If you’re calling all the shots in your own business, burning yourself out won’t do you any good at all. Life at the top can be lonely, and whilst a regular employee might be able to express their concerns to their boss or HR person (or call in sick), freelancers and small business owners aren’t afforded such a luxury.
A study by Health Assured has found that more than two thirds of small business owners say it is more stressful to run a business now than ever before, and statistics show that 71% of small business owners experience high levels of stress. For the benefit of your health, your livelihood and your relationships you should never be too busy to look after yourself.
40% of all work-related illness reportedly comes from stress. Remember, this is a productive, short-term, ‘fight or flight’ reaction, there to let you know when you are about to panic, so it’s important to nip stress in the bud before it gets the better of you.
If you feel like this has already happened, ensure you follow this advice for – as those really annoying posters say – keeping calm and carrying on.
In body and mind
A Crunch survey on how freelancers are tackling their stress levels revealed that the majority of them turn to exercise to combat their worries. A third (34%) recommended swimming, running or gym sessions as their most successful stress relief remedy. Exercise helps your body produce feel-good endorphins which boost energy, so perhaps it’s time to actually use that gym membership? (just please, please, spare us the selfies!)
Of course, if you aren’t eating healthily you’ll struggle to find the energy to handle the exercise, so knock the crisps and chocolate on the head (or at least cut down). It’ll make you feel less sluggish and help you focus better on your work too. Easier said than done, but the doctors aren’t making this stuff up – it’s seriously effective.
If an office dog is out of the question, it might be worth getting a borrowmydoggy.com account for a bit of playtime therapy when stress starts to get the better of you. Studies show that that contact with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Some airports have even started employing dogs to hang out and make anxious flyers feel better.
It’s not just canines, either. Cats have also been found to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, both in reaction to stressful events and over time. Whilst other animals apply, it’s probably best to steer clear of the ones who are even more stressed than you are (have you ever tried to hold a guinea pig?!).
Get your priorities straight
Tiredness is both a leading cause of stress and a symptom of it, so it’s vital to break the cycle. Crossing tasks off your to-do list is really therapeutic, and will eliminate that nagging feeling hanging over you that there’s something more important you should be getting on with, leaving you to get some well-earned shut-eye.
Top tip: Wunderlist is an useful online to-do list app which you can access from anywhere and makes a highly satisfying ‘ping’ sound when you’ve completed a task.
If you’re so busy with work that you’re constantly bogged down, do make sure you schedule in some quality ‘you’-time to see friends, (or for the more introverted amongst us, chill out by yourself).
For centuries, music has has been used by armies and sportspeople to pump themselves up, so naturally it’s also possible to use it to calm people down or increase concentration. It’s generally assumed that some low-fi classical music is the best soundtrack to a stress-free day, but you be the judge of what works for you.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to play an instrument, jumping into a song is a great way to escape the hustle-bustle of everyday life, although don’t make things worse by trying to play something impossibly hard!
Cluttered desk, cluttered mind
A messy desk is the sign of a busy day, but according to Psychologist Sherrie Bourg-Carter your route to a calmer workplace is regularly taking the time to stop it and tidy up:
“Clutter can bombard our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.”
Every bit of clutter on your desk represents a decision you haven’t made yet. Feeling overwhelmed? Chuck out the old magazines, sweet wrappers and paperwork. Not using it? File it away, or banish it to the bin.
Look out for number one
Rather terrifyingly, according to research adults working more than 11 hours a day to have more than 67% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than those working eight hours. A link has been found between workplace stress and a lack of productivity, so you may actually work better if you work less. Sweden for example have just introduced a six hour work day in an attempt to increase productivity (and make people happier).
Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to work if you’re too busy to take it on – creating unnecessarily tight deadlines will mean you overwork yourself to hit them. Once you’re done for the day, turn those phone notifications off. They’ll still be there when you’re finished spending time with loved ones or killing some virtual zombies.
When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. It sounds mad to mention it, but just think – have you taken the opportunity today to take a few seconds out to take a big deep breath, and a slow exhale?
You’re busy running a business, so if finding time to attend a meditation class is a touch ambitious, taking a few moments to relax your breathing is a proven and cost-free way to help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.
Time to get away?
There are always going to be uncertainties, late payments, tax forms to fill in, clients to win over and keep. Nobody ever set up a successful business without a lot of hard work combined with some sweat and perhaps blood and tears.
But your business success is worth very little if you’re not healthy enough to reap the benefits. As much as we love a great story of an aspiring entrepreneur or freelancer refusing the give up, there is never a good reason to make yourself ill.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back, in order to move forward. Don’t give up your freelance dreams – you can return to them again once you’ve had a holiday, or put things on hold for a while.
If you’ve exhausted all other avenues, there are plenty of places to go for professional advice. The NHS has a specific page dedicated to stress, what you can do, and who you can speak to about it.