Stress management is something everyone talks about. We women entrepreneurs are always looking for new stress management techniques, because wearing all the hats and doing all the things can be uber-stressful.
We all know stress is bad.
Everywhere you look you see that message repeated.
Stress isn’t a pleasant experience, either.
It keeps you up at night. It makes your thoughts race. It gives you heart palpitations, sweaty palms and panic attacks.
It makes you snap at people and cry at the drop of a hat.
It’s never a good feeling when you’re overwhelmed and can’t mobilize the resources you need to respond to the demands you’re facing.
Maybe you don’t need to reduce your stress.
Maybe all you need is to change the way you think about stress.
Did you know that the way you think about your business challenges can de-stress you?
For women entrepreneurs, making deliberate choices about how we think is part of the healthy mindset we need to be stronger so we can succeed in business and in life.
Fight-flight and stress management
The idea of the fight-flight response, stress management, and stress as bad news has been around since the 1930s, thanks to Hans Selye.
The fight-flight response mobilizes the body’s stress response in a way that inhibits effective thinking and decision-making, and makes it hard to deal with negative thoughts and emotions.
We all know the feeling: we see red (and nothing else), or else we run around like chickens with our heads cut off.
As women entrepreneurs, we go through these kinds of experiences on a regular basis. Living in the fight-flight response all the time isn’t good for a healthy mindset.
But we do need the body’s stress response. It’s what gets us up off the couch to look for the remote when we want to change channels. It’s what makes you run around the office looking for your cell that rare time it rings.
We don’t need to manage stress
The issue is not with stress itself. The problem is how we think about it and what we do with it.
Did you know there is also a challenge response?
The challenge response mobilizes the sympathetic nervous system, just like the fight-flight response does. But a different ratio of stress hormones are released.
The challenge response to stress facilitates decision-making, supports clear, effective and sustained thinking processes, and enables you to handle negative emotions well.
You can see how, if you’re focussed, and feeling confident and in control, you’re likely to perform better.
Activating the challenge response puts us in the zone.
You might recognize your challenge response in the experience of being in the zone. The nervous system is aroused, you are mobilized and engaged, your mind is focussed on the task at hand and things are going well.
It’s a paradigm shift to think of adverse events in your business as challenges, rather than threats.
And it’s a practice. It’s not enough to say, “Ok, from now on stress is good for me.”
This is where self-talk plays an important role.
What we say to ourselves matters
When you freak out, do you say things to yourself like:
- “This is really bad news.”
- “What a disaster.”
- “I just can’t catch a break.”
- “I should have known better.”
I’m sure, if you’ve studied self-growth in any way, you know this kind of thinking isn’t helpful. All the stress management books say we should avoid catastrophic thinking and self-criticism.
But what can you do about it?
First, it’s important to recognize and validate what’s happening.
- “Yikes! This is tough.”
- “Wow. This is hitting me hard.”
- “Ouf. I’m struggling right now.”
Validation helps calm the emotions.
(Maybe you can add in a stretch or a walk to the bathroom, or a cup of tea, before taking the next step.)
When you feel your heart rate rising, and your palms getting sweaty, to activate the challenge response and foster a healthy mindset, you can say things to yourself like,
- “I’m preparing to face a challenge.”
- “My body is mobilizing itself because I care about this.”
- “I have faced lots of challenges before and it turned out OK.”
- “I know this is hard and I trust in my capacity to handle it.”
Then add in some curiosity:
- “I wonder where there is a way I can take action here.”
- “I wonder which of my strengths I can use in this situation.”
Maybe pause with your tea and jot down a few notes.
With practice, this can take a little as a moment or two, although initially it might take up to 10 minutes.
Some people like to have biz BFFs with whom they have ongoing text conversations. That would be a good place to hold this kind of conversation with yourself, asking your BFF to be a compassionate witness.
This is not a job for the inner critic
When using self-talk for stress management, it’s important to note that tone of voice and attitude matter a great deal. Supporting yourself is not a job for the inner critic.
If you’re finding it tough, maybe your imagination can come in handy. It might help to channel or envision a dear friend or family member to say it to you instead. Or ask your BFF to text back the supportive responses.
There is now a great deal of research that demonstrates it’s not stress itself, but how we think about and then respond to it, that determines its impact on our health and mindset.
As entrepreneurs we face challenges and threats all day long.
Finding a way to tell yourself an empowering story about yourself as a person with the ability to face a challenge supports the healthy mindset that can help you make it through the day more effectively, and with less emotional wear and tear.
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