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How Entrepreneurs Can Minimize Stress

“For example, in 2016, when Dyn was experiencing major growing pains. I kept losing my vision in my left eye. With three small children at home, I was worried it was something serious so I had an MRI. It was just stress.” – Excerpt from an email from Adam to Julie

One of the things I’ve learned in performance coaching, was that entrepreneurs have learned to minimize the stress they experience in their work. Their strategy is to simply push through it…whether it’s disrupted sleep, chest pains, numbness in limbs or other physical struggles – and that’s not a strategy – it’s actively dangerous. There’s a famous saying that if you don’t make time for dealing with stress, you will be forced to make the time later dealing with an illness – it’s absolutely true. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who have paid that price and struggle actively with heart problems or anxiety disorders –  the health problems many face are a well-kept secret that isn’t widely talked about.

Getting proactive about stress management is something I hit with many clients early on. Despite the massive workload they often face, there are ways to do this smartly that help to make them not only a healthier leader, but a more effective one.

Here’s a two-prong approach I often take that you can use: 1. Reduce your cognitive load 2. Increase your outlets.

Reducing your cognitive load is often about sharp prioritization, time management, delegation, and getting out of the mode of “putting out fires.” I’ve met founders who spend their entire day putting out fires or in meetings, and spend their evenings into the early morning hours actually doing the work. You have to find a system that works for you, but also a system that both gets work done and also allows you the outlets that fuel an optimal human that can go the distance.

Here’s an example. No one is at their best or making good decisions with 3 hours of sleep, despite the mythology of working every hour. Lack of sleep impacts cognitive performance and negatively impacts your focus, attention, reasoning, mood/patience with employees, and a host of other things. It’s an impairment, not a badge of honor. Studies show that just pulling one all-nighter for the business gives you the same cognitive impairment equivalent of someone with a blood alcohol level of .1, and working 18 hour days gives you the equivalent of someone with a blood alcohol level of .05….remember that .08 is considered drunk. As a founder or executive, your highest and best use is in the good decisions you make. Just not sleeping adequately means you are likely taking twice as long, and doing tasks half as well…as well as putting your health at risk. Imagine what you could do at 100%.

Increasing outlets is the portion of this I often get pushback on, but the breakthroughs are most rewarding. If you are optimizing on the foundational things (like sleep & time management), you will operate more efficiently so you have more space for the things that refuel your tank. Instead of 16 hour days and stress symptoms, you can have 12-13 hour days, enjoy life, and go the distance. Go on date nights with your significant other, get in exercise, and have times with friends – regularly. These aren’t luxuries, they are necessities…and they’ll make you a happier, more effective leader.

You have to optimize performance for the way that humans are built. As much as we all may wish it were different, we’re like a Ferrari. You can run hard, but you need pit stops, breaks, and tune-ups or you’re going to break down.

I understand that you are “all-in” for building an empire – you go hard, and you often push yourself to the brink. I work with people like you all the time. People in high stress, highly competitive environments who want to win. Adam’s story is not uncommon…so take some steps now to function even better and go the distance – and if you’re an entrepreneur experiencing some physical symptoms, don’t ignore them and please get them checked out – you might not be as lucky as Adam.

Dr. Julie Gurner is a Doctor of Psychology and a nationally recognized executive performance coach for individual and corporate clients primarily in finance and technology. Follow her here!

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