Stamp out Stress

By at home

Setting up a new business can be pressurised even when things are strike at any time. PAUL FULLER help you find out how to get a grip and manage your stress levels.

Learning the ropes, working long hours, meeting clients and customers, fulfilling deadlines, getting customers to pay up on time and paying bills and employees’ salaries are all potential risk factors that can send our stress levels soaring.

The constant use of modern technology, including laptop computers and mobile phones, have been found by researchers to increase stress levels because it means we can never switch off properly.

For many people in business, there’s the added stress of trying to juggle work and family commitments. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has conducted research into the problem, defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.’

It says: ‘Pressure is part and parcel of all work and helps to keep us motivated but excessive pressure can lead to stress which undermines performance, is costly to employers and can make people ill.’

People react to stress in different ways and display varying symptoms. There are many who believe they work better under pressure but there is a difference between stress and pressure, says the HSE.

What are the long-term effects of stress?
People who fail to deal with their stress levels run the risk of causing serious long term damage to their health, including coronary heart disease, digestive problems, migraine, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse.

It can also result in relationship problems leading ultimately to divorce and you could place the future of your entire business at risk.

How should I cope with pressure?
There are a whole host of things you can do at work and at home to spur you on to success in your business without getting stressed about it.

It’s inevitable that when you’re running a busy company and trying to build up your business that you have a million and one things to attend to, but it’s crucial not to over commit yourself and crumble in a heap. Where possible, try doing one task at a time and taking a few minutes’ break between tasks.

Don’t attempt to do everything yourself – if you have work colleagues, delegate the tasks you don’t have time for and be realistic about your own work commitments.

Try writing a list of things that need to be done and decide what is possible in a given time and then stick to it. Intersperse dull tasks with interesting ones. Be more assertive and think positively.

Reward yourself with a small treat for what you have achieved during the day. Eat well, as skipping meals will deplete your energy levels and leave you feeling drained. Avoid excess levels of alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine from tea, coffee and chocolate.

How can I juggle business and family?
When you’re away from home working long hours, it’s vital that you set aside some quality time with your partner and your children when you’re off duty, but it’s also important to make time for yourself.

When you walk through the door at the end of a hectic and difficult day, don’t harp on about what a terrible time you’ve had. Listen to what other members of your family have been doing.

Where possible try to sit down together as a family at mealtimes. Find time for hobbies and recreational pursuits, including those that involve the rest of the family and those that you alone enjoy.

Parents often feel so guilty about not devoting enough time to their children that they don’t allow themselves time to relax and have fun. The truth is that you’ll never be able to fully satisfy the demands of your business or your family, so don’t feel guilty about it.

Once the rest of the children have gone to bed, find some time for yourself. Winding down slowly before bedtime by going for a short walk, taking a warm bath, reading a book or listening to relaxing music can all help soothe away those stress levels. Go to the gym for a workout or go for a run or a brisk walk.

Don’t bottle up your problems. When the moment is right, try talking them through with your partner or a friend. Some people find relaxation from the stresses and strains of business life through meditation or yoga or through complementary therapies like aromatherapy or reflexology. Building up good support networks can help overcome unexpected business demands that keep you late at the office.

On those rare occasions when you have time to spare, offer help to your friends and then when you’re under pressure you won’t feel bad about asking them to help you.

Accept that you’ll never find the perfect work-life balance, but be flexible and try to keep a sense of proportion. Your business won’t suffer unduly if you take an hour off in the morning to see your little one in a school assembly – but being there will mean the world to your child.

Above all, keep a sense of humour and take heed of these sentiments from the International Stress Management Association UK: ‘Showing signs of stress does not mean you are a weak individual who cannot cope! It means you are human like everyone else!’

Sometimes we can be suffering stress without even realising it ourselves but you ignore the signs at your peril.

We all experience pressure on a daily basis and need it to motivate ourselves and enable us to perform at our best. It’s when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover that we start to experience stress.

Sometimes we can be suffering stress without even realising it ourselves but you ignore the signs at your peril. It’s vital to tackle stress at the earliest possible stage because if it’s allowed to continue over a long period it can cause lasting damage to your health, not to mention the success of your business and your relationship with your partner and children.

Health experts reckon long-term stress can cause more damage to your heart than putting on 40lbs in weight or even ageing by 30 years. This is because people tend to deal with stress by smoking, drinking alcohol and overeating.

According to research by the HSE, up to five million people in the UK admit to feeling ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ stressed by their work and around 500,000 people experience work-related stress at a level they believe is making them ill.

It’s important to remember that if you run a business, you don’t only owe an obligation to yourself as the boss to look after your health. If you employ people in your company, you have a legal responsibility under health and safety at work regulations to ensure that your staff are not made ill by their work.

The Tell-Tale Signs
Signs that you are suffering from stress can include: Shows of anger or aggression Becoming increasingly irritable A tendency towards being withdrawn or depressed Lack of concentration Decrease in performance and decision-making Missed deadlines Lack of punctuality Lack of interest in work or colleagues Repeated stomach upsets Irregular breathing Difficulty getting to sleep or interrupted sleep Constant fatigue Poor appetite Reduced sex drive

Trying to juggle two young children, a sick mother and keep her career going took its toll on Dr Rosemary Anderson, a research biochemist from Buckinghamshire.

‘I devoted so much time to my family commitments that I couldn’t find enough time for the work I loved. My stress levels built up and depression kicked in when I discovered that being underworked and feeling professionally unfulfilled can be just as stressful as sinking under the pressure of too much work.

So I turned to supply teaching and lecturing at the Open University. It seemed the perfect way to maintain my career and spend enough time with my family but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I was bored out of my mind and didn’t feel I was achieving anything.

Everyone assumes stress is caused only by overwork. I love my children dearly and they do come first, but I always felt I should also be doing something more interesting. I felt dissatisfied because I wasn’t being stretched enough, and a failure despite the fact that I had a PhD in biochemistry and did a degree in psychology and every course under the sun.

I wanted to do something different and I made a lot of excuses to myself and came up with reasons why I couldn’t do it, such as "I’ll do it next year when the children are older and when I have done this and that".

I was suffering from low self esteem and depression, but I found there wasn’t a lot of help out there for people who are struggling and don’t want their condition to go on their medical records.

The turning point came when I read a book that has become my bible – Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, an American writer. It’s the best self-help book I ever read and I’d recommend it to anybody.

It gave me the idea of setting up my own business, a management consultancy called Anderson Peak Performance of Buckinghamshire in 1996. Now much of my work involves helping other people deal with stress at work.

Many people launching their own business feel scared about doing it but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me because it helped me get out of the doldrums.

The solutions to stress and depression caused by underwork and overwork are similar – it’s all about your perception of your situation and seeing it in a different way. I went from feeling very low because of lack of self esteem to running my business. You get to the point where you have to get the balance right. It’s recognising when you’re starting to show symptoms that aren’t healthy for you – when you’re starting to get snappy or weepy, for instance, which having been there I know very well.

I read every self help book under the sun and I have enough self knowledge now to recognise when I am struggling and know when to take one step back.

You don’t necessarily have to seek help from your doctor in the early stages of problems. If you are able to recognise what causes you the stress, you can either remove yourself from it or learn to organise yourself better.

One thing I am good at is time management. I am very organised to the extent that I even have a list for Christmas Day. That way everything is fitted in and has a purpose.

Another good tip for stress management is to know when to say no when you’ve got enough on your plate. I would advise anyone to ask the question: "Why am I doing this and what will the consequences be? What’s the knock-on effect on colleagues and my family?" It’s about getting your priorities right.

If you have a yearning to run your own business and you don’t do it, that feeling of not doing what you want to do is actually worse than setting it up and failing because at least you’ve had a go.

I decided to have a go and, God, it was it difficult. Not only is it scary in the first place but when you’re coming from a point of low self-esteem and not feeling very good about yourself, it’s 10 times more exaggerated. But the success and fulfilment helps turn you around.’

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