No one ever said building a business would be easy.
While entrepreneurs’ difficulties and hard work typically go on to earn them success and high incomes, there is also a price to pay in terms of stress, mental health, and overall well-being.
Entrepreneurs, business leaders, and trail-blazing founders are sometimes admired for their drive and tenacity, but the risks associated with mental health, stress, and well-being aren’t always as glamorized as their pursuits and inventions.
Take the story of high-profile venture capitalist Brad Feld. He began blogging on his site and started a column in Inc. Magazine called “Surviving the Dark Nights of the Soul,” where he detailed his bouts of depression, anxiety, and stress as an entrepreneur. His blog generated a massive reaction from the entrepreneurial community, to his surprise. He described hundreds of emails coming in from entrepreneurs – some well-known names included – relating to his experience and thanking him for reminding them that they are not alone.
Stress is something that, if not kept in check, can cause significant challenges that will serve to hinder your success rather than help you achieve your goals as an entrepreneur.
As the topics of mental health and cultivating a healthier, more balanced work/life balance begin to gain more and more momentum in mainstream culture, entrepreneurs must understand what stress is. By understanding stress and what causes it, you will be more capable of de-stressing and leading a lifestyle that facilitates balance.
Understanding the Stress Response
Historically, entrepreneurs have thought that the only way to succeed is to live and breathe work and stress until achieving their wildest dreams. With the previous stories of people suffering and grinding themselves into mental illness reaching the mainstream conversation, it is becoming well known that this is not the way to become successful.
Managing stress requires a baseline understanding of what stress is. The more you understand the stress mechanism, the better you will be at mindfully managing stress and providing helpful advice to others.
While many people view stress as an unfortunate invader of their day that is no longer necessary for modern life, the body’s stress response system is a valuable asset that can help us control our thoughts and actions when appropriately managed.
Stress itself, especially the chemicals released in this state, can work to strengthen your immune system, boost your energy levels, and tone your ability to tolerate stress.
Many people understand that stress developed as ancient humans needed the stress response to prep their body for action to escape from the bear or defend themselves from human attacks. It still serves as a warning sign. While this is true, this is a very narrow narrative for stress, and it is naive to think that ancient humans didn’t experience the same stresses that we experience today. They also had aspirations of greatness, dealt with death, fell in love – you get the idea.
The point is that at its core, stress is a generalized system.
It wasn’t solely designed to protect us from bear attacks. Its core function is to mobilize other systems in the body and either prep them for action or bring them back to a state of rest.
It is better to think of your body as having a complete stress response system. Doing so helps shift your mindset and trains your body to tolerate and handle stress in a more balanced and effective manner. The name for this system in your body is the autonomic nervous system – so named because it works automatically to either prepare you for action or bring the body back to rest, as we mentioned earlier.
The fact that the stress management system in the body is generalized gives humans a unique advantage in the ability to take control of the state of their brain and body. There are hard-wired biological processes present in your body, and if you know how to activate them, they can help you put the brake on stress and lead a more balanced, healthy, and fulfilling life.
So, if you are alive and reading this article, you do have the capacity to control your stress!
Stress Management Tips for Entrepreneurs
The best tools for stress relief directly link to your autonomic nervous system.
While the system is automatic, we do have some control over it. It is essential to understand how to mitigate stress in real-time. You can train your stress response system to become more responsive and adaptive over the long term, which is hugely beneficial if you have been suffering from stress for a long time.
1. Getting your mindset right
You cannot force success, nor can you will it into existence.
Entrepreneurs experience daily stress because they often try to rush the process and force themselves into success and money.
This brings us to our first piece of advice:
As an entrepreneur, it can be easy to focus on your bottom line and forget that your productivity, creativity, and basic energetic capabilities depend entirely on your health. The first step to managing stress as an entrepreneur is to acknowledge that you are human and that if you let your stress get out of hand, your businesses, your success, productivity, and your health will suffer. Try to start by taking an inventory of your daily and weekly schedules and how much time you are allotting for self-care, exercise, healthy eating, and active rest compared to work and stress.
2. Breathwork and Meditation
One of the most critical factors for mitigating stress is to find a balance between work and your needs for sustenance, rest, and connection. One way to re-balance your body if it feels overly activated or stressed is to engage in breathwork or meditation. Studies repeatedly show that mindfulness meditation can reduce the stress response, bolster your ability to tolerate stress, and improve focus, clarity, and happiness.
Poor breathing, such as not getting enough air through the nose, is a primary contributor to stress. Excess stress negatively affects mental, physical, and emotional health.
According to meditation master Ashley Turner, getting started with meditating should be a relaxing and straightforward process that you ease into. She recommends a few essential tips – get comfortable, sit tall, and relax! Meditation is a practice that needs to be a ritual to be successful.
Be sure to start slow, focus on your breathing, and be mindful of your thoughts. Don’t let it get to you if you get distracted or go off on a thought tangent! Acknowledge it without judgment, bring your mind back home, and focus on your breathing. When you start, it can be helpful to do guided meditations and to listen to soothing music that compliments your practice. Additionally, using a biofeedback wearable device can help you gauge the effect of breathwork and meditation on your physiological health.
3. Use Physical Stressors as Training
We believe that thoughts, emotions, and worrying about the future can cause stress. However, physical stressors also trigger the very same system. Remember, stress, in and of itself, is not the bad guy. The bad guy is chronic, continuous stress. If your body is not getting adequate food, rest, or social connection, you place extra, unneeded stress on this system.
The body does not distinguish between physical and emotional distress, so you can use physical stressors to train your body to become more adaptable and handle stress. You can also add or remove certain practices within your routine that will improve energy and reduce the amount of stress you feel.
Some practices that you can implement to improve your body’s stress response system include:
- Cold Therapy – Cold therapy is a proven method to train your body to mitigate stress. To get the benefits of cold therapy, you can take cold showers, a dip in an ice bath, do cryotherapy, or even go outside on a cold day without a jacket. The point here is to purposely expose your body to discomfort, similar to working out. Studies show that the benefits of cold therapy can include better mood, decreased inflammation, increased energy, improved metabolism, better focus, and an overall more robust stress response system.
- Exercise – Exercise is a tried and true method for reducing stress. Whether you lift weights, do yoga, or go on a run, it is critical to engage in exercise as an entrepreneur to balance your life and better manage stress. Exercise helps get your mind off work and helps you train your body and mind to be the best they can be.
4. The Physiological Sigh
Many people don’t know that if you want to control your stress at the moment, you need to activate the body’s natural stress reduction system, known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This natural system has specific “levers” that you can pull on that will work to de-stress your body almost instantly and help you feel more relaxed very quickly.
To activate this system, you can implement the “physiological sigh”. This basic breath technique is different than mindfulness breathwork – it is more targeted at directly controlling your body’s ability to relax. You need to inhale twice in succession and then let out an extended exhale to perform this technique. Your parasympathetic nervous system signals your brain to slow the heart down and trigger the body to go back to a more restful state.
The science behind this technique is pretty dense, but to summarize, your diaphragm moves down upon exhaling, creating more space for the heart. The double inhale also allows for greater gas exchange and expansion of the lungs’ alveoli–this has a direct connection via the vagus nerve. This works to trigger the natural system in the body that works to de-stress your body, which is one of the only ways that can allow you to calm down in real-time physiologically.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep
Nothing wreaks more havoc on your health and stress levels than sleep deprivation. While staying up until 2 am and waking up at sunrise every day may make it seem like you will be getting ahead, all you are doing is diminishing your ability to think clearly and be a valuable resource for your ventures.
Sleep is essential because of the healing mechanisms that engage during deep, restful sleep. Sleep deprivation inhibits proper cognition, problem-solving skills, attention span, memory, patience, the ability to connect with friends and family, and even your physical health. These problems make it more challenging to get good sleep, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule to rebalance your system and improve your ability to reduce the debilitating effects of stress. Over time, this will help to rebalance your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), which gives your body a better ability to manage stress whenever it arises.
The Importance of Stress Management for Entrepreneurs
As you put these stress management routines and stress management techniques into practice, you will begin to notice that you will become much more able to perform and do good work in the world as an entrepreneur. Additionally, you will see that you have a deeper feel for what stresses you out and the toll that extraordinary amounts of stress can take on your body. The days of grinding yourself to the bone at the price of your health and sanity are over. A new generation of entrepreneurs focused on leading healthy and sustainable careers is paving a new path forward.
If you want to take charge and keep track of your progress on your journey to re-balancing your body’s stress response system, biofeedback wearables such as Hanu can help you get deep insights into this system. Understanding and tracking your heart rate variability can give you a powerful ability to gain deep insights into how your body’s stress response system is performing and how well you are balancing stress in your life.