Stress is to the entrepreneur what water is to a fish: It surrounds you; it nourishes you; you breathe it, and live in it. The startup environment is a crucible of pressure, and thriving in this environment can be the litmus test.
As someone in the throes of a startup, this is the world I am most at home in, too–but as a thought leader in the field of human performance, I know that stress has a dark side: It can rob you of the very gifts and skills you most prize in yourself, and, if left unchecked, can leave you belly up on the shore, exhausted, and burned out.
The secret is to change the paradigm: You don’t have to eradicate stress from your life completely, but you do have to change the way you respond to and interact with it.
This is why I wrote meQuilibrium: 14 Days To Cooler, Calmer, And Happier. Based on the latest in psychological and stress research, and co-authored with my colleagues Andrew Shatté, PhD, a leader in cognitive psychology, and Adam Perlman, M.D., an expert in integrative medicine.
Here are four things entrepreneurs and those in high-pressure jobs need to know about stress.
Stress is a normal part of our lives. It helps us get things done and helps us rev up when we need to. How would we have gotten through school, delivered our first presentation, asked for the job, without the increased drive that stress causes in all of us at times? Let’s reframe our thinking about stress as what it is–our response to adversity, danger, increased need for focus and performance.
The real enemy is the stress effect, namely the negative toll stress can take on you when you don’t manage your stress response, and you get overwhelmed, chronically foggy, burned out, and start to lose your ability to focus.
The good news is that as an entrepreneur you’re driven by: optimism, innovation, a sense of connectedness to vision and purpose–all of which naturally makes you more resilient, and far more engaged than most of the world–certainly more than many of your clock-in, clock-out corporate counterparts. But, there is a tipping point, and while you don’t have to back off stress completely, you do have to master certain skills so that you don’t let the negative edge of stress sabotage your best efforts.
As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “Man is not disturbed by events but by the view he takes of them.” It may seem as if the constant travel, the demanding investor, the marketplace, are to blame for your stress levels, but actually it’s the thoughts you form based on those external factors that govern your reaction.
When things take a turn for the worse, your brain seeks a shortcut to make sense of it, turning, “Brad still hasn’t answered my email,” into, “Brad is avoiding me and purposely making my life hell.” See the difference? When you can become aware of your habitual thoughts and knee-jerk patterns, you can begin to change them so you’re not derailed by whatever happens.
I’m all for a 75-minute yoga class or 50-minute massage, and I avail myself of these calming treats when I can, but when we are constantly and chronically under high stress, these provide at best temporary relief but cannot correct the thinking patterns and habits that are foiling you and dragging you down.
Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity, rise to the occasion, believe in yourself, and summon your powers–and resilience, not calm, is the conqueror of stress. And it can be learned. It is not a genetic gift like great hair or 20/20 vision–it’s a skill that can be measured, honed, and vastly improved by learning to calm and control your emotional responses.
Here’s how to start:
- Day 1 & 2: Identify your thinking patterns and break them.
- Day 3 -5: Question outdated beliefs that have you stuck.
- Day 6 & 7: Recalibrate your positivity radar.
- Day 8 -13: Reconnect with something bigger than your to-do list.
- Day 14: You can overhaul your stress response and literally start seeing your stress and your life through fresh eyes.
Jan Bruce is the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium and the co-author of meQuilibrium: 14 Days To Cooler, Calmer, And Happier with Andrew Shatté, PhD, and Adam Perlman M.D.