DANGER WILL ROBINSON! 8 indicators of too much stress (and how to manage it)

American culture is not known for its easy, relaxed rhythm. In fact, it is quiet the opposite. We work more than other developed countries in the world!

Let’s be honest: leading a business is no easy task — there’s a lot of pressure that comes with the job. Losing a client, or making a mistake could, in some cases, mean you can’t make payroll. Between clients and employees, business owners have a big burden to carry.

And so, you work a lot – because money doesn’t grow on trees. You don’t always have the best health – because eating a healthy meal, or going to the gym is going to take time. And, if you just stay at the office for a couple more hours tonight it will go so much better for us in the morning …except you end up working just a couple of hours every night. And when stress begins to impact our health…you can’t go to the doctor because, well —  you don’t have time for that either.

The stress just seems to creep up on us – like those extra pounds around the holidays. So easy to put on, so hard to take off.

To run off of the catch phrase from the 1960s TV show Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson!” there are some stress indicators you should be looking out for.

The kind of pressure we face as business owners will never go away completely (though we would love to help you minimize it!). But the stress that comes on needs to be monitored, and managed. Yes, you can manage your stress. And you can do that best when you make a habit of checking the indicators for warning signs that stress is creeping up on you.

1. Sleep. How has my sleep been lately?

sleeping on the job

Am I having a harder time getting up in the morning than usual? How have I been sleeping? Am I going to bed later than usual? Am I having a hard time getting to sleep? Am I having a hard time staying asleep the whole night? Just like children who don’t get enough sleep have a diminished capacity to deal with stress, a lack of sleep diminishes your capacity as well. (If you’ve ever witnessed a toddler having a fit, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) If you catch yourself acting like a toddler, that is a sure sign: you, my friend, need a NAP.

I’m really protective of my sleep schedule. I know what happens to me when I don’t get sleep and it’s not pretty. That’s why, to me sleep is sacred. I protect it. On the rare occasion that I can’t seem to drift off, I’ll take melatonin (it’s a natural substance that your body already produces when it’s time for bed). I also use the Sleep Cycle app to monitor my sleep as well (I know, I’m a total geek about it). Using the app, I can see trends in my sleep cycle — and I can think about what could cause a disturbance in those trends. Protect your sleep time. If I start feeling down, stressed or anxious, I first look at what my sleep has been like. There’s almost always a correlation.

2. What’s my caffeine intake like?

too much coffee

How many cups of coffee are you drinking a day? When I don’t get enough sleep, my coffee intake goes up. And then my sleep suffers because I’ll drink too much coffee during the day and can’t get to sleep at night. (See #1.) To avoid going into this snowball, I limit myself to two cups of coffee a day. And no caffeine after 3pm.

3. Food. What have my eating habits been like?

eating poorly

If I get stressed, it’s usually because I have too much on my plate and not enough down time. If I’m running from one thing to the next, I don’t have enough time to go grocery shopping and plan out my meals. I’ll grab food on the go and it’s often not the healthiest choices. If I eat a big, carb-and-starch loaded lunch, I’m brain-dead for the entire afternoon. I try to stick with small, light lunches, and will often split it into two meals to help with metabolism and keep my energy level up. Diet has a HUGE impact on energy and focus levels.

4. Rest. When’s the last time you spent doing nothing?

resting

You know how it is: on the phone in the car, checking email while in a cab going to the airport. Even when we allow ourselves to focus on ONE thing, we are always aware of the 8 other things we need to do. When is the last time you had true free time?

I’m not talking about time sitting in front of the TV with a bag of potato chips (though that has its appeal), but really sitting doing nothing. Nothing but just sitting there, enjoying the moment. I do this best outside — when I go for a walk, or go to the lake. I look at the water and the sky, and listen to the waves against the rocks and feel the breeze. All of our brains need time like this — to just breathe and just be present. You’d be surprised at how quiet your mind can get, and how much you have missed the silence!

5. How many breaks am I taking during the day?

work break

It’s not good to sit all day! Do you ever leave your desk and walk around? When I work from home, I’ll take a mid-day break and go for a walk to the local coffee shop and work there for the afternoon. It helps break up the day and after I sit down to work at the coffee shop I feel fresh, and ready to work.

6. More rest. How many free days do I have in the next couple weeks?

free days

This is loosely connected with #4. I mean with NOTHING on the schedule. Nada. Zip. Just allotted time for rest. If the answer is only one or two days — you need to make some changes. Running around non-stop for 14 days with only one true day off is not sustainable. Make rest a priority. And then schedule time for it.

7. Vacation. When are you taking one?

boss take a vacation

It’s SO hard to leave our business for more than a few days and not do any work. But you HAVE to. If you don’t — you miss the full benefit of taking time off to rest. This is kind of like throwing money out the window! Plan something. Give yourself something to look forward to. And don’t bring your laptop with you!

8. Delegation. Do I share work with my employees?

delegate work to employees

One of the biggest problems business owners have is the mentality that they have to do it all. STOP! You don’t. No wonder you’re stressed! You have employees for a reason — use them. You can’t be involved in every aspect of your business all the time. It’s impossible. When we take on too much, we get overwhelmed, the quality of our work suffers, and our problems multiply. The work piles up. Delegate what you can so you can focus on the key parts of your business that really need your attention.

These are a few indicators of stress that help me make sure I’m managing my stress level well. What do you do that helps you? Leave a comment and let us know!

Photo credits:  agoode,  Qole Pejorian,  silkolive,  mjtmail (tiggy)photosteve101Axion23,  IHA Central Office

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Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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