Running your own business can be stressful and holiday periods aren’t always an escape, as you can spend weeks beforehand trying to get ahead and weeks afterwards trying to catch up!

So as you get back into the swing of things after the winter break, here are six steps you can take to help reduce your stress.

Consider the causes

Countless studies reveal stress as a big downside of running your own business, whether you run it entirely on your own or with a small team.

However, that doesn’t mean you should just accept that stress is part of the package and will never end. There will be specific reasons behind your stress and it’s important to take the time to pin down those causes: the who and the what.

Perhaps it’s an unreliable supplier; a late payer; a less-than-dedicated business partner; an unreliable member of staff; or trying to handle everything yourself, including tasks that aren’t your area of expertise, such as accountancy or web design.

It’s only by identifying the causes of your stress that you can plan positive steps to tackle it—so take the time.

Avoid overload

Modern life has made being too busy and working too many hours into something of a virtue and the backlash—the number of people suffering increased mental health issues—has seen GPs increasingly prescribing techniques and therapies like mindfulness and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), along with an increased public interest in self-care and self-help.

Don’t be tempted to take on more than you can handle. We all know people with high-powered jobs who also seem to be the perfect partner, parent, son/daughter and friend while raising money for charity, spending hours at the gym and leading the local scout group! But don’t be fooled; they may not be particularly happy and they risk burnout.

It’s okay to say no and it’s okay not to fill your schedule to bursting point with ‘must-dos’. Time spent doing not very much at all is important for your wellbeing, so leave free time in your day and your week. Too tired to enjoy that lunch with your friend? If it’s feasible, apologise and reschedule. Too much on to mentor that relative starting their own business? Apologise, explain that they deserve a mentor with more time to give and point them in the right direction to find one.

Accept that you can’t do everything

You may be a great marketer. You may know everything about every car you sell from your forecourt or every quality control test your company offers. But perhaps you’re not sure how to get the multifunction printer/copier to do that clever colour, back to back, gatefold staple printing it does to produce the company brochures, how to add a product to your online catalogue or how to fill in your tax return.

That’s fine. None of us are experts at everything, and trying to do it all is a definite source of stress. So accept you can’t—and find someone who can. Whether that means delegating to an existing employee, taking on a new employee, outsourcing to a company or hiring a freelancer, do it—knowing that your time could be more productively spent doing what you’re good at.

Don’t fear the future: be in the now

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ is a common saying and for good reason. It’s also something that business owners struggle with.

The message to take away is not to spend time worrying about what may or may not happen in the future, but to attend to the things that concern you today, because that’s quite enough to be coping with.

Try to remember that worrying about things you can’t control won’t change the outcome. Focus on making positive changes to things you can control, in the here and now, instead.

Take a break

Taking time off can be difficult when you run a business, but try! Ensure you take breaks during the day, too. This isn’t slacking, but just the opposite. Research has proved again and again that we think more clearly and are more productive when we give ourselves a break. It allows our brains time to assimilate information, reorder it in a logical fashion and make links, and the space to come up with new ideas.

Creative people often claim to come up with their best ideas when they’re performing a mindless task or going for a walk; activities that we do on autopilot without needing to engage our brain in deep thinking. So let your brain switch off now and then, trusting the science that says this makes you more productive—not less.

Look after your physical health

We tend to think of physical and mental health as separate things, but they can affect each other so profoundly that they’re indivisible. Poor sleep, be that insufficient sleep, poor quality sleep or both, can be far more detrimental than many of us realise, affecting our concentration, memory and reaction times. Studies have shown that tiredness can sometimes impair our performance more than alcohol.

It’s important to get good sleep, stay hydrated and eat regular, healthy meals (making sure you sit down long enough to chew what you’re eating and digest it). Exercise is also important for reducing stress, as it releases feel-good endorphins and helps to regulate blood sugar levels, aside from all its other positive effects (lowering blood pressure and reducing our risk of heart attacks, strokes, type II diabetes and some cancers).

Stress can damage pour physical health, our relationships and our business, so don’t brush it off. Take positive steps today to reduce the stress in your life.

Are you taking steps to improve your stress levels? What tips would you give other SME owners? Please share your thoughts below. 

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