Stress and how to deal with it as an entrepreneur

Stress! Everyone feels it. Everyone knows it. Everyone has dealt with it. Business owners are particularly susceptible to it! This week is #InternationalStressAwarenessWeek, so what better time than this to dig deeper into stress and educate ourselves.

We thought we'd share our learnings with you and hope this will really help you as a business owner! It's fascinating stuff.

But what is it?

Stress is simply the release of chemicals; we’re talking Cortisol, Norepinephrine and Adrenaline. Really though, it can be stripped down to fight or flight. Our bodies are being told to either stand up and fight the problem or get out of there as fast as we can. You might, then, be able to see how stress can be advantageous both in life in general, and within your role as a business leader. More on that in a moment...

First, let's look at what causes stress. 

One of the main causes of stress is... drumroll please... work! Hands up, who is surprised? There have been a bunch of surveys on stress at work and if we dive into some results, we can find that a staggering 79% of people experienced stress at work on a regular basis. The other answers on the board were relationships, finances and bereavement. 

Here at Inspire, we looked at the numbers for entrepreneurs and saw that 71% said they experienced high amounts of stress.

We believe this is because entrepreneurship is fairly fast-paced and as entrepreneurs, we tend to like to give ourselves challenges on a frequent basis! 

It’s who we are, and brings excitement and adventure into our lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Trying new things, breaking new markets and building new ventures is challenging, and entrepreneurial small business owners feel the weight of responsibility for making all the decisions. Having to hold ourselves accountable for both good and bad outcomes can be draining. 

Juggling all aspects of business is hard work and the list seems endless – admin, sales, marketing, finance, strategy, scaling, customer relations, production, shipping, cyber security, supplier relations...until you scale, you’re doing most of this yourself, and it can feel overwhelming at times.

Too much pressure causes stress
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) did a Labour Force Survey in 2020 concluding that the main work-related stressors are the workload with too much work pressure, too much responsibility and tight deadlines playing significant roles. And these pressures, responsibilities and deadlines are just as prevalent for business owners as for employees, if not more so. Looks like our theory was right. 

So let’s take a step back and look at the good and the bad sides of stress. 

Why stress can be good
In small doses, stress acts as a motivator. It adds a sense of pressure to tasks, so we are more inclined to complete them. 

If we go back in time, that task might have been a matter of survival (in some cases, it may still be) but we can also harness it to step out of our comfort zones and push ourselves to accomplish the things that are important to us. This can be a great boost for your business. Stress keeps us on our toes and pressing forward, otherwise we might be tempted by complacency, and that’s not good for business for many reasons!

Research shows that stress can also give a temporary boost to your brain, improving cognitive abilities and memory; but much like when you treat yourself to an extra morning coffee, the assistance is temporary and soon you will crash, become exhausted and mentally weakened.  

So stress is useful! But it's not all sunshine and roses. Let's look at the thorns. 

Why stress can be damaging
Stress can have some undesirable physical effects on your body when experienced in excess, including high blood pressure, fertility issues and even a weakened immune system to name a few (scary stuff!). 

Healthline has provided a full list of the effects stress can have on your body, which you can view 
here. Of course, stress also affects your mental state. When overstressed it becomes harder to remain in control of your emotions, you can become irritable and react in ways that don’t truly represent you as a person, which can cause strain on relationships in both a personal and business sense. 

Both anxiety and depression can be developed due to stress and if you already suffer from either, they can worsen. A 2018 survey indicated that 58% of entrepreneurs experience mental health issues; if you are one of these people then we ask you to remain mindful of stress so that you can live a happier and healthier life as best you can. 

If you are feeling stressed out, it is not the end of the world and there are steps you can take to reduce and deal with stress. 

So, without further ado, we're pleased to present:

How to deal with stress!

  1. Take control - Actively taking steps to complete tasks that contribute to stress will be a lot better for you than letting it passively build up. Identifying which factors you can control, ignoring those you can’t and working on resolutions is a good way to reduce stress. Setting goals can provide structure to the tasks causing you stress which can keep you moving forward and can also help you remain motivated to complete them. Neurological studies have shown that our brains have a natural reward system – the dopaminergic reward system. It may sound familiar because it makes use of the chemical dopamine to reinforce learning and behaviour, which can be released by completing tasks.
  2. Treat yourself – Indulging yourself in a hobby, giving yourself a present, treating yourself to a nice meal or even just a lazy night in front of the TV with your favourite series can all be good ways to get your mind off a problem, mentally reset and prepare to deal with your stressors. It is advisable not to over-indulge in unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol excessively or smoking, as while they may provide relief, it will only be temporary and will be harmful in the long run. Alcohol can increase the amount of cortisol (better known as the stress hormone) released which will enhance the amount of stress you are already feeling and make it even harder to deal with as time goes on.
  3. Rest - resting your body and mind can really help. Never underestimate the importance of sleep, but also general rest, as part of your everyday routine. The body is very complex and includes something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which links the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenal glands. Research suggests that this is activated by the hormone cortisol and links both sleep and stress. Cortisol, in combination with melatonin, plays a big role in regulating sleep as it helps your body realise when it should be winding down for the day, and when it should be waking up. It is proven to follow a 24-hour rhythm; peaking in the morning to encourage wakefulness and reaching its low point in the evening just in time for bed.  
    As stress also produces the hormone cortisol, the cycle can become irregular. This can lead to problems in both falling asleep and waking up, causing interruptions in the REM sleep cycle and, according to the NHS, can contribute to irritability, difficulty concentrating, and higher risk of serious medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.  
    It is worth realising that the HPA axis is a 2-way street though, so initial poor sleep can lead to increased stress levels and play a part in the seemingly endless sleep-stress cycle. Making sure you get adequate sleep can help break the cycle, and alongside other stress-busting techniques can be essential for dealing with the stresses of day-to-day life.  
    Mindfulness exercises can help calm your thoughts and help you focus in stressful periods, and physical exercise is a great stress-reliever as it can reduce the levels of stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol in particular.  Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals that can interact with the pain receptors within your brain to reduce your perception of pain. They can also provide a ‘euphoric’ feeling which can improve your mood, giving a positive and energised outlook. Not all the benefits are chemical though, exercising regularly can provide emotional benefits, such as improved confidence, self-image and happiness as you start to feel stronger and healthier.  
  4. Use your support network – As the old BT ad used to say: “It’s good to talk!” And it’s true! Talk through your issues with friends, family or other business owners to avoid feeling overwhelmed or isolated.  The Inspire Network is made up of loads of supportive female business owners who are more than happy to help within our membership too. We also find that our members experience an unexpected benefit; helping other people can put your problems into perspective and is a rewarding experience which can, again, help deal with stress.
  5. Try to keep a positive mindset – Your mindset can make a world of difference and it is easy to focus on the negatives, but this won’t help your cause. Make sure you celebrate your achievements, look for opportunities to develop yourself, and grow your capacity and resilience. Keeping a list of things that have gone well throughout the day can provide clarity and help you realise that things are going to be fine. As we touched on earlier, celebrating achievements can release endorphins, provide encouragement, and is fun too, so definitely worth doing!   

So there you have it, our top tips for dealing with stress.  Your business is important, but so are you. Look after yourself and we wish you the best of luck!

If you'd like to join our community and join with other business owners who aim to support one another on their journeys, come and get involved! Many members say our Block-Busting sessions (available included within our low-cost £10 monthly membership fee) has been really helpful in reducing stress - so why not give it a go. Check it out here:


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