As business owners, we know that stressful situations can’t always be avoided. When things are going well, there are all sorts of customer and staff issues to attend to, and when things are not going quite so well, then we worry about that, too.
While some stress may be helpful to keep us going, too much is definitely detrimental. Constant stress can affect sleeping patterns, memory, and decision-making abilities. What’s worse, you may find yourself behaving in ways you never liked in other people. If you get into frequent arguments, bark out short, sarcastic answers to perfectly normal questions, or resort to alcohol or overeating to alleviate tension, it is time to take a hard look at your work activities and use of time.
Here are some thoughts about stress factors that could be making your life less enjoyable:
1. What is the source of your stress?
Stress can have external and internal sources. Although both types can generate the same physical symptoms (“fight-or-flight response”) and affect your creativity and productivity, you can approach them in different ways. In many situations, stress grows in small increments until a certain pressure threshold is reached.
External stress is typically harder to control. It can be induced, for example, by environmental factors (traffic jams, irritating noise) or by social situations (aging parents, frequent interruptions). There are many factors at play, which is why certain stressors can set you off one day, but not affect you at all on another day. The best approach to preventing external stress and the associated waste of time is to understand what sets you off and prepare for those situations as best you can, for example by wearing headphones or by retreating to a quiet space when you can.
Internal stress, in contrast, tends to be of the homemade variety. It is often caused by a sense of inadequacy, of not keeping up with the Joneses (or other ‘successful people‘). Internal stressors are based on your expectations for yourself, which can be quite unrealistic and often don’t match the expectations of those around you. No one expects you to be a superhero who always looks perfect and never makes mistakes. Letting go of some aspirations not only relieves stress, but also frees up large chunks of time because you no longer have to worry about becoming world-class anything. Internal stress can also be the result of neglecting so many aspects of your life that you are surrounded by backlogged chaos.
2. Is your workload sustainable?
Take a step back to honestly analyze all the different causes of your stress. If your stress is caused by a specific temporary situation (new company, family issues, filling in for other people), it may be helpful to look for ways to counterbalance it with enjoyable activities to protect your mental health.
On the other hand, if no reasonable end of stress is in sight and you are looking at an indefinite continuation of the same workload in unchanged circumstances, it is not in your best interest to simply accept chronic stress as part of life. Compare your time to a fixed budget, which you have to allocate wisely to cover your needs. What are the top priorities in your time budget, and which activities can you possibly drop or reduce to create some openings in your schedule that would allow you to exercise, socialize, and get proper sleep? How did your workload become so overwhelming that you became a person you never wanted to be?
3. Is it worth it?
Our society considers “fast-paced work” and “being busy” signs of success. We multitask to stay on top of everything we are expected to do, and yearn to “multiply” our time. Nevertheless, many of us have the uncomfortable feeling that the angry stranger we don’t recognize in the mirror is not all there is to life. Studies indicate that many ‘baby boomers’ have great regrets about working too much and missing out on the happiness money can’t buy.
Managing your time well means balancing your work activities with the demands of everyday life and your own wellbeing. Stress symptoms are an important reminder that certain aspects of your life are becoming so overwhelming that they threaten the things you value most.
How do you handle stress?
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