Reducing stress in your small business

Running your own business can be stressful at times. One of the main reasons people set up a business in the first place, is to gain a better work/life balance. But the reality of being self-employed means you often end up working harder and longer hours than ever before.

As April is Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to look at spotting signs of stress and what we can do about it. I’m no expert in mental health, but having run networking groups for female business owners and professionals for the last 5 years, I know how often people feel under severe pressure (including myself) – and we’re not always very good at reaching out for help when we need it.

So, I’m focusing on the small, practical steps you can take to recognise and reduce stress in your business and how the people in your WIBN group might hold the answer to making life easier.

 Work can be a big source of stress.

Whether you’re self-employed or are employed by someone else, work is a huge part of our lives. Stress at work can be caused by workload, lack of managerial support or frictions between colleagues. And in the world of small business and self-employment, this can be compounded by a sense of isolation, the range of skills you need to master, and the delicate financial balance you face as a business owner.

How can you spot stress?

We’re all different, so we all react differently to stress, but there are early signs you can look out for. According to The Stress Management Society, someone who’s under stress may seem overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated or even moody, or they might start showing more self-doubt and indecision than normal. Their physical health might be affected too. Stress can take a toll on the immune system and on sleep, leading to tiredness and feeling run down. Some people might cope by isolating themselves and withdrawing from social circles, drinking more caffeine or alcohol, or smoking more.

If you do notice these signs, it might not be stress that’s causing them, but it’s worth considering. What might be putting pressure on you, your member of staff, friend or colleague? Could stress be playing a part?

If it is stress, there are things you can try straight away.

Stress is unlikely to go away overnight, but spotting it, realising that it’s a problem, and acknowledging that, can take some of the pressure away immediately. Exploring what might be behind it and putting together a plan to deal with it, can also help. When I feel things are getting on top of me, I like to meditate or go for a walk.

Getting outside, talking to someone you trust, asking for help (or accepting help that’s offered), and doing simple breathing exercises are all great short-term steps. You can find more through the links at the end of this article.

 To manage stress best, you need to look longer term.

Short term steps aren’t the whole answer. Making a longer-term commitment to your wellbeing can banish or reduce stress for some people. And it’s important to build time into your business to look after yourself.

You might want to explore things like healthy lifestyle habits, nutrition, exercise, sleep and relaxation practices. Learning to say ‘no’ can be another massive step for some people. Across our WIBN groups, there is all sorts of professional support available – from fitness and nutrition specialists to therapists and life coaches.

Emotional support is really important and might come from a formal route like your GP, from a charity like Samaritans, or from trusted family and friends. It could even come from a fellow member of your WIBN group, who could be well placed to understand any business stresses you’re facing. Many members will have been through similar challenges and everyone’s incredibly supportive if you reach out for help.

And finally, think practically. Is there work you could outsource to make life easier? Would help with your marketing or finances help? Or could a cleaner or virtual assistant relieve some of the overwhelming tasks? Again, look at your WIBN network for support, or ask them who they know.

If you’re feeling stressed, please don’t feel like you’re alone.

Stress is common, and it can be tackled. Talk to the people around you, at your group and outside it. You can find more support from these organisations, who are all there to help.