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8 Winning Strategies To Overcome Startup Stress

When people who’ve started a business tell you that it’s like jumping off a cliff and building the plane on the way down, they’re not kidding you. I wish it was just some over-used cliché but I have yet to meet a startup entrepreneur who hasn’t felt like they are often in over their head and figuring it all out as they go along.

Fortunately, most people who go into business thrive on facing a challenge and get off on a bit of adrenaline. I know I do.

When I joined a young startup in London 5 years ago, I quickly embraced the daily challenge, rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in no matter what the task. Not to mention the increased hours and a long commute. At first, I felt like I was making a difference. It was so exciting… until the demanding day job and constant adrenalin release turned into stress in my body and started taking its toll.

Then when I launched my own business I felt like I had upgraded the adrenaline ride from the rapids to an 11-loop rollercoaster. It was a whole other level – one that was wildly exciting but put even more strain on me mentally and physically.

I’m not alone.

Most of my peers running their own businesses have at some point felt the strain and according to a study by Gallup-Healthways, 45% of entrepreneurs reported that they were currently stressed.

Whilst I think startup stress is unavoidable, I do think it’s manageable. You need to make a conscious effort to manage the stress and adopt the strategies that work best for you.

What approaches work best? Here are 8 winning strategies to overcome startup stress tried and tested by yours truly and my fellow adrenalin-junkie entrepreneurs.

 

1. Be Ruthless With Your To-Do List

“You can do anything but not everything” – anon

If it’s your business we’re talking about here – you’ll be wearing many hats and likely have a to-do list as long as your arm that never seems to get done. If that’s the case, it’s time to get really ruthless with it. 

Brain dump everything that you know you need to do and then go back through and mark each task as either:

A.    Important & Urgent
B.    Important & Not Urgent
C.    Not Important & Urgent
D.    Not Important & Not Urgent

Tasks that you mark A are for you to prioritise. ‘B’ tasks can happen once A tasks are complete, so schedule them into your diary. C tasks can be delegated or outsourced depending on your available resources. Finally, D tasks can be delegated, automated or completely scratched from your list altogether.

More reading: How can I make the most of my time?

 

    2. Get Support

    Startups are often lean in so much as you don’t have the resources – staffing or budgets to outsource or delegate tasks and every single penny needs to be used wisely. Saying that, getting support is vital to reduce stress during the early phases of your business.

    Support could come in the form of a mentor or coach, a team and staff or maybe a virtual assistant or PA. It could just be that you hire someone to write copy for you, run your social media or manage your inbox.

    Alongside this practical support is emotional support. Build a network of people who can help you talk through the stresses of the business or take your mind off it. This could be a partner, friends, family or even peers and other business owners who will acutely understand what you’re going through.

    You don’t have to do it alone.

    More reading: 10 Business Support Services To Help You Succeed

     

    3. Acknowledge What You’ve Achieved

    One of the worst triggers for startup stress is feeling like you’ve never done enough. You know there’s so much potential and you’re well aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Especially if you’re looking to your friends, peers and competitors and comparing yourself to their progress.

    When you’re in this frame of mind, you’re focused on lack – what you haven’t achieved yet. And yes, while it is highly likely there’s more you could do, if you don’t stop and acknowledge what you have done, you’ll never feel a sense of satisfaction that makes the stress worthwhile.

    Stop and take stock. Write down all you’ve achieved. Put visual reminders up in your workspace. Schedule time to reflect and take stock of what’s working and your successes. 

    More reading: How do I measure success and growth? 

     

    4. Avoid Comparison

    Startups often network and are connected to other startups and entrepreneurs and whilst this can give you an amazing support network, it can also cause ‘comparisonitis’  

    “the compulsion to compare one’s accomplishments to another’s to determine relative importance”

    Comparing yourself to the progress of your peers or competitors is the fastest route to low-self esteem and heightened anxiety and stress. 

    Whilst some keeping tabs on the competition is healthy, try to avoid comparing your progress to anyone else’s. Remind yourself that everyone shares their successes and highlight reel online and that you will not know what’s truly going on behind the scenes.

    More reading: Researching your competitors

    My English teacher at school always said that it’s no good comparing your insides to someone’s outsides and she was right. Put your blinkers on and stay in your own lane.

    5. Physically Close The Door On Work

    You will likely work more hours than the average employed person whilst starting up a business – most entrepreneurs do to get it off the ground and sustainable in as little time as possible. But then those hours physically creep into your personal space you’ll blur the lines completely and find you’re never truly switching off – kryptonite for stress.

    The easiest way to avoid this is to physically close the door on work. If you work from home, have a separate office space and when you “clock off” shut the door on that room. Leave your laptop and mobile devices in there and be strict with yourself if you’re taking time out.

    You may find this difficult in which case, look for office space, co-working hubs or hot desking opportunities so you “go out to work” and come home to relax.

    Trust me, the novelty of working in your PJs from your sofa wears off quickly when you feel like you never switch off.

    More reading: Maintaining a work-life balance

     

    6. Breathe Consciously

    The yogis are on to something when it comes to practised, conscious breathing. It helps not only ease anxiety and stress in the immediate, especially if you’re feeling physical negative symptoms such as palpitations or a tight chest, but has long-term benefits on your stress levels too.

    Plus it’s incredibly simple and free, to do.

    1. Take a deep breath in through your nose and release through your nose
    2. Gently close your left nostril with your thumb and breathe in slowly through your right nostril
    3. Close the right nostril (so both are held closed) and hold your breath for a brief pause
    4. Open your left nostril and breathe out slowly
    5. Pause at the end of the exhale briefly
    6. Repeat this technique, starting on the opposite side
    7. Continue to repeat 5-10 times, focusing on your breath as you do

    Do this anytime you feel stressed or before or after finishing work to reduce your blood pressure, physical symptoms of stress and give you a moment of mindfulness in your busy day.

    More reading: This Startup Has Found The Solution To Being “Bored, Tired And Stressed Out”

     

    7. Improve Your Sleep Quality

    If start up stress is getting the better of you, sleep may become elusive, broken or poor which in turn makes your stress worse as your body does not get the opportunity to rest properly. Improving your sleep quality should be a priority and can be simply going to bed at the same time every night and giving yourself time to unwind in whatever way relaxes you best. Or, it could be seeking professional support if you’re suffering from insomnia.

     

    8. Ask yourself, what do I need right now?

    One question that has served me well and I learnt during a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was to ask myself…

    “What do I need right now?” 

    ….whenever I faced a challenging, stressful or anxious situation. This consciously shifts you into problem-solving mode instead of worrying or frustration but also focuses on putting your needs first – needs that are often neglected as a startup. It’s important to remember that you matter just as much as the business and to be able to recognise and proactively support the needs you have.

    This question also helps you stay present and solution-orientated and will help you address both your emotional and physical needs equally.

     

    If you’re really feeling the strain and feel you’re beyond the help of these strategies, I really recommend reaching out for support. There are some incredible organisations who can listen and provide help if you’re on the verge of a breakdown or your mental health is becoming a problem you can’t manage alone. Please reach out and talk to someone:

    • mind.org.uk – free confidential infoline designed to signpost you to appropriate advice and support
    • rethink.org – help and support for people affected by mental illness
    • samaritans.org – free confidential helpline to talk to someone anonymously about your problems. You don’t have to be suicidal to talk to someone. 
    • NHS website – advice on when to talk to your GP about getting help
    • A Guide to UK-based Free Mental Health Helplines by Cassiobury Court.

     

    Jen Smith is a freelance writer and content strategist. Follow her on Twitter @_JenSmith

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