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Dealing with stress as a small business owner

The symptoms of stress can be both obvious and subtle - but the effects of stress can impact us significantly, especially if you’re running a small business. Spotting the signs and taking the time needed can improve your stress levels greatly.

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Leaving stress unchecked can make things worse in the long run

April is Stress Awareness Month, a campaign designed to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with the common feeling that is stress.

We can all feel stressed at any time. The triggers can range from personal financial concerns to work-related pressures. And while stress can absolutely affect anyone, small business owners are often particularly exposed to stress and its impacts.

While stress itself isn’t considered a mental health condition, left unmanaged it can quickly develop into one. For example high levels of stress can lead to anxiety or depression. You might turn to alcohol or drugs to manage your stress levels, which can make mental health conditions even worse. And if you’re running your own business, mental health conditions like these can significantly impact your business’s success. 

Last year, Simply Business identified that over half of small business owners experienced poor mental health over a 12-month period as they worked more and slept less. This, combined with the stress and pressure of running a business, can see your mental health decline rapidly. 

So here are my five tips to help you recognise stress and identify the necessary self-care measures to help you protect yourself from stress and its effects. 

1. Physical wellbeing

Physical signs of stress can present in all sorts of ways, and some of the signs can be quite subtle. More obvious signs include headaches, fatigue, changes in appetite, sweating and shortness of breath. But stress can also present with less obvious signs, like itching, blurry vision or indigestion. Understanding your body and what feels different is an important start in identifying whether you’re stressed.

2. Emotional wellbeing

Stress can manifest itself emotionally and these feelings can be difficult to shake off. If you find your emotional state changing, it could be a sign of stress. Signs might include feelings of irritability, anxiety, low mood or depression. You might feel tense, lonely or disinterested in things you otherwise enjoy. Stress can often lead to mental health issues if left unchecked, so understanding the signs your body is trying to tell you can help prevent that. 

3. Workload and avoiding burnout

Running your own business is stressful, there’s no getting around that. Whether it’s managing the day-to-day, worrying about employees, cash flow concerns or all these combined - it’s tough. But there are things you can do to manage your workload and avoid burning out. Make a list of the tasks and deadlines that you face and prioritise them - what can wait and what needs to be done? Don’t try and do everything yourself, while that’s easier said than done, delegating can really help take the pressure off. 

4. Triggers

Understanding what makes us feel stressed is a good way to help avoid it happening again. And while living an entirely stress-free life is difficult, it’s important to avoid the obvious triggers. A good place to start is by thinking about what has made you feel stressed in the past and if there are any commonalities - maybe it’s difficult conversations, deadlines, financial pressures or even a lack of exercise. 

Keeping an eye on those physical triggers can help too - sports watches can monitor heart rates across a working day - is there a particular time that’s worse? Have you noticed a change in your breathing or general comfort levels when you have to think about or deal with certain situations? 

If you’re not sure where to start, keeping a journal can help with reflection. You can also ask family members, friends or colleagues for their thoughts or observations.

5. Self-care

Preventing stress in the first place is your most powerful tool. Small but regular self-care rituals can help. These might include:

  • Getting enough sleep - work towards a good sleep routine, avoid screens before bed and try and avoid caffeine after 4pm

  • Breathing - Taking a few deep breaths throughout the day can focus your mind. Apps like Calm can help you get to grips with meditation if you’re looking to take it a step further

  • Getting out in nature - Fresh air and nature can help remind us of the simple things - don’t underestimate the effect it can have on your wellbeing, it’s proven to help de-stress and increase positive thinking

  • Taking breaks - Making sure you have breaks throughout the day can help refresh your mind. Take time off from work - remember the national entitlement for employed people is 28 days. Take time for yourself and set aside work as frequently as you can 

If you’d like to understand more about the signs and symptoms of stress, charities such as Mind can be a helpful resource. 

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About Kyle Eaton

Kyle is a finance editor specialising in all things related to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). He has over ten years' experience working in financial services and as a writer.

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