Without fail, once a certain stress threshold was crossed, anxiety would be triggered, and from there, a slide into depression wouldn’t be too far away. For a long time, I avoided this cycle by outsourcing all our business stress to my husband. But all that did was make him horribly stressed out … and eventually, it burnt him out.
Mmm. Not ideal.
I had to figure out some techniques for managing stress better so that every period of prolonged stress didn’t drop me in a hole of anxiety and depression. And I’m happy to report to you from the end of 2018 that I think I’ve found a winning combination of mindsets.
Despite 2018 being a crazily stressful year in which we stopped paying office rent, ungrew our business, (which takes as much time and effort as growing a business) and I worked on no less than 12 books in some shape or form (coaching, editing, writing or design) …
I got tired.
I got overwhelmed.
And yes, I even got a bit burnt out.
But I never ended up in the ‘let’s sell everything we own and move to a shack in the bush’ place I always go to when depressed and wondering what the point of it all is.
And it was all thanks to finally fully buying into the following mindsets:
1. Only the controllable can be controlled
In the early years of my business I got into the habit of thinking if I was really organised and could anticipate what people needed before they needed it, and what people thought before they thought it, I could effectively control stressful situations out of my life.
Ha! All this line of thinking achieved was me getting angry at myself whenever a stressful situation arose because I had failed to mind-read the person involved and prevent it before it happened.
Yes, I know. Even I can see how ridiculous it sounds now that I’ve written it down.
These days I know that no matter how organised we are, challenges will continue to present themselves. But the good thing about life is …
2. We can always deal with the ‘now’
A while ago someone told me I had to read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now because it would be life-changing. And they were right.
Whenever I find myself wanting to go lie down in the corner in the foetal position, I return to a single line from that book:
You can always cope with the now.”
Tolle is right. My strike rate for dealing with the ‘now’ is 100%. And so is yours. We don’t have to like dealing with the ‘now’. We just need to know that we can and will.
3. Stress is only as bad as you think it is
A few years ago I saw a TED Talk from Kelly McGonigal titled How to make stress your friend. In that talk, she shared the results of a study that tracked 30,000 adults in the US:
… they started by asking people, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” And then they used public death records to find out who died.
People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health.
People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.”
This was a big revelation for me because (ignoring my personal stress => anxiety => depression equation for a moment) I always believed stress was physiologically bad for humans, which justified my avoidance of it.
Listening to McGonigal’s talk completely flipped that thinking for me and has totally changed how I respond to stress situations today.
4. Running a business is a privilege
Comparisons can be odious. But sometimes they can also be a nice reality check. These days, if I’m feeling stressed about something, I remind myself how privileged I am to live in a country where a woman has the freedom and tools to start her own business. I’m also privileged to:
- Live in a country where the barriers to starting and running your own business are negligible
- Own a business that’s 12 years old (given how many businesses fail in their first year)
- Own a business that’s surmounted many challenges and been able to evolve in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.
But most of all I’m privileged because, when challenges present themselves, I have the support and resources to take them on. Not everyone has that.
5. Surmounting challenges equals growth
Every challenge I’ve faced since I first started my business has led to learning and growth that I’ve been able to put to good use.
These days I:
- Make better decisions.
- Have learned to spot the difference between an ‘opportunity’ and a giant time suck.
- Have become a better problem solver and communicator.
In short, all those challenges have made me a better person—personally and professionally.
I just had to stop fighting them and accept them as part of the process instead.