Stress management techniques for entrepreneurs

As someone who specialises in supporting others to reduce stress, I found myself in an epicentre of stress as an entrepreneur: with a growing team and a growing client base I took on the responsibility for everyone and came close to burnout before I went back to basics and started applying what I knew.

It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur can be stressful and a lot of this comes from the fact that you can feel that you have less financial stability than before and as you grow you can feel the weight of decisions and other people’s finances can weigh heavily. I’ve been the entrepreneur who pays everyone else and doesn’t pay myself so I know the reality of running a business can often be one where you’re faced with tough decisions.

This was over a year ago now and was a valuable lesson for me: I went back to the basics and reminded myself of what I could control and where I could reduce my stress levels.

The starting point was to get real clarity over my finances: when I did I realised that there were a lot of things which we needed to cut, equally, I made a plan with my accountant: taking back control helped me reduce stress and feel more confident.

I then started applying the techniques which I teach in my coach training academy: Optimus and work with clients on to myself and it not only gave me space to make some big decisions it’s helped me enter another period of significant growth in the business without working crazy hours or feeling the pressure I did before.

My top tips to lower stress levels:

  • Stop and breathe! Whatever you’re doing, stop and take some deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can even try something like box breathing/square breathing– breathe in for four, hold for four, exhale for four and hold for four… and repeat. This technique distracts the mind as you count; it relaxes you and calms the nervous system and decreases stress in your body. Studies show that regulating your breath can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and maybe even help lower blood pressure.
  • Address your stress bucket - Ask, what can you remove from your stress bucket? This is a great tool you can use yourself and with clients to manage stress levels... Imagine there’s a bucket inside your body, collecting every ounce of your stress. Each day, your bucket is filled with smaller events, day-to-day things and bigger events. It can be near-empty one day, and full the other. What goes into your bucket boils down to how you feel about events and situations. Sometimes, we have so much going on that our buckets overflow. If this is you today, have a look at what you can take out. What can you take out of your bucket? It could be answering emails, getting the laundry done… What is it for you?
  • Boundaries - Setting boundaries is essential for our well-being. But how can we set them effectively? Is there a right or wrong way to set a boundary? You don’t need to apologise or over-explain - if you do, people will think you’re doing something wrong - but you’re not. Setting boundaries is a reasonable thing to do. Always be direct and clear when communicating that you can’t do something. Don’t worry if people aren’t happy about it - people may respond negatively to you setting boundaries, but don’t feel guilty. Some people take advantage of a lack of boundaries and might not enjoy your decision to protect yourself. Remember, this is about your well-being! Remind yourself this is an act of self-love - we set boundaries to limit our exposure to stress. Setting boundaries is a healthy act and something you should never feel guilty about doing. Have a post-boundary setting mantra, such as; ‘I’m doing this because I care about myself.’
  • Get outside: I live opposite a forest so it’s crazy that I was spending some days without being in nature. The forest is my stress-free zone and I spend time there every day whether it’s for a walk, run or cycle I know having time without my phone there will help me reduce stress levels and give me more positive energy.
  • Imagine connecting to yourself without stress - This version of you is floating in a pool of calm. Take some time to picture yourself in this state.  What are you thinking? What are you feeling? How are you behaving? What’s different? If you imagined yourself to be a calm person, what would change right now? What would you NO LONGER do? What would you do MORE of? Why does this work? Visualisation is the first step to building a new neural pathway in your brain, creating a calmer you. What can you do now to reinforce this pathway?
  • Stressor signs and coping mechanisms - We know that stress levels are impacted by many different variables in life and so, it’s important to; understand more about stress, recognise your own stressor signs, and find coping mechanisms that work for you. Revisit a time you felt stressed before and apply the stress-reduction strategy that helped you. Stress isn’t avoidable, but it can be managed.

As founders, we’re naturally going to be more susceptible to stress and managing it in a proactive way makes a difference as it enables us to be intentional about what we’re doing. Equally, when we have lower stress levels our brains can function more efficiently which means we can make better decisions.