How to Handle Stress When You’re the Boss

Entrepreneurs report rates of depression and stress that are significantly higher than those of other people. According to the Gallup Wellbeing index, 45% of entrepreneurs report being stressed. Thirty percent of entrepreneurs report being depressed, compared to only 15% of the general population. It’s important that business owners and CEOs be aware of the risks that being in charge can bring to their health.

Temporary stress is normal and can even be good for you and your business. Temporary stress might be what motivated you to start your business, to solve problems, or to hire new staff. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is where things start to become worrisome. Stress activates the “fight or flight” systems in your body. If you go from stressful situation to stressful situation your body never has a chance to recover and return to normal. Headaches, heart problems, high blood pressure, suppressed immune response, weight gain, weight loss, all of these can be caused by chronic stress. Chronic stress can also lead to problems with friends and family, the very people you need to support you. Chronic stress is a leading cause of substance abuse, which also increases your health risks and risks of depression.

What Causes Stress

Unfortunately, the very thing that motivates you may be what’s causing you stress. As an entrepreneur, you feel pressure to be fully invested in your business. If you borrowed money from family or put a family home or savings into your business, the pressure is enormous. If you employ other people you may feel responsible for their well-being, which is also stressful. But being too invested in your business is dangerous.

A Harvard Business Review study of the connection between stress and entrepreneurship found that business owners are passionate about their business, but that there are different kinds of passion. “Harmonious passion,” means you’re fully invested in your business. You love what you do, you are engaged and motivated by it BUT, you are also willing to take a break. You build flexibility into your schedule and engage in other activities. This is the kind of passion I like to think I have for The Kaplan Group. I love my work, I love helping businesses solve their problems. But, I also love my family. I love to snowboard and hike and travel and read, and I make sure that I build time for all of that into my schedule.

But there is also “obsessive passion.” People who are obsessively passionate about their work ignore other important parts of their life, like their health and their family. Sadly, ignoring these elements makes it harder for them to concentrate on their work and often leads to more burnout and stress. In my career I’ve seen too many CEOs who are completely dependent on their work for their sense of self. In my experience, these people are not great leaders. They often lack empathy for employees who do not share their obsession and are too distracted and stressed to pay attention to necessary details. They also often fail to trust others with even basic tasks, leaving them overworked and completely unsupported, making the problem worse.

How to Combat Stress

If you’re worried that you edge closer to “obsessive passion,” there are things you can do to help yourself. The four basics that everyone needs to stay healthy (sleep, healthy diet, fresh air and exercise) are especially important for you. Staying up all night to study might have worked for you in college, but it has never helped anyone make good decisions in the real world. You also need a hobby. Whether your hobby is creative, intellectual or active, you need to do something other than work.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to have other people in your life. Friends, spouses, children, family, even pets can provide important support for you. Make time for the people in your life, you need them and they need you. I’ve spent over 30 years running businesses and helping others run their business. I have seen so many talented people achieve their professional dreams only to burn out and become miserable because they fail to live a well-rounded life. Don’t let this happen to you, take the time to care for yourself as much as you care for your work.

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