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How small business owners can avoid stress levels affecting their health

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Small business owners are inevitably going to face stressful situations. But it’s important to stay on top of this to avoid it having an impact on your productivity – or your health
Running a business takes constant hard work, commitment and resilience. We have an “always-on” culture, the pace of life has ramped up, and we are victims of information overload, writes Abigail Ireland.

All of this can lead to anxiety, low energy, and physical and mental illness.

The Health and Safety Executive’s 2015/16 labour force survey showed that stress accounts for a staggering 37 per cent of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK. It’s clear that business owners must learn to manage stress effectively in order to do their best work without burnout. 

First, let’s shift the way we perceive “stress”. The word itself can set hearts racing, but stress is good up to a point. Eustress motivates and energises us, and stops us getting bored. But distress is uncomfortable and makes us feel anxious, tense and out of control. Some people can tolerate more than others before eustress turns to distress.

On which side of the threshold do you sit? And what do you think happens if you constantly tell yourself you’re “stressed”? It’s only adding fuel to the fire.
If you find yourself drifting into the distress zone, here are six ways to get you back on track.

Regain focus


Ever heard that energy flows where focus goes? When stressed, our minds are all over the place. Channel your energy away from worrying and towards more productive activities. 

Train your mind to focus by using the Pomodoro technique. Work for 25 minutes on one task without distractions, then take a five-minute break to do whatever you like. Repeat four more times before scheduling a longer break to recuperate. And check out the Forest app, which helps you to focus while building a virtual forest!

Practise mindfulness and breathing


Mindfulness isn’t about sitting still. It’s about being comfortable with your thoughts – more aware, more focused and calmer in your mind. Studies in neuroscience show that mindfulness helps to manage anxiety and reduce cortisol levels. 

When feeling overwhelmed, close your eyes and take deep, controlled breaths for 60 seconds. Exhale slowly, focusing on your breath. Open your eyes and you’ll instantly feel calmer. Try mindfulness apps Headspace and Insight Timer for more exercises.

Start journaling

At the end of each day, schedule five minutes to gather your thoughts. Download the mind clutter buzzing around in your head, and wipe the slate clean before bedtime. Let the pen flow – don’t hold back. This is surprisingly therapeutic and you’ll notice that any worries are much less threatening once down on paper. You can then create an action plan to tackle your stressors.

Move every day

As a qualified personal trainer, I know that exercise has a hugely positive impact on stress. Getting sweaty releases endorphins, which also enhance mood and promote quality sleep. However, don’t confuse healthy exercising with overtraining, which can raise blood cortisol levels, so mix up your workouts and incorporate adequate rest. 
If you’ve been sitting all day, try yoga to stretch or Pilates to realign your posture. Maybe a run will help clear your mind. If you’re feeling sluggish, get the blood pumping with a high-intensity interval training session. Listen to your body.

Eat well

Food can have an impact on stress, focus and productivity. Sure, alcohol can erase the day’s worries but this is a short-term fix. Excessive caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake puts unnecessary physical stress on your body. 

Instead, choose foods that help you to stay calm and energised. Herbal tea, salmon, turkey, rolled oats, spinach, blueberries, almonds, oranges, asparagus and avocados are all excellent options to manage and reduce stress.

Rest and recover

Finally, set aside time for rest. You’ll bounce back more focused, energised and productive. Athletes know that muscles need time to recover, adapt and grow stronger after intense training and physical stress. 

The same applies to mental stress. While sleeping, your body repairs itself and your brain processes everything absorbed during the day. For a quality night’s sleep, introduce an evening ritual and schedule “me-time” to unwind. Spend time with loved ones, run a bath, read a book or indulge in a hobby.

Abigail Ireland helps teams become more effective by using psychological and physiological factors to improve business productivity