As just about everyone knows, stress is a part of everyday life. In small doses, it can even be a work motivator — a little anxiety can encourage creativity and spur people to do their best.

However, constant stress can do much more harm than good. So in recognition of World Mental Health Month, we thought we’d prompt a conversation about stress management.

As a business owner, mastering stress management is key to keeping your company and yourself alive. In fact, managing stress effectively is just as important as your business turning a profit.

Set your business, your staff and yourself up for success by learning the truth about stress and how to overcome it.

83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives.

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How-to Guide: 4 Ways to Run an Efficient Small Business


Identify the Types of Stressors

While various forms of stress exist, psychologists have narrowed them down to three core types: acute, episodic acute and chronic. Being able to identify each and uncovering the tools needed to master them will benefit your business and everyone working within it.

Acute Stress. Think of this as adrenaline stress. This comes from experiencing something new, challenging or exciting.

You might have experienced acute stress when you opened your doors for business. And it’s likely what your staff feels as deadlines approach.

It can be a good feeling, as well. When you hit a record sales high or land a local award and it feels a bit like you’re on a rollercoaster — yes, that’s also acute stress.

Acute stress looks like:
  • Pupil dilation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Perspiration
  • Fast or heavy breathing
  • Emotional highs and lows
  • Poor sleep

Episodic Acute Stress. Where acute stress is meant to occur from time to time, episodic acute stress is when it happens on a regular basis.

If you’re constantly working on tight deadlines with little to zero rest time in between, you likely experience episodic acute stress. As a leader, it’s common to feel like putting out fire after fire is normal. Unfortunately, a consistent string of work crises is far from healthy.

Episodic acute stress presents like:
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Uncontrollable irritability
  • Migraines
  • Hypertension

Chronic Stress. When your body doesn’t take a break from stress, it’ll experience chronic stress.

With this never-ending stress, it becomes nearly impossible to find a solution that pulls you out of the cycle. Once you reach this point, you need to seek outside assistance. That can look like hiring a therapist or asking a friend to be an accountability partner.

Chronic stress looks like:
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic headaches
  • Emotional fatigue

Business Owner Stress

When running a business, your challenges extend far beyond hiring a stellar staff and keeping your clients happy.

It’s your business. This is personal.

Because the emotional stakes are higher, you have a stress that non-business owners cannot relate to. How you choose to manage stress can either make or break your business.

In a 2021 survey, 52% of small business owners said they felt stressed over the course of the year, which is an increase of 7% from 2020. When you’re overcome with stress, you can experience anxiety, isolation, fear and burnout. All of which can disrupt your team’s dynamic.

Not only that, the fear of failure that can accompany stress also can hinder you from learning more or attempting new things. Uncertainty is normal, but unresolved stress will leave you lacking the confidence you deserve.

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

Eliminate time-wasting tasks and get back to business.

Staff Stress Affects Everyone

About one million Americans miss work each day because of stress. That number should not only floor you but also make you wonder how often your staff’s sick days are due to stress. And how much of that stress comes from inside (instead of outside) the workplace?

Stress levels can vary between populations and professions. Female business owners report experiencing higher levels of daily stress than male — 62% vs. 51%, respectively. And those working in health care experience more stress than other service-based businesses.

Employees can find themselves stressed due to:
  • Financial situations, like increasing debts and the inability to pay bills
  • The passing of a loved one, which leaves them with a mix of uncontrollable emotions
  • Traumatic events outside their control, like natural disasters and car crashes
  • Poor emotional well-being and suffering from anxiety and depression
  • Relationship issues that drain them
  • Problems at work, or just having to do more at work to keep their job

Seventy-five percent of employees believe workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. And as a business owner, workplace stress is the one factor you can control. This is why it’s essential to take a temperature check of your team.

Showing a lack of concern about how employees feel while at work could result in a great deal of damage. Unhappy employees mean poor customer service, increased job negligence and a high turnover rate, which costs you big down the line.

How big? Replacing an average employee costs 120-200% of that role’s salary.

Low pay remains the top factor driving workplace stress. When employees aren’t paid what they feel is fair, their motivation, interest and effort drops. It many not even be intentional. Worrying over finances throughout the day makes it hard to focus.

Another culprit for intense stress at work is workplace aggression or violence. Abusive conduct can be verbal abuse or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating or humiliating.

When your staff is treated less than respectfully, it wears on their attitude and affects their ability to provide top-notch service.

18% of workers surveyed experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the past year.

The American Institute of Stress

Compared to violence, passive forms of aggression — such as not responding to phone calls or memos and being late to meetings — may not seem like a big deal.

But they can actually do great psychological harm to employees over time and reduce personal and organizational productivity.

The True Price

The physical effects of excessive stress tend to manifest in physical and psychological illnesses.

Heart attacks, strokes, gastrointestinal disorders, frequent colds, depression and anxiety attacks are just a few common issues over-stressed employees experience.

Unfortunately, the sicker employees are, the more work they miss and the less productive they are at work.

Stress also can affect the way employees handle their jobs. They make more mistakes, have difficulty concentrating, become disorganized or angry or stop caring about their work entirely.

Over five hours of office work hours are lost weekly to employees thinking about their stressors.

The American Institute of Stress

Stress Management

So how can you get your business, your stress and the stress ailing your employees under control?

  1. Free everyone from unrealistic expectations. Hustle culture values busyness and stress as a means of worth. Combat this unhealthy thinking. Don’t ask employees to complete tasks exceeding their abilities and knowledge without support from other staff and resources.
  2. Create a space for career growth. More importantly, create a clear promotion pathway so employees know what’s expected to grow with your company.
  3. Redesign your work environment. The options are limitless. Examples include flexible scheduling so employees can better tend to family needs, or providing extended breaks so everyone (you included) can mentally reset.
  4. Make your staff feel included. By increasing employee participation in decision-making or even hearing out their grievances, you free them from the weight of worry.
  5. Stress the importance of work-life balance and releasing stress. Whether that looks like having a therapist on-site one week each month, regular yoga classes or paying for gym memberships, encourage your staff to break from stress in a healthy manner.

In the midst of a difficult economic climate, almost everyone is more stressed than they probably should be.

However, encouraging your employees to practice stress management and offering them support are excellent ways to help ensure your company remains stable — and even thriving — during stressful times.

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

Eliminate time-wasting tasks and get back to business.