How Do You Handle Stress?

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Halfway through 2015, the economy is showing signs of steady improvement. And for many small business owners, the biggest advantage of that rising tide isn’t more sales or business growth, but “less stress.”

So says the June 2015 SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, in which 35 percent of the business owners polled cite “less personal stress” as the greatest advantage of an improving economy. In comparison, 19 percent cite increased cash flow to invest in their businesses, and 17 percent say “hiring more people” is what they’re happiest about. (In other good news, 86 percent expect to be profitable in the second half of this year and 51 percent are confident they’ll surpass their 2014 revenues.)

SurePayroll’s monthly poll surveys small business owners with one to 10 employees, and it’s no wonder stress weighs heavily on their minds. When you run a business with so few employees, you have to wear so many hats that it’s hard not to feel stress even during the best of times.

How do you handle stress? Here are some ideas:

  • Start with the basics. When you’re hungry, thirsty or tired, the littlest things can seem overwhelming. If you haven’t had a drink of water in the past hour, get one. If you haven’t eaten something in the past few hours, grab a light, healthy snack like nuts or fruit. If you haven’t moved from in front of your computer for last 45 minutes, stand up and walk around your office or do some quick stretches.
  • Take a break. A 10-minute walk around the office park, stroll through the office chatting with employees or run down to the local Starbucks for coffee can do a lot to clear your head. (Make that coffee decaf, though, if you’re already feeling frazzled.)
  • Get enough sleep. You must make time to sleep or you’ll end up on an endless hamster wheel of tiredness. Find ways to delegate, automate or eliminate tasks that take up too much time for too little return. Use the extra time to sleep and make it a priority, just like a business meeting with a client.
  • Get physical. When things get too stressful, one of my business partners swears by a fast run in the midday sun to recharge her batteries and defuse stress. Find a workout that works for you, and use it to decompress.
  • Build connections. Keeping your connections with friends, loved ones and relatives thriving while running a business can be hard, but is vital to soothing your stress. If you have to, multitask by joining a friend for a run or having a lunch date with your spouse (you both have to eat, right?).
  • Develop systems. Creating systems for common tasks in your business means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you get a new client/launch a new product/start a new marketing campaign. Systems also make it easier to delegate because you can train others in the system instead of doing everything yourself. Result: Time saved and less stress.
  • Don’t overthink it. Perfectionism generates unnecessary stress. While you do need to plan for contingencies, worrying about every possible outcome of an action or endlessly assessing your options leads to analysis paralysis and a stress spiral. List the pros and cons of your choices; sleep on it if possible so your gut has time to process the options; then make a decision.
  • Know when to let go. It’s 11:30 at night, you have 600 unread emails in your inbox, but only 20 are from actual people? It’s OK to delete the other 580. No one will know.
  • Know when to say no. If a situation, employee, client or project is stressing you out beyond the usual amount, listen to your gut. Stress could be trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s time to fire the employee, dump that client or call a halt to the project that’s not going anywhere.
  • Harness stress. Stress isn’t always negative—a certain amount of it is necessary and can even motivate us. When you’ve got a super-stressful day ahead, look at it as a challenge. Set goals, focus on the most important tasks, encourage yourself along the way and reward yourself—even if it’s just with a mental pat on the back—as you cross each item off your to-do list.
  • Get help. Of course, one of the best ways to deal with stress is to talk to someone who’s been there. If you don’t have a SCORE mentor, visit to get matched with an experienced small business owner who can listen to you vent and suggest solutions.

How do you deal with stress?

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SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.