We all know it, feel it, suppress it, deal with it, overcome it, complain about it, and do our best to avoid it. But the truth is, especially if you are an entrepreneur looking to build asuccessful business, stress is a big part of the equation.
The goal, then, is to learn how to understand it--and effectively move beyond it.
According to endocrinologist Hans Selye, who eventually became the "father of stress research," the word stress wasn't even part of our vernacular until the 1930s. His definition was, "Stress refers to the reaction and adaption of any organism to a perceived threat. At the cellular level, stress is fundamental to life because it motivates action and behavior."
In a sense, stress is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, it is the very thing that motivates us to take action and move swiftly. Other times, it is the boulder that makes us feel helpless, causing all movement to stop abruptly.
So, when you're feeling stressed, it's important to know which stage you're in, why, and what you can do about it so that you can continue moving forward effectively.
Stage 1: Fight or Flight
The moment you first feel stressed, your body lets you know. It sounds the alarm and activity in the thyroid and adrenal glands is increased. This is what happens when you hear about entrepreneurs "burning out." Their adrenal glands go into overload because the fire alarm is going off, and yet they're still sitting there in their office working.
When you don't pay attention to these alarms, other things within your body start happening. There is an increase in stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, and even a decrease in short-term memory and feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and depression.
Now, the flip-side to all this is that in the alarm stage, your mental focus also tends to increase. Not for long, but initially.
This stage is intended to solve an immediate problem and then return levels to normal.
So, use this to your advantage, but always remember to bring it back.
Stage 2: Damage Control
When your body feels stressed, it knows it.
What happens, then, is it does its best to keep things as normal as possible while your body works overtime. Anti-inflammatory hormones (cortisol) are secreted in order to control the inflammation that's happening. But this is not a long-term solution. It's a quick fix to keep things moving while issues are sorted out.
Again, entrepreneurs are notorious for knowing these alarms are going off but pushing through regardless. In fact, we praise the behavior.
Just remember, you're playing with fire. Every train crashes eventually.
Stage 3: Recovery
At some point, hopefully you've acknowledged that you've been running a marathon at a sprint pace and decided it's time to take a step back.
When you begin recovery, your body does its best to return your internal systems to their original and healthy levels.
In order to recover, though, you have to rest, sleep, and reduce overall output--something that's incredibly difficult for entrepreneurs.
This is why it's imperative that, as busy as you are, you literally schedule "time to rest" into your daily and/or weekly schedule. Make time to do nothing.
Stage 4: Adaption
Now, let's say you didn't listen to your body and you decided not to make time to recover.
You've chosen to "adapt" instead.
Essentially, what you're telling your body is that this level of stress isn't going to go away anytime soon. So, what does it do? It begins to settle into the feeling of constant stress, and adapts accordingly.
Except, that doesn't necessarily mean it adapts in a good way.
What you'll start to feel then is everything from lower energy levels to a demolished self-esteem. You won't sleep as well, you might gain (or lose) unhealthy amounts of weight, and be far less likely to manage your emotions.
Take this a step further (think "workaholic") and you can count on every pillar in your life beginning to wobble--until it eventually falls over.
Adaption is not a "solution." It's an unfortunate result, and one you should do your best to avoid at all costs.
Stage 5: Burnout
And finally, should you ignore the first four stages of warning, you will eventually find yourself completely and utterly "burned out."
This could mean everything from full-fledged depression to actually being hospitalized.
It's amazing that in the entrepreneurship community, things such as lack of sleep and non-stop grinding are celebrated as accolades that prove your devotion to the journey. I, myself, talk a lot about the work required in order to be successful. But I also know that if it isn't kept in balance, then the short-term gain will end up becoming a loss in the long run.
You are your most important asset. If you don't keep yourself balanced, you will suffer (mentally, physically, emotionally).
Don't let yourself reach burnout. You'll end up spending a lot more time getting yourself back to a healthy state than just doing a little bit each day to prevent that from ever happening in the first place.