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Calming down when starting up

You’ve got your business plan, but what about the plan for managing your company’s most important asset: you? Launching a business is extremely stressful, and while some stress stimulates, too much can derail the strongest entrepreneur.

“When stress lasts too long, when it comes too often, then it becomes distress,” says David Posen, M.D., an Oakville-based stress management specialist and author of The Little Book of Stress Relief. He says chronic stress can cause fatigue, headaches and chest pain, affect decision-making abilities, and lead to emotional issues, including anxiety and depression. And stress is often at its peak when a business is just getting off the ground. So, for those entrepreneurs breathlessly wading through the startup phase, here are some tips for surviving your company’s launch.

1) Control what you can control. You can’t just decide when your business will turn a profit, but stress can be managed through the choices you make. This includes everything from lifestyle habits and behaviour to ways of thinking, including expectations and whether you indulge in negative self-talk. Posen says most stress comes from the meaning we give to events rather than the events themselves (imagine thinking people are angry because they haven’t replied to emails rather than assuming they’re busy).

2) Avoid crazy hours. Jeff Mann seems like the poster boy for launching businesses. The 31-year-old is already working on his second business after opening a successful design agency at age 26, and recently led a workshop for the Toronto Business Development Centre on time and stress management. But, he says, working 70 to 80 hours a week launching the first venture had him neglecting his health.

“Lots of junk food by the computer, bags of chips, takeout. I gained 15 pounds. And it reflects poorly,” he says. “You don’t want this image going to your potential customers.”

Posen says he often starts by having patients cut hours. He says they’ll probably get more done if they work less anyway.

“Not only does the research show that, but in over 25 years, I’ve never had a patient tell me they couldn’t keep up with their work in fewer hours—if they take better care of themselves,” he says.

3) Get your z’s. Adequate sleep—seven and a half to nine hours for most adults—is essential to managing stress. Chronic sleep deprivation creates higher levels of cortisol (the main hormone in stress), compromises mental function and mood, and affects immune systems.

“Most of the symptoms of sleep deprivation are symptoms of stress,” says Posen.

4) Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol, and suppresses a natural relaxant in the brain called adenosine.

“Entrepreneurs may think caffeine is helping, but it’s not only jazzing up their bodies. It’s also masking other symptoms they should be aware of,” says Posen.

Caffeine also stays in the body for six to ten hours, and can prevent deep sleep. But cutting it completely often causes side effects, so to avoid withdrawal headaches, trim intake back gradually.

5) Take five. Mann suggests taking breaks, such as weekly date nights, to prevent business from becoming all consuming. Dr. Posen recommends daily exercise, which helps drain excess stress energy, and says leisure time during the week, whether catching a game with friends, talking a walk, or just watching TV, is a savvy investment.
Tracy Howard

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