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Like everything else in business, stress needs to be managed – Megan Tough offers quick and easy solutions for managing stress that isn’t productive and can become chronic.

Active ImageWorkload is one of the prime causes of stress, especially for small business owners. A certain level of stress is normal, in fact it’s good. But what do you do when your stress levels get too high?

Stress is defined as a person’s response to his or her environment. It’s measured in terms of how stimulated we get in response to particular situations. A certain level of stress can be a good thing because the extra energy actually increases performance. But there comes a point at which performance starts to drop off dramatically.

Eventually the body uses up all the available energy and there’s none left for normal functioning. We find it hard to concentrate, our attention slips, and our productivity takes a dive.

Particular personality traits can mean you have a lower threshold for stress than other people in a similar situation. My observation is small business owners can have a tendency towards these characteristics:

•    feeling overly responsible for things (like customer happiness)

•    fear of losing control

•    fear of failure and making mistakes

•    fear of being judged by others

•    not thinking we are good enough

•    chronic striving to be perfect.

In addition to your own personal foibles, there are a few business-related issues that can set us off too:

•    a lack of direction

•    an uncooperative or competitive atmosphere

•    autocratic leadership (who us?)

•    unclear expectations

•    a lack of teamwork

•    too much work

•    confused communications.


Stress Solutions

So what can we do if we are prone to feeling stressed? Most of the main techniques involve interrupting the physical response. We need to slow down the output of energy and restock our supplies. There’s a mountain of stuff written about reducing stress levels, but here are some easy tips if you find yourself tipping into the danger zone.

Deep breathing interrupts the energy output cycle and forces your body back into normal mode. Four counts in, four counts out—repeat 20 to 30 times.

Try to visualise something positive. If you think anxious thoughts, you become tense. Use the power of your imagination to re-focus your mind on positive, optimistic images. It doesn’t matter what you visualise, as long as it calms you. As you relax your mind, your body also relaxes.

Thought-stopping is another useful tool. We are what we think, so controlling our thoughts can significantly reduce stress levels. Thought-stopping involves concentrating on the unwanted thoughts and, after a short time, suddenly stopping and emptying your mind, using the mental command “stop” or a loud noise to interrupt negative thinking. Then, focus on positive thoughts and outcomes.

Work on your assertiveness skills. Feeling like we have little control is one of the drivers of stress. Saying what we mean (with consideration) and asking for what we want allows us to feel we have control over our lives. Stand up for yourself, communicate directly, and don’t let others take advantage of you.

The goal is to reduce stress to a level where you can perform more effectively again. As with most things, you get better with practice.

Have you successfully reduced your stress levels via any of these techniques? We’d love to hear your stress-busting tips.  

* Megan Tough is the director of the HR Consultancy, Complete Potential. This article first appeared in the online magazine for solo business owners, www.flyingsolo.com.au

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