How to manage stress as an entrepreneur (and a student)
By Jonathan Frenkel
Dealing with the day to day stress as an entrepreneur or a student looking to excel is tough these days even without the fear of contracting COVID-19. If you’re reading this, you may be young but that does not mean that what is happening in the world does not affect you. Stress is a part of our lives, but not always something that should be avoided, and can help propel you towards your goals. According to the Harvard professor who studies positive psychology Tal Ben-Shahar “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” The reality is that we don’t anticipate a life of ease if we go down the path of entrepreneurship. We seek a life of meaningful challenges in which we work to overcome obstacles along with the process of learning about ourselves in order to find life satisfaction.
Money may lose its initial significance and even become less relevant over time. What you will remember is the journey, what you learned, and how you pushed through the adversity to achieve your goals. Life can be tough, as every major religion and philosophy acknowledges, so you may as well embrace it and, as Nietzsche stated with the concept of “amor fati”, love it!
Sometimes though, life throws situations at us that can prove emotionally overwhelming. Below we’ll cover some of the tools that will help you perform at your best, whether that’s building your first business or working to get good grades as a student. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to use these tactics, as they are also relevant if you’re working for someone else and could help you excel at the role by managing your stress.
Intense and regular exercise
If there is a turnkey solution in helping one cope with anxiety, manage stress, think more clearly, and create a general sense of well-being, it is exercise. Now, walking and yoga classes are nice and have benefits (which we’ll cover below), but what we mean by exercise is sweating by working your body. That can be weight training, running, CrossFit, bootcamp classes, whatever, but you need to exert energy and get rid of that anxiety by sweating it out. Entrepreneurship is all about maintaining and managing energy levels, and, as this Mayo Clinic article states, “exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.”
You will discover that after you work out you have more energy. You will also develop keystone habits as you start working out and seeing results. You’ll want to improve on those results, so you’ll be eating healthier. In addition, you’ll be sleeping better thereby improving your workouts’ intensity and general wellbeing and causing a positive upward spiral. If you’re an entrepreneur, you most likely have an abundance of energy so that needs to be managed and focused. There is so much research out there on the mental benefits of exercise in addition to the health benefits such as “sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.” You also may find that some of your best ideas come when you’re in the weight room or on a long run.
It’s almost become passé at this point as it has gained such widespread popularity, but the fact of the matter is that meditation and mindfulness can help reduce stress. If there was one trait many of the world’s top performers practice, it’s meditation according to the quoted article below by lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss. As he states in this article, “of all the routines and habits, the most consistent among guests is some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. More than 80% of the world-class performers I interviewed shared this trait” and that “it is a “meta-skill” that improves everything else. You’re starting your day by practicing focus when it doesn’t matter (sitting on a couch for 10 minutes) so that you can focus better later when it does matter.”
Meditation is hard when you’re first starting out, and it really doesn’t get easier, but it gives you a sense of where your stress comes from as you practice. Once you sit with yourself in a quiet place, you’ll realize all the noise in your head, and start to understand all the patterns and thinking that may not be helpful (and that are holding you back). We live in a society that does not let us get a moment’s break so think of meditation as a “warm bath” for the mind. Getting started is easy with one of the popular meditation apps like Headspace or Calm. Just make sure to put your phone on airplane mode while you’re using the apps, so you don’t get distracted by incoming messages!
A free/cheap way to manage stress is to write everything down. We prefer to type everything on a safe platform such as 750 Words but writing by hand in a journal can be beneficial as well. It may seem like writing won’t help, but once you put all the clutter and anxiety in your mind on paper, it tends to have a calming effect. This is free form writing and helps with mental clarity and improving your thinking. Clear decision making is important for entrepreneurs as they must juggle multiple things at once.
Writing has also helped people cope with trauma and difficult feelings, as well as separating themselves from their thoughts, and understanding that’s exactly what they are, just thoughts. The mind will throw all kinds of strange ideas at you, most of which are not true, and they’re just thoughts. As a personal preference we like to write first thing in the morning with a practice called Morning Pages that helps clear the mind and prepares us to tackle the day. But any time you feel stressed out, take some time to write down your fears and anxieties; you’ll find you come back to whatever problem it is with a calmer mind.
Taking time to walk
While technically “exercise”, walking can also be like meditation (just don’t take your phone). Taking long walks, particularly in the green outdoor environment of a college campus can bring a sense of distancing from one’s problems. The reason this is so powerful is that our ancestors spent so much time walking (on the hunt) and probably used that time to solve difficult and pressing problems.
Many great thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Henry David Thoreau, and Carl Jung spent time on long walks trying to figure out some of the universe's greatest riddles. A good way to think about it is as “like any other cardiovascular exercise, brisk walking boosts endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate mild depression.” according to WebMD. Sometimes you just need to take a physical step away from a situation and get some perspective. Taking even a brief walk in nature can help ground you and improve your decision-making process.