UPDATE: This stress management post was first published on 27 May 2020 and updated on 29 July 2021.
Most small business owners have felt stressed, overwhelmed or anxious at some point in the last 18 months. Depending on where you live and work, your stress level may have increased due to the recent lockdowns. Now more than ever, your stress management is so important.
These are uncertain times.
You can’t expect to pilot your business through this crisis unless you deal with your own (100% natural) response to it.
Improve your mood with these stress management tips
Before we get into our stress-busting tips, let's quickly describe the symptoms.
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to any kind of demand or threat and it can express itself both mentally and physically. According to the Black Dog Institute, stress can lead to negative thoughts like “I can’t cope with this” or “I can’t do this, it’s too much.”
Stress can also cause physical reactions like an increase in heart rate, muscle tension, headaches or nausea.
The first step in dealing with stress is recognising how your own body responds. If you’re feeling stressed, you may:
- Feel overwhelmed, moody, irritable or angry
- Not sleep well
- Experience headaches or other pains
- Feel restless or have difficulty concentrating
- Have an upset stomach
- Experience chest pain or an increase in your heart rate
- Overeat or undereat
- Increase your alcohol consumption or smoke too much
Healthdirect Australia maintains a comprehensive list of symptoms associated with stress. Once you recognise how stress affects your body and your behaviour, you can explore strategies to deal with stress daily.
Let’s explore some of these now.
1. Catch some ZZZs
Sleep is a vital part of your overall health and wellness because it helps your body rest, repair and get ready to face another day. Late nights spent tossing and turning can leave you feeling physically drained, dampening your mood and memory. Lack of sleep can also make your feelings of stress seem worse.
Adults should aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
If feelings of stress and worry during this crisis are keeping you awake at night, following these simple steps to give yourself the best chance of a better night’s sleep:
- Limit media exposure and distractions like social media in the hour before bedtime
- Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day
- Avoid daytime naps
- Don’t sleep with your TV or other devices on
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and comfy
Find more tips to help you improve your sleep by reading 10 tips for healthy sleep.
2. Make time for relaxation
You’d be forgiven for thinking ‘easier said than done’ when it comes to relaxing during a pandemic. Especially if you're running your business from home with dodgy internet or a house full of kids. But relaxing is key to your daily stress management.
Sitting on the couch and binge-watching the latest Netflix series sounds good. But your mind and body will also benefit from activities like:
- Deep breathing
If you’ve never done anything like this before it can feel foreign to start with. But there are some great apps out there to help you increase your focus, improve your sleep and reduce your stress.
Here are a few to get you started:
This free app, developed by psychologists and educators, can help you learn to be more present through daily meditation and mindfulness exercises.
This app offers calming music, soundscapes, sleep stories (some by famous people) and guided meditation exercises. Calm has a free trial.
Headspace provides guided exercises, videos and more to help you get healthier and happier.
3. Eat well
We all know eating a balanced diet is important for our physical health, but did you know food can influence your mental state?
Better stress management can start by simply eating better.
Choose more nutritious foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains to fuel your body (and your brain) with what it needs to get you functioning at your best. The vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre in them all support physical and mental health.
BrainMD suggests the following seven foods to eat for a brighter mood:
- Dark chocolate
- Herbal teas
- Leafy greens
- Whole fruits
For those of us who find ourselves closer to the cupboard and fridge, it’s easy to let our diets get out of hand. Keep it balanced and try not to increase sugar, alcohol, caffeine or saturated fats from processed meals or takeaway.
4. Keep movin’
Depending on where you live, you may need to find alternatives to the local gym.
Chief Executive Officer of Exercise and Sports Science Australia, Anita Hobson-Powell says:
“We wanted to take the opportunity to remind everyone that we should still consider physical activity for two key reasons. Firstly, research does show that exercise can support our immune system and secondly, exercise is proven to support our mental health.”
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for home workouts, there’s a tonne of resources and apps out there to inspire you. Here are four to try:
- Centr, founded by none other than Chris Hemsworth, is free for seven days.
- YMCA 360 offers a collection of on-demand and livestream classes at three membership levels.
- FitOn provides quick, effective workouts from celebrity trainers — no equipment needed.
More interested in a personal trainer? Try MB Barefoot Training — owner Marcus Bradbery put his business online during the first COVID-19 wave in 2020.
5. Stay in touch
You might be social distancing or even self-isolating, but you don’t have to be out of touch with your family and friends.
Stressful life events or unfamiliar situations like the pandemic can increase feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.
And the people that we’d ordinarily seek out are no longer within physical reach. Thankfully, we live in a world where modern technology means contact with our loved ones is only a phone call or FaceTime call away.
There are also some fresh, new ways to catch up and have fun with family and friends. For example, you could:
- Hold a Netflix Teleparty, where you can link up with loved ones for long-distance movie nights and TV watch parties.
- Have a video Houseparty with up to eight people via video chat.
- Organise a virtual happy hour or game night on Zoom or Skype.
Better yet, why not ask Dolly Adamson of Dolly’s Disco Bingo to host an online video house party for you? Yep — the weekly trivia and disco bingo nights Dolly used to host down at the pub have moved online. Now everyone in Australia can enjoy the magic of disco bingo with their mates.
Use these 5 ways to deal with stress to feel better
Whatever your situation, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or uncertain during this time, know that these feelings are completely normal. Then check out this list of resources and use them to bring yourself back to a state of wellness:
- Lifeline is a 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention service. Call 13 11 14 or visit Lifeline online chat.
- Mensline provides telephone and online counselling service for Australian men. Call 1300 789 978 or check in with their chat counsellors.
- Mindspot is free service for Australian adults who are experiencing difficulties with anxiety, stress, depression or low mood.
This post is not intended as medical advice. If you think you may be suffering from stress, it’s best to visit your doctor for a stress management plan.