Stress is a common denominator for many business owners, and family business owners begrudgingly likely carry even more. I’m sure they’d happily trade in their headaches and neck tension for more clients and sales. And while that trade out is possible, unfortunately it isn’t a simple one.
Stress is inevitable. You can’t hide from it even if you decide putting your head in the sand is the best next step. It will still find you. It’s inevitable and oftentimes innumerable. The question isn’t if you’ll be impacted by stress, it’s when and how much. And, the solution isn’t avoiding it altogether but rather identifying ways to manage and mitigate its impact.
Before you can properly manage stress, it’s important to understand why we experience it.
Well, the most obvious why is two-fold. Running a business is stressful. You navigate deadlines, client expectations, financial worries and staffing dilemmas. Family businesses have a few added stressors such as family friction and baggage. But let’s look at another reason… which starts with our brain.
Amit Sood, a Mayo Clinic professor, defines two primary modes in which our brain operates. “Focused mode” is when our brain is immediately present to the world around us. This mode is experience-oriented and allows us to stay focused on a particular task or allow our brains to react naturally to external situations.
“Default mode” is more internally oriented. Our brain thinks actively about, processes, and reflects upon the external events. While self-reflection is hugely important in life, spending too much time reflecting can result in over-analyzing which can lead to additional stress and struggle as we fall into what Dr. Sood refers to as “attention black holes.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to fall into any kind of black hole.
Stress is inevitable, but the amount of stress you manage is something you can possibly control.
While it’s inevitable, it doesn’t have to be intolerable. As humans, we are smart beings who can learn tools and skills for just about anything, including stress management. And, in doing so, we can reduce the negative impact stressors have on all parts of our lives.
I love using the tool, SMART, which is short for Stress Management and Resiliency Training. Practicing SMART is functionally a state of mindfulness, where we put forward active efforts to pay attention to our lives in a way that allows us to see positives, put our stressors into perspective, and improve our mental energy.
Here are a few ways that you can incorporate SMART mindset efforts into your everyday.
Change Your Attitude to One of Gratitude
Studies have proven that a life of gratitude has many positive implications, including decreased stress. Every day, as you wake up in the morning, put gratitude as your top priority to tackle. I love to make a list of the people I care for deeply and reflect on what they mean most to me. You can take this simple reflection into your workplace—and into your family business—as well. Living a life of gratitude does wonders for your own stress but it has another beautiful outcome, too. Those around you will have a deeper appreciation for you, too, especially if you vocalize your gratitude.
Show Compassion to Others
We all deserve a little grace from time to time. Life is anything but perfect, and that extends to each of us. We will make a mistake. We will miss a deadline. We will upset a co-worker. We will mess up. But showing kindness to those around you—whether they are your family, friends, coworkers, or strangers—has the ability to not just make someone else feel better but also decrease your stress, too. The more you practice kindness and compassion, the more you can call upon these skills during stressful situations.
Acceptance is the First Step in Moving Forward
If you want to make a change, you have to start by accepting what is holding you back. If you want to fix a strained relationship, you have to start by accepting that you can’t change anyone but yourself. If you want to move forward, acceptance is the key to doing so, and it starts with intentional self-reflection and self-acceptance of your thought patterns. Reflect on your responses to various external events, situations, and stimuli, and recognize how they’re shaped by the familial, cultural, and moral lenses through which you view the world. Seeing and understanding this will help you see life through the three most significant lenses: forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.
There is Something Much Bigger Than You or Me
While many think of this in spiritual terms (acknowledging God or another deity that influences your life), your realization that there is something much bigger than you doesn’t have to be a religious action. Acknowledging a higher power is more broadly an admission to one’s self that we exist in a world we cannot fully comprehend or control. Whether it be due to the forces of a god, nature, fate, the universe, or wherever we place our beliefs in what shapes the world around us. Accepting this allows us to relieve much of the stress we place on ourselves as individuals and start to see our position within a broader world.
I Forgive You
Probably the three most impactful words—both to the person you speak them to and to you, yourself. Forgiveness is a gift given and a gift received. Whether you seek forgiveness or give it to another, when forgiveness is accepted, an intangible weight is lifted. The world is not perfect, and neither is anybody who is in it. While it’s unwise to repress legitimate grievances, unyielding rumination, grudge-holding, and resentment of past faults only serve to add to our stress and anxiety. Consciously and intentionally practicing forgiveness allows us to resolve past issues and move forward with building our family and our community.
When you shift stress, you create space for growth—in business and within you.
Life has a way of working on autopilot. Even the best laid intentions for a stress-reduced environment doesn’t always work out as we planned. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place… a SMART plan. My book, The Soul of Family Business, provides guidance every family business can benefit from, and when the family is running smoothly, the business has the opportunity too as well. And, guess what, you’ll find your shoulders a bit lighter along the way.