Being a business owner is rewarding but it definitely comes with its own set of challenges, making it essential to identify ways to manage stress. I’ll be honest, the past month or so has been an especially tough time for me as a business owner. It was almost a perfect storm of craziness both personally and professionally. Somehow it just kept getting worse and worse and it became tough to keep my head up. I know that as an owner I need to be the leader, the beacon, the example of how to navigate uncertainty and change, but this time felt different.

Here are some of the pieces of crazy that all hit at the same time:
  • A bad month of billing
  • My digestive system deciding to freak out
  • A series of personal issues with an in progress divorce
  • Having to let go an employee that we all really liked
  • Not being able to close a couple of new jobs
Business ebbs and flows and it’s important to make sure that as an owner you don’t let everything get to you. But sometimes you have a perfect storm of crazy and it impacts everything you have your hands in.

As entrepreneurs, we like the beginnings of things, the charge that we get from a new great idea, how good it feels to have an audience that cares as much as you do, and we revel in the little wins throughout the day. We also all have dark sides. Some of us secretly think that we are alone, that we are actually failures, that no one cares, that the self-imposed mountain we’re building and climbing at the same time is simply too steep.

Ok, some of that is true. And I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that. I’d love to say I have it figured all out. At 40 and 14 years in business, there’s an expectation that I should have it figured out. But I don’t. I’m always making tiny changes to try to make this mountain climb more manageable. Here are a few things I’m currently working on:

1. I get outside
When I’m feeling the weight of the work pile up, I just go outside. Even in the dead of winter in Chicago, I walk to work. Sure that may seem outrageous but connecting with nature, does wonders for my soul. It’s a non-negotiable to spend time outside every day. Even in the city, breathing air from plants instead of machines changes your whole perspective. I appreciate my commute to work each day because I need the decompression time. It’s my time with myself, away from work and my kids, where I can reflect, meditate, or simply clear my mind.

2. I’ve started looking at my mental health holistically
One major change that started working miracles on my stress levels are more regularly drinking tea, along with other natural remedies for stress, and meditation. I was so stressed out I was on the verge of requesting pharmaceuticals. While that works for many,  I decided to give nature and mindfulness one more try and decided to look at my mental health more deeply and comprehensively. So far it has been incredibly effective but it requires consistency and dedication. These combined activities stopped anxiety I was having for 4 days in just a few hours. This proved to me that making time for myself and implementing a mental health regimen was a priority.

3. Talk to people
Another component of my regimen is regularly meeting with my therapist. When I was talking to my therapist about the high level of stressors in my life, she urged me to ask for help, which I something rarely do. Strangely, two of my friends texted me during that session just to check in. So, seeing this as the universe working its magic, I told them what was going on and of course they were more than happy to help. They offered to get together and doing something fun. During that time they did what I really needed them to do – just listen. I had this idea that I didn’t want to put my problems onto other people, and after a long time of not asking for help, you forget how to do it. But they want to because they love you. Don’t forget that!

In a small company or team, the culture might be firmly in place, but the mood shifts day to day or hour to hour. I’d venture to say that 80% of that mood depends on the leader’s mood. So if I’m in a consistently scared and sad mood for a few weeks, of course the team is going to take that on, even if I explain that it’s not about them.

It’s a lot of pressure to be that leader all the time. And the reality is, there’s no way that’s possible. The only way forward is to be aware of yourself and your mood changes, the reasons behind the changes: be those things you can change or things you can’t. The trick is to realize in the moment which is which. We’re great at making changes and taking big leaps, we’re business owners — that’s what we love.

And there are a lot of external pressures and shifts that we can have no impact on. For those, recognizing that they are out of your control is step one, then choosing whether or not to pay attention to it is the second.

There was a moment last month when I had a choice. Someone close to me was jabbing words and trying to get a rise out of me. Old me would have joined right in, but this new me who realizes she has a choice realized what was going on, paused, and said out loud: “I will not fight with you.” And this realization made me so happy I couldn’t help but smile and almost laugh about it.

That is the person I need to be — the person who chooses which battles to take on. The leader who is deliberate and self-aware. Not perfect by any means, but honest.

How do you manage your stress? Any methods you’d like to share?