As we know a certain amount of stress is good for us as business people. Stress motivates us, engages our thinking, utilises our analytic skills and forces us to act. However, too much stress is counterproductive and leads to overwhelm, anxiety and physical health problems. David Watkins is the Managing Counsellor at Elanora Counselling and has been counselling, coaching and consulting business owners and corporate groups for more than 25 years. Coming from the business world, David has a unique understanding of the human psyche, what motivates and encourages us and how to work through problems, issues and dysfunction. Here David will unpack some key tips to reduce stress and overwhelm in your business life.
1. Self-care – Invest in what nurtures your spirit and brings delight
We spend a major proportion of our lives working, so it’s vital to do your best to enjoy each working day. While a lengthy overseas trip (although they can be great) is a wonderful way to unwind, it does not solve the daily challenge of learning to integrate rest in our working lives. Instead, how about practicing self-care today and every day this week and month? What you choose to do does not have to take long or cost a lot. It may be as simple as going to your local cafe ordering your favourite drink and reading the newspaper for 15 minutes or catching up with a friend, so long as you are practicing a daily pleasant event for yourself. Co-author of the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course, Geri Scazzero points out:
“Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. However, it is essential, for the sake of our souls, to distinguish between what we should and should not die to. For example, God calls us to die to selfishness, but he does not call us to die to self-care.”
Self-care is not selfish. It is taking responsibility for our spiritual and emotional health by ensuring adequate periods of rest, reflection and replenishment. Resilience to the challenges of business can only be built into our lives when we give ourselves permission to stop and delight in the simple things available to us every day.
2. Early Warning Signs – Learn how to identify indicators that your are not coping
Running a business can push you to your limits. According to the Harvard Business Review evidence indicates entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from burnout as they tend to have a limited safety net, operate in an environment of high uncertainty and carry a deep passion for their work.
The problem with stress and overwhelm is that very few telltale signs exist as we are becoming stressed. We don’t realise until it’s usually too late and we are already stressed. Rather than focussing on stress, the Bible talks about watching out for what causes anxious thoughts and doubts. At the root of our worry, is an underlying insecurity of our value before God our Father. As Jesus encourages us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
Worry and anxiety are often manifestations of fear- the fear that we won’t be cared for or protected. When we are stressed, we are often taken captive to toxic thinking that only leads to a spiral of destruction, alienating us from God, ourselves and others. According to Max Lucado in his book “Anxious for Nothing,” he writes:
“That’s why the most stressed-out people are control freaks. They fail at the quest they most pursue. The more they try to control the world, the more they realize they cannot. Life becomes a cycle of anxiety, failure; anxiety, failure; anxiety, failure. We can’t take control, because control is not ours to take.”
How do we assess overwhelm and stress so it doesn’t derail us? A helpful tool I use with clients is the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Score (otherwise known as DASS-21) that measures three conditions for stress. I suggest you test yourself at least monthly or at a minimum, after completing a large difficult project. If your stress level is high, you should do something immediately to reduce it. Compare your DASS-21 scores monthly to see evaluate whether your stress reduction techniques are working and whether you need to introduce new ways to reduce worry.
3. Stress Management – Keep stressors at bay by cultivating a healthy lifestyle
We all have different triggers of what causes stress. Some stressors are outside our control but others we can remove from our lives. Reducing anxiety and stress is often connected to living a healthy lifestyle. Pay close attending to the three basics for physical wellbeing- sleep, exercise and diet.
Sleep: At least 8 hours a night, remembering that every hour before midnight is equivalent to 2 hours after midnight.
Exercise: If the gym or HIIT training is not your thing-don’t despair, a 20 minute walk around the block of your place of residence after work can work wonders.
Diet: Are you eating healthy or not? Remember we are what we eat! It helps to stay away or at least limit what is known as CATS- coffee, alcohol, tobacco and sugar. Here is some helpful guidance I share with clients to keep your diet in check.
Coffee: Cut down coffee intake to no more than 2 coffees a day and always before midday.
Alcohol: Reduce down to 1 glass per night and have at least 1 alcohol free day per week.
Tobacco: There is so much research around the connection between tobacco and cancer that it’s just asking for trouble if you smoke.
Sugar: If not used within 2 hours after consumption, the body turns sugar into fat. Just one week of cutting out biscuits, pastries and sugar in your tea of coffee will make a difference.
Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). A Christian business owner who nourishes their body will be able to better serve Jesus and others through their enterprise and thrive over the long haul.
4. Assertiveness – Be direct (in a respectful way) about what you need, think and feel.
If you ordered a steak rare at your favourite restaurant and it came out over cooked, (nearly charred), would you ask for a new steak? The answer to this question shows your level of assertiveness. Most business people are naturally assertive, so in this case we would have no problem sending the steak back. But when it comes to our close personal relationships we seem to get a bit coy when it comes to speaking up for ourselves. Why is this? It is usually because we risk being rejected so we avoid the potential hurt by being passive rather than assertive. Assertive language tells the other person how what has happened makes us think and feel. It assumes that I’m ok and that you’re ok with honesty, and at its best, invites people into deeper relationship. Self-care is about learning to say a healthy ‘no’ to things that are not edifying for the soul, body and spirit. While it is not always easy with our boss or co-workers, it is an essential tool in keeping stress and overwhelm at bay.
5. Observe and Reframe Negative Thinking Patterns – Find your contentment in Jesus
We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with messages that we don’t measure up, reinforcing a negative mindset that our cup is half empty. Our focus can then be directed into buying a better car, landing the next big client, or marking off from our bucket list that exotic holiday destination. It all leaves us with negative feelings of guilt, shame and loneliness as we sink into comparison mode and watch from a distance others on social media live their best lives now. Status anxiety is real and is the exact opposite of the contentment we are called to find in Jesus Christ. Alain de Bottom in his book Status Anxiety contrasts the trap of always living from a place of lack to the freedom of being content with what you have:
“Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.”
We need to take captive thought unto Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). More often than not, what we fear, or feel that we need to be satisfied comes down to a wrong way of perceiving our circumstances. This requires meditating on God’s Word and soaking in what He says about you and your life. Over time, you will gain a renewed mind and be able to have a greater level of discernment to filter out the negative messages you are daily confronted with. It’s vital to ensure that our thinking is clear, even handed, realistic and positive. Even if your thinking only becomes 10% more positive– it will make a huge difference to your experience of each day.
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About David Watkins
David holds a Bachelor of Business Degree, a Graduate Diploma and Theology, a Graduate Diploma in Counselling and is a registered member of the Australian Counselling Association, the Professional Counsellors Association.
He works with large groups in the corporate world and runs face to face individual counselling to help clients reach not only their professional goals but achieve healing and wellness.
Find out more information at dwatkins.com.au.