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3 steps to manage stress and build resilience

Entrepreneurs face unique stresses and don’t always recognize them

Entrepreneurs often carry a lot of stress. They can feel isolated, bottling up anxieties while trying to project strength and optimism.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to be aware of their stress, find ways to manage it and build resilience. Doing so can help you be more successful and avoid the risk of burnout and other results of out-of-control stress.

“Business owners absolutely carry a lot of stress,” says Rumeet Billan, a leadership and resilience coach who works with the Canadian Mental Health Association on an initiative to transform workplace culture.

“They often feel they’re above the stress and are fine, even when they’re not.”

Entrepreneurs are more susceptible to stress and more likely to experience poor work-life balance and burnout as they run their businesses and try to keep them successful.

Workplace relations specialist Mary Ann Baynton agrees: “It’s very common for entrepreneurs to deny their stress. Entrepreneurs can be very successful a long time, then hit the wall. No one is invincible.”

Billan and Baynton offer three steps for managing stress and building resilience.

1. Evaluate your stress level

It’s important to regularly weigh your stress level. That way, you can be mindful of whether you’re doing a good job managing your stress, or if other solutions are needed.

A good time for a check-in is when you wake up in the morning. Ask yourself how you feel. “Check in with yourself instead of your phone,” Billan says.

Are you feeling happy and excited to start a new day? Are you tired before the day even gets going? Do you feel good about work and personal relationships?

A lack of self-awareness is a common problem for people whose stress has built up excessively. Then, it can sometimes take only a minor setback to push the person over the edge. “We’re so busy being busy that we’re not aware of how we’re feeling,” Baynton says.

“Business owners absolutely carry a lot of stress.”—leadership and resilience coach Rumeet Billan. “They often feel they’re above the stress and are fine, even when they’re not.”

2. Identify causes and solutions

It’s useful to take a solution-based approach to stress, much as you might when solving a business challenge. Start by thinking about the main things making you stressed. Next, decide on your goal or desired end-state. Finally, figure out how to get there from your current situation.

Here are some common stressors and possible solutions.

  • Business problems

Whether it’s cash flow, hiring or an investment decision, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed with business problems that seem hard or impossible to resolve.

Solutions: Recognize when a problem is beyond your capacity to handle well. If needed, hire an expert or business coach to help you find solutions. “Don’t just rely on advice from a friend,” Billan says. “Pay an expert.”

If you have too much on your plate, write down your tasks and consider delegating some of them. You may also need to step back and think about your business strategically. When was the last time you reviewed your strategic plan? Are you still aligned with it?

You might find it easier to reflect on your business if you take occasional breaks through the work day. “Breaks are a great way to allow us not to be stressed,” Billan says. “People often work through lunch, but taking a break lets us be more productive the rest of the day.”

  • Work-life balance

One of the most common causes of burnout for entrepreneurs is an unhealthy work-life balance.

Solutions: It’s important to set boundaries for your personal life. This will help you be more productive at work and maintain healthy personal relationships. The latter, in turn, are vital for managing stress and recovering from periods of burnout.

Also, remind yourself that you are not your business. “This is a huge challenge for many entrepreneurs,” Billan says. “They identify with their business and feel that setbacks reflect on them.”

  • Isolation, poor communication

Entrepreneurs often feel isolated, unable to talk about business anxieties and have a desire to project vision and strength.

Solutions: It’s important to create a business culture that allows good communication and fosters employee engagement. Give feedback in a constructive way, not by shaming, blaming or emphasizing mistakes and problems.

It’s also important to recognize your own mistakes and give yourself permission to be imperfect. “You have to have a way to make mistakes, talk about them and move forward,” Baynton says.

  • Technology

Constant connectedness is a growing cause of stress and depression.

Solutions: Find ways to limit device use, especially when not at work. This could include turning off notifications, putting your phone on silent or airplane mode, or not checking email at home.

3. Build resilience

Resilience is your ability to bounce back from setbacks, learn, grow and find meaning in challenges. It’s not about trying to harden yourself and ignoring stress. The latter approach, in fact, can aggravate stress symptoms and set you back even further.

The good news is that resilience can be learned with practice. “It’s about continual improvement,” Billan says.

This article was prepared by BDC in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

For more information, please read the study: Going it Alone: The mental health and well-being of Canada’s entrepreneurs.