How-To: Avoiding burnout, coping with stress, and dodging G.A.S. for small business owners

Does your daily routine resemble a diagrammed football play complete with xs and wiggly lines?

Owning your own business involves working long hours and handling multiple stressors.  You may feel a sense of hyper-responsibility, because at the end of the day, you’re the one left holding the bag.  So how can you maintain your pace without tipping the balance toward physical decline?

First of all, we need to recognize when we are headed for the extreme end of the spectrum: burnout.

According to Dr Hans Selye, co-founder of the Canadian Institute of Stress, the body goes through General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S) when dealing with stress, and it’s made up of three stages:

Alarm reaction: Your large order of widgets is lost in transit and your client calls in a state of panic. The main stress organs, the adrenal glands, produce extra stress hormones. This is also known as the “fight or flight” response.  Once the alarm reaction is over, the body recovers within 24-48 hours and stress hormones return to normal.

Resistance: Despite negotiations and systems put in place, your widgets are continually misplaced or lost, resulting in a regular flurry of complaint calls. Now the adrenal glands are in a constant state of alarm. The main adrenal hormone excreted is cortisol, an indicator of long-term stress.  This stage can go from months up to 20 years! The body finds it hard to recover and rebuild from stressful situations as the adrenal glands are being depleted and overworked.

Exhaustion: You spend all your time putting out fires and never seem to get ahead. Recovery from stressors is severely impaired. You are exhausted on all levels and there is a possibility of physical collapse plus vulnerability to developing chronic or degenerative diseases.

The longer you endure high levels of chronic stress, the more it affects your health.  If you are feeling any of the following symptoms it’s a good idea to see your healthcare practitioner: excessive fatigue and exhaustion, non-refreshing sleep, sleep disturbance, feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, craving salty and/or sweet foods.

On the other hand, if you’re simply feeling very tired or off kilter, you can reduce stress with these suggestions:

Shut it down: Do you bring your laptop to bed? Is your cell phone on your bedside table, ready to wake you at a moment’s notice? Keep your electronics in another room altogether, and turn everything off!

Eat foods that support the adrenal glands: Proteins found in fish, chicken, lean beef and lentils/beans help make the hormones for the glands.  Fruits & vegetables with high vitamin C, such as oranges and red peppers and nuts/seeds with Vitamin E are important as well. Don’t forget the b-vitamins found in leafy green vegetables and nuts — they help with the adrenal glands and coping with stress.

Say it’s good enough: Do you put off product launches, debuts and advertising because things are just not ready?  You constantly tweak, fuss over, redo and perfect… this is a recipe for stage 3 G.A.S.  More than likely, you are way too hard on yourself.  If you spend so much time trying to make everything perfect, you’ll end up missing opportunities. As Wayne Gretsky says, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t make.

Celebrate: If you don’t acknowledge yourself at different points in your business life, you will feel as though you’re continually grinding and toiling away.  Spend once a month writing down all the tasks you accomplished and reward yourself for them.  You have to be your own cheerleader.

Try these suggestions, mixed in with regular sleep, time off, time with loved ones, sunshine, exercise and water!  Who says self-care is complex? The only requirement is that you treat yourself as well as you would a cherished client.

 Eleanor Healy is the founder of Truly Me-holistic support services for busy people. She is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Reiki Master/Teacher in Toronto with over a decade of experience supporting people during stressful times.  As a former child and youth care worker, she noticed that frequently her co-workers would fall ill from stress (including her). This experience motivated her to remind other caregivers and holistic practitioners not to forget their most precious clients-themselves! With plenty of experience successfully navigating the choppy waters of burnout, she offers practical tips on how to put yourself back together again and more importantly, how to stay balanced in a demanding world.

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