One of the most stressful things an individual can do is to start and run their own business. The pressure always stays on, whether you are at the early stages or further along the journey. Furthermore, the constant uncertainty you have to deal with while trying to look after your people, investors, and home life can leave you not only stressed but lonely as well.
Even though living in a state of stress and even anxiety can be perceived as the norm for entrepreneurs, the fact is that stress is cumulative. Unless there are strategies in place to help an individual manage their stress and anxiety, it can lead to burnout. In case you are not familiar with the term, it is a concept recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a problem which arises from chronic or unrelenting high workplace stress that has not been managed successfully.
Unfortunately, neuroscience has shown that when we are under stress, the amygdala, which controls our natural fight-or-flight reaction, activates, diverting resources away from the prefrontal cortex, which controls logical thinking, problem-solving, decision making, and willpower. To put it another way, we would gain the most from slowing down in order to think broadly, create, and find solutions to the problems that are stressing us out. This is especially true when we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Here are 3 simple steps to help leaders gently step out of fight or flight mode and onto empowered action:
Step 1: Notice
Take a pause and notice the “worry thoughts” circling your head, and write these thoughts down on a piece of paper. According to a study, writing can lower stress by warding off unwelcome and intrusive thoughts. The study found that writing about trying situations may help you overcome them and put them into perspective so you can concentrate on the positive.
Step 2: Breathe
Now, bring your attention to your breathing. Numerous mindfulness and meditation practices emphasize paying great attention to your breathing. Take long, slow out-breaths and let the lungs fill up on the inhale naturally. Deep abdominal breathing promotes full oxygen exchange or the favourable exchange of incoming oxygen for departing carbon dioxide. That it can lower or stabilise blood pressure and slow the heartbeat is not surprising.
Step 3: Acknowledge
Don’t try to resist the “worry thoughts” and emotions, please. When you struggle, you in turn validate the power they exert over you; that is what keeps people in their fight or flight mode. Instead, acknowledge your thoughts, and continue breathing. This is the first step you will take towards accepting the fact that life is, in fact, uncertain.
Step 4: Be in the Present
No one explains this step better than Master Oogway! “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it present.” When you stay focused on the ‘now’, you feel a greater sense of control.
As an exercise, bring your attention to your surroundings and notice the first 5 things you see, or the first 5 sounds you hear. Simple mindfulness exercises like this can help you leave the worries of the past and anxiousness of the future, and bring yourself back to the present.
There will always be days when you have low energy or feel downright sad. But it does good to remember that when a business leader burns out, both their team and the business bear the brunt of it.
This is where you draw upon the notion of self-care.
If you want to grow into the best version of yourself and inspire those around you to do the same, taking the time to invest in your own wellbeing is worthwhile.