Managing Stress (Less stress is good for business)

Managing Stress

Less stress is good for business

By Helen Hirsh Spence and Debra Yearwood

With all of the challenges, obstacles and even the opportunities that come with running a business, stress can grow until it becomes one more hurdle to overcome. Don’t ignore it. Excess stress, whether good or bad can harm you both physically and emotionally. By managing stress, you keep yourself thoughtful and healthy and that’s good for business.

To understand the undermining effects of stress on entrepreneurial activity, you first need to understand the effect of stress on body and mind. Left unchecked, stress can cause:

  • Lost sleep or sleep deprivation

    • Lost sleep results in an interruption in insulin production which results in weight gain.

  • Increased fatigue

  • Compromises to the immune system

  • Memory loss

  • Mental illness

  • Sadness and depression

  • Headache, chest pain and muscle pain

  • Changes in sex drive

  • Stomach upset

  • Anxiety, irritability and anger

  • Decreased motivation and focus

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Brain fog

  • Over or under eating

Stress can damage your brain, physically altering its shape and function. It can kill brain cells and cause an increase in the size and number of neural connections in the amygdala, the brain’s fear centre. The result is a rise in fear which in turn drives more stress and a vicious cycle begins.

Another good reason not to ignore stress is that not only does it damage you, but it can harm those around you. Stress is contagious. Research out of the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universität Dresden indicates that being around a stressed person, whether it’s a loved one or a complete stranger, can create stress in a physically quantifiable way. The research has been replicated in other studies using different measures. What this means for business is that your stress can result in poor decision making, poor interpersonal and communication skills; it can also spread to colleagues creating a toxic culture of stress.

Stress at Work

Stress can be caused by a number of things at work, and while everyone responds in their own way to pressure, there are some common reasons that may increase stress in employees and entrepreneurs.

Loss of Control

There are many different reasons why people decide to start their own business, but certainly one of the most common is the opportunity to be your own boss. Having the freedom to make decisions and do the work that you enjoy is wonderful. Unfortunately running a business also means having to do those things you don’t like and taking responsibility for all outcomes, good and bad. This can result in feelings of loss of control.

Loss of control can also negatively impact employees who are not given enough autonomy. No one wants to be micromanaged. In addition, to it being a wasteful management style that reduces productivity, it increases stress.

Change is inevitable and a constant in our lives. It is often very stressful particularly if change comes without control, is unwanted or unanticipated. Whether you embrace change or resist it, it has to be managed effectively or it can derail even the most successful enterprises. When managing change at work, communicating clearly with employees about expectations and providing them with a forum to ask questions and articulate concerns will make the process smoother and hopefully less stressful.

Don’t forget that even if starting a business was your choice, it still represents change.

Work Overload

At the start of a new business, the number of things that must be juggled can be overwhelming. Money pressure, productivity and sales targets all add up to a lot of work and often impossible demands on your time. With that demand comes feelings of guilt for not having met the all the needs of the business. Failure to measure up or shame over procrastinating generate unhealthy consequences. Learn to prioritize critical work and accept that outcomes may be different than expected or that they may not materialize at all.

While hard work, commitment and good planning may mitigate risk, there is always an element of uncertainty that comes with a new business. Not knowing what the future holds is hard to cope with; negative events increase feelings of loss of control. This all leads to more anxiety and can contribute to indecision. Accept that you can’t predict or control the future and try to plan for alternative outcomes.

Stress at Home

Starting a new business can be as life-altering as having a new baby. Your time is always in demand and if you are working from home it means your private and professional worlds are interwoven. Even if you work outside the home, the pressures of work don’t disappear when you walk through the door. It is also true that if there is stress at home, it follows you to work.

A recent study concluded that people who experienced stress at home had higher levels of cortisol (a chemical that is released when we are stressed) than those who are stressed at work. There could be numerous reasons for this ranging from the nature of interpersonal relationships to the number of duties and expectations when at home. Another rationale could be that work objectives tend to be clearer and more tangible than those at home. Despite the stress of work, full-time work has been linked to better mental and physical health outcomes.

What is evident from the research is that the transition between work and home needs to be smooth if it’s not to take a toll. A healthier work/home balance can be managed by creating transition habits that remind you not to try to be in two places at once.

Creating Healthy Habits

Fortunately, despite stress’ many negative impacts it can be combated in a number of ways. Below are some of the more popular approaches:

  • Exercise

  • Take care of your body.

  • Get more sleep.

  • Encourage positive self-talk.

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

  • Maintain connections with people who will love you no matter what.

  • Try relaxation techniques such as prayer meditation or journaling.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of your mind. Nothing is fixed. You can increase your adaptive capacity.

Get Help at Work
When starting out, managing everything yourself may seem like the only option. Whether for financial reasons or because it’s more comfortable, understand that doing everything is not sustainable.

Consider the following tips:

  • Hire a virtual assistant to help with customer support.

  • Use an accountant to ensure that your customers are invoiced and your books are managed.

  • Use a lawyer for legal support and to ensure you are properly set up.

Don’t Spend What You Can’t Afford

It’s easy to get distracted by trying to impress clients or make everything perfect before getting started. Don’t do it. When you are starting out your spending should be largely focused in two areas: your product and selling your product.

Don’t borrow money that will bring with it additional stressors beyond the financial debt. Don’t put the house on the line or borrow from family and friends if it can’t be repaid. Not only will you end up carrying the regular stress of the business, but you’ll also have the emotional impact of putting the home or life savings of family in jeopardy.

Let Go
Don’t check the phone at night. Everyone needs a little daily downtime. Take at least one day a week to rest and recuperate. Learn to say no to unmanageable requests on your time. Speak to yourself in a positive and supportive manner. If you are like most people, you are probably your own worst critic. Constant negative self-talk can be wearing on you physically and emotionally. Most of all, accept that you can’t get it all done and you are not perfect yet!

Don’t let the demands of your new business isolate you. Make a point of having dinner with family or friends and seek out social encounters even if you tend toward introversion. One of the downsides of entrepreneurial activity is loneliness if you don’t develop or maintain a supportive network. And don’t forget about the positive spin-offs of laughter and play, two of the best antidotes for illness and stress. We recommend surrounding yourself with positive, joyful individuals who encourage you in your new endeavours!


  • Canadian Mental Health Association – Stress documents/stress/

  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada – Reduce Stress

  • Mental Health America – Coping with Stress

  • Mood Disorders Society of Canada – Workplace Stress workplace/workplace-stress/

  • Public Health Agency of Canada – How Can I Reduce My stress Levels?

  • Web MD – How to Reduce Stress