Running a business can be exhausting. Stress and your to-do list can overwhelm you, especially when you're responsible for others as well as yourself.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by work, you're not alone. In a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association, work was the third largest source of stress for 61 percent of people, after "money" and the "future of our nation."

The most serious consequence of this overwhelm is the severe toll it takes on well-being. Constant stress takes years off of your life, according to a 2015 study from the Journal of Health Affairs, and also reduces your ability to be present, making each day less enjoyable and productive. Even if you thrive on pressure, you often have less time and mental space for creative thinking.

Why not head off that stress where it lives? Here are six ideas to keep in mind. They'll help you find positive and productive headspaces and avoid getting bogged down by the pressures of work.

1. Write down what you have to be grateful for.

University of California, Davis Psychologist Robert Emmons found that gratitude boosts emotional well being. He said, "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep." Gratitude even lowers your risk for anxiety and depression.

Even if the world seems to be crumbling, take time to be grateful for the food on your table and the roof over your head. Write down the people who care about you. Reflect with gratitude on all you possess.

Although work can feel like a heavy burden at times, life still offers so much to appreciate. My own personal experience is that keeping a gratitude journal helps me remember that things aren't so bad, which alleviates stress. When I get into a more positive and loving attitude, overwhelm fades and work becomes an exciting challenge.

Whether it's listening to music (research shows music reduces stress), walking in a park, or gazing at beautiful photos from my last vacation, observing the beauty that surrounds me lifts my spirit. I can then transfer that positive energy directly into my work, which again lowers stress levels.

2. Take a step back and see the bigger picture.

As stressed as you might feel, taking the occasional step back helps put things in perspective.

The stress you're feeling in any moment probably stems from a small subset of problems, which are almost certainly insignificant in the grander scheme of the world or your life.

Yes, your coworker maybe didn't complete their portion of your team project properly. However, thoughts about that shouldn't affect how you feel about your family or friends, hobbies, or your whole life.

Wringing your hands and worrying simply wastes precious time you've been given. Reflecting on the bigger picture puts things in perspective and serves as a constant reminder to look for happiness and joy.

3. Think about times when your hard work paid off.

Effort can be intrinsically rewarding. People enjoy the journey of accomplishing something as well as learning along the way.

Think back to previous bouts of hard work and their outcomes. Staying aware of your accomplishments can relieve everyday stress because those successes were likely positive and empowering, even if you didn't reach certain end goals. At the very least, you learned something valuable.  

I keep a running log of the stories I've written, complete with publishing date and page views. Consider keeping a "professional accomplishments file" to thumb through routinely. You can use it to update your resume regularly.

4. Remind yourself that you can only control so much.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do about an outcome. Whether it's bad luck, external factors, or just too late to make a change, sometimes things are out of your control. Stressing and worrying over events you can't change doesn't do you any good. It only takes you out of the moment and triggers negative thoughts and feelings.

I like to try "letting go" like this when possible. It helps me detach from stress and improves my mood. After all, it's pointless to feel bad over something outside my control, right?

5. Remember that you have the ability to change.

At the end of the day, there is significant power and strength in realizing your own role in stressful circumstances. You got yourself into your situation. Maybe it wasn't a conscious choice, and you might be a different person now, but every day you choose to do the work you do, instead of something else.

The good news is that barring extreme situations, you probably have the power to change your circumstances. Knowing this forces you to think back to why you chose this work, this job, or this employer.

Gaining clarity on why you chose this situation can help alleviate stress as it brings a sharper vision of your goals, or even makes it more obvious that you have to make a change.

Published on: Aug 29, 2018