There are plenty of perks to owning your business — like being the boss, for one. You get to see your own plans and dreams come to life. And you can set the company track exactly as you see fit. But the downside to running a small business? All of the stress that comes with it. That’s why learning to manage stress is crucial for small biz owners.
“Managing stress is important as a business owner because typically, we tend to be sole proprietors or have few employees,” says Amanda Pratt MSW, LCSW, CPLC, The Chronic Illness Therapist, Imagine Life Therapy. “This means that if we burn out, it can ultimately slow business progress or momentum and when we aren’t well, our businesses can’t be well. We also know that if we cope poorly with stress, we tend to have worse physical and mental health outcomes overall, so business owner or not, this is an area that I feel should be a top priority for all of us.”
Reducing stress should always be at the top of your to-do list to keep you sane — and your company healthy, too. “That’s why it’s important not to feel guilty for stepping back or prioritizing some ‘me’ time,” says Poppy Greenwood, mental health advocate, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of female entrepreneur support platform Meyvnn.
Luckily, there are plenty of small business stress management techniques that will help take away the tension and anxiety of your work. Give these tactics a try to manage your stress levels.
8 Ways to Handle Small Biz Stress
1. Recognize What’s Going Well
“This is one of the first things I will point out to clients — it’s just as important to recognize what’s going well (if not more so) as it is to recognize where things aren’t going so well,” Pratt says.
“Strategies that work best for us tend to play off our strengths. It’s also good to take inventory of areas of coping where we tend to have more engaged or active responses to stress (versus disengaged responses) and can inform our future attempts at other areas of stress management. We all have habits that come more naturally to us that are healthy, and I believe these are the strategies we should tap into first to address when creating a stress management plan.”
Plus, when you consider what’s going right with your business, that instantly puts you in a positive mindset, which makes it much easier to combat stress. “Taking stock of things that have gone well helps you put into perspective the change you are affecting and the growth that you have achieved,” Greenwood says. “Feeling that you’re making progress, no matter how small, is one of the best ways to relax. It helps you to recognize you’re on a journey, and that your work towards whatever goal you have is pushing you forwards.
“It also just makes you feel more organized,” Greenwood says. “Being able to identify where things are working or are not makes you feel like you have control over what is happening, in what can feel like the chaos of running a business.”
Focusing on the good things about your business also keeps your mind in the present. “When you’re stressed, your brain tells you that you have to stay vigilant,” says Drema Dial, Ph.D., psychologist and life coach. “Your brain goes into hyperdrive with all the things that could be going wrong, will go wrong, might have already gone wrong, and how will you fix it! This is one way our brain uses to keep us locked into familiar routines. This is precisely why it’s imperative to break this cycle, which keeps us chained to unhealthy coping behaviors and keeps your stress level high.”
2. Identify Your Stressors
“Identifying your stressors is vital to be able to tackle them,” Greenwood says. “Stress usually comes from a problem you haven’t yet started to solve or are having trouble solving. I think the best way to identify stressors is to take a step back. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re constantly working and adjusting and testing to grow. Being in that kind of intense mindset all day long can really constrict a wider perspective you need to really pinpoint the areas that are causing you stress and how best to tackle them. Once you’ve identified what is causing you stress, you are much more able to work out how to deal with it. And even just identifying what is causing you stress can help alleviate some of it.”
Remember that people respond to stress in their own unique way. “Self-awareness is key here because everyone is different,” says Mike McDonnell, international speaker, serial entrepreneur, global brand co-owner and podcaster. Once you know what stresses you out, you can delegate those tasks to others. If that’s not an option, knowing that a particular part of the job triggers anxiety can help you prepare to tackle it and just take a deep breath before going in. Over time, you can work on changing your response to the stressor.
“We can do this through practicing mindfulness techniques to open our awareness to our body sensations, thoughts, and behaviors,” Pratt says. “We can also self-monitor through journaling or tracking mood states, symptoms and thought habits. And while it’s good to identify stressors, it’s even more important to identify our perceptions and responses to these stressors. Research shows us that it matters less what the stressor is and more how we respond to the stressor.”
3. Build a Solid Schedule
“Structure is important because the more we plan, the less we have to actively anticipate what might happen,” Pratt says. “Planning helps us have a greater sense of self-efficacy or confidence in our ability to handle whatever might come up.”
When you have a regular routine, you know what to expect at work, and that gives you a sense of peace and control, making it easier to keep stress at bay. If you know in advance that you have a difficult item to cross off your to-do list, tackle it first thing in the morning to avoid that sense of dread. Plus, you’ll feel accomplished and ready to conquer whatever else comes your way.
Related: 17 Ways to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home
“Your body also likes a routine — it’s good for your circadian rhythm, which is effectively your internal body clock that can dictate things like when you feel tired or energized and can really impact your ability to focus,” Greenwood says. “For example, I know my energy and concentration dip around 3 p.m. So, in my routine around that time, I usually have a workout scheduled that gives me some time away to re-energize.”
A common complaint from small business owners is that there are never enough hours in the day. “Usually when we delve into this issue, the problem is not a lack of time but a lack of a schedule,” Dial says. “A schedule allows a person to plan, to anticipate, and helps keep life organized. I recommend that all activities go onto a schedule, even play time!”
4. Prioritize Your Time
There’s a reason “self-care” has become such a buzzword — we’ve come to realize just how crucial it is to carve out time for ourselves to keep a healthy mental state. Looking after yourself is key to keeping stress under control.
“Prioritizing ‘me time’ is really important because it is so easy to get caught up in what you’re doing, you can really forget about yourself and who you are — separate from your business,” Greenwood says. “Taking time for yourself, or using it to go out with friends and family, is often what re-affirms your belief in what you’re doing. It’s really important to not lose yourself within your business, because that, in the worst case scenario, then can lead to your business itself losing its way.”
As a small business owner, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of always being on the clock. Just as you schedule time for certain tasks you need to get done, you should schedule free time. “I teach clients to see their downtime as beneficial to creativity and efficiency because they tend to work better after taking a break,” Dial says. “Taking a break allows the brain to take in new information and to generate creativity.”
5. Learn to Say ‘No’
“When you’re starting out, you may not have the luxury of opportunities flying at you, so you say yes to everything,” McDonnell says. “But eventually you focus on your mission and ask yourself, ‘Will this help me get there?’ before deciding yes or no.”
Of course, saying no can be really tough. But it’s important to remember your value and that you have limited time. “Instead of thinking you may offend the other person, it’s an opportunity to show them that when you decide to do something, you really value what you’re doing and you’re doing it on your terms,” Greenwood says.
Otherwise, taking on more than you can handle is the fastest way to fall into a stress trap. “It’s important to learn that setting boundaries is necessary to safeguard small business owners’ well-being, their time, and to protect their business,” Dial says. “When approached with a request, the small business owner should ask themselves the following: ‘1. Is this something I want to do? 2. Do I have time to do it? 3. What is its importance level, and will it fit it into my schedule?’”
Saying no is also key to setting boundaries. “When we don’t set boundaries, we end up feeling taken advantage of, burned out, stressed out, and end up as people pleasers, workaholics, isolated, or feeling misunderstood,” Pratt says. “Simply stated: Boundaries are one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health and wellness.”
6.Delegate or Outsource Tasks
When you’re used to being the boss, it can be hard to let go and give up control. But as any small business owner knows, you can’t do it all. And if you’re trying to, then you’re probably not doing a good job at every single thing. That’s why learning how to delegate or outsource certain parts of the biz is a foundation for being successful.
For example, do you struggle with Facebook but love working face-to-face with clients? Hiring a social media manager might free you up to do just that. Figure out how you want to spend your time — and what you’d rather avoid.
Related: 10 Easy Social Media Tips for Your Hard-Working Small Business
In the end, outsourcing allows you to grow your company. “It’s important early on to recognize where your weaknesses are, so that you can hand over those areas to other people who do them much better,” Greenwood says. “Doing this can also relieve so much stress, not having a task hang over you that you know you need to do but that you struggle with and find time-consuming.”
7. Choose Your Tools Wisely
Work tools and software are meant to make your job easier — not harder. But if you’re spending more time learning how to use them than actually using them, it’s not doing you any favors. “It’s important to choose tools wisely, because they are meant to be the things that take away stress and help with tasks instead of adding to the problem,” Greenwood says.
Opting for reliable small business apps, web management tools, and hosting services will always pay off in the end. Imagine if your business’ website went down? That’s why it’s worth using DreamHost hosting and WordPress to have one less thing to worry about.
“Test out different software until you find the one that takes your stress away so you can benefit fully from it,” McDonnell says.
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8. Unplug During Your Off-time
“You’re not a robot,” Greenwood says. “You can’t work all the time and expect to maintain the same level of productivity and efficiency. You need to replenish your energy levels, and not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When you’re working on your business, you want to be present and in the moment. That would be difficult if you’re unable to unplug in your off time and feel a conflict between your work life and your personal life.”
As a small business owner, you probably feel tied to your phone, but you need time away from answering emails and checking in with customers. “Unplugging and doing a digital detox allows parts of your brain to rest,” Dial says. “Reading, watching TV, going for a walk, and talking with others are all great ways to engage a different part of your brain. Make sure you take time for activities you find enjoyable. It’s essential to combat stress by seeking out experiences that will help restore you.”
It’s especially important to power down your devices and avoid blue light, which can keep you awake, at least an hour before bedtime. Plus, you won’t have to worry about an email keeping you up that night. You’ll sleep better so you can be rested and alert for the next day of tending to your business.
Related: 5 Problems That Keep Small Biz Owners Awake at Night (and What We’re Doing to Fix Them)
Breathe In and Out
It’s no secret that running a small business is one of the most challenging (and stressful) things you’ll ever take on. But it’s also one of the most rewarding! So tell us: how do you manage your stress as a small-biz owner? What keeps you fired up as you “Rise and Grind?” Connect with us on Twitter and let us know your thoughts!