Managing anxiety, stress, expectations, and, oh yeah, health and happiness

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching”

―Gerard Way

A CLOSE CALL

In November 2010, I had just closed escrow on my home of twelve years and was moving myself and my wife into our new place the same day. I was working on seven projects and three of them were shooting out of the country. I had been working ridiculous hours for months on end, nursing low grade flu symptoms with occasional gulps of Robitussin, and was completely exhausted, full of anxiety, and overwhelmed.

Two weeks later I was on a flight to Florida to meet my wife’s parents for the first time and share Thanksgiving with her family. An hour into the flight, I started to feel weird. I turned to her and said, “Something’s wrong,” and then things went completely dark.

The next thing I felt was someone tugging on my arm and saying my name over and over. When I came to, I threw up all over myself. There was a doctor on the flight and within seconds there were a bunch of people around me asking questions, assessing my condition, and hooking up an IV. I heard my wife tell one of them that she thought I had a seizure.

I was in disbelief. I was so weak, I could hardly hold my head up. For the next four and a half hours I leaned against the window in silence, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. When we landed, I was the first one escorted off the plane and onto a gurney waiting at the gate. The doctors did a CT scan and ran some other tests, and ultimately concluded that my condition was a result of stress and exhaustion. It was the most terrifying experience of my life and a huge wake-up call.

THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF STRESS

Running a business is both physically and mentally demanding. It challenges your mind and your body, and if you don’t take action to keep your life in balance, your health can turn on you quickly. Every industry has a different set of physical challenges. You don’t have to be in construction to get injured. Business owners are plagued with back, neck, wrist, and shoulder injuries from performing repetitive tasks, hunching over computers all day long, or spending countless hours driving for years on end.

Running your own company causes significant mental stress from all the added responsibilities you have as an owner. Stress is a huge contributor to cardiovascular disease, which is still the number one cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. Recent studies have shown that job stress can also increase the chance of type 2 diabetes by 45 percent. Long-term job stress can trigger psychological problems and has been linked to sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. If you’re not convinced, check out big Pharma.  And by the way, how are you sleeping?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with higher stress levels also have 50 percent higher health costs. Add the stress you already have from things like Covid-19, protecting your family, keeping your relationships healthy, the economy and your own financial pressures, and it can take an enormous toll on you. You don’t have to dig deep to find this information. We’re surrounded by it and we know it, but we somehow convince ourselves that we’re invincible until one day we’re proven wrong.

A FLAW IN THE DESIGN

I know many people who are on a race to retire so they can enjoy the rest of their life. That’s their primary goal and most of them are  stressed, on edge, and generally unfulfilled. If you’re one of them, let me ask you this: Does it make sense to wait until you’re in your 60s or 70s to start enjoying your life? Shouldn’t you be enjoying every day of your life? You actually can—it’s a simple one-two punch.  1. Give yourself permission and 2. Start doing it.

Make time for your interests. Make time for yourself. It just takes some effort, and before you know it, you’ll start feeling much better and you’ll never neglect yourself again. And don’t say “easier said than done”.  Think of how much time you waste on any given day on distractions that don’t bring any positive value to you or your business.  And how about the additional hours you’re putting in every day? Are you pursuing an increase in your business performance and utterly ignoring your own?

I haven’t always practiced what I’m preaching. It took me most of my adult working life to understand the need for balance. It wasn’t until the event on the plane that I made a commitment to taking better care of myself. I quickly realized that a healthier me meant a healthier business, healthier relationships and a happier life.

Any one of us could have fewer years ahead of us than behind us, no matter our age. You never know when your time is up and there’s no need to give it a head start by working yourself to death. Personally, I want to be around to see my kids grow up and support my family. I also have a lot of other professional goals I’d like to achieve. We all have a better chance of reaching our dreams—and doing it with better health, more happiness and more meaning—if we have balance in our lives.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Imagine yourself on your deathbed and an angel sits down by your side and asks you two questions. The first one is “What memories in your life do you value the most?” Do you think any of them will be about how many hours you worked or how much money you saved? The second question is “If you could go back in time and see yourself as a child, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give that child about how to live their life?” Would your advice be about the importance of working a fourteen-hour day? No. Because money can’t buy love or real happiness. It can only buy you freedom. Use that freedom to create some fun in your life – and focus on moments, not things.

Remember, one of the reasons you liked the idea of starting your own business in the first place was to have more freedom and be your own boss. If you’re working so many hours that you’re getting burned out and never have time for anything else you enjoy, you’ve become a servant to the wrong pursuits and you are out of balance.

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

Obviously, the best way to create balance in your life is to do what you love for a living.  Doing what you love means you don’t have to struggle to carve out time to do the other things that make you happy because you’re already doing them. Doing what you love drastically reduces work stress and will give you more joy. If you’re not currently doing something that you love, identify something in your business that you truly enjoy and focus on those things. Go back to the reason you started your business in the first place.  What was your mission?

If that doesn’t work or isn’t an option and you’re miserable, take meaningful steps to discover and pursue your true calling or something you’re passionate about, and start moving toward that goal today! Yes, times are tough.  I get it.  But the mind is powerful. When you make it a priority to tune out your limiting beliefs and the negativity that dominates the conversation you have on loop in your brain, you’ll be amazed.  life becomes richer, more meaningful, and more enjoyable.

CHANGE YOUR MIND

Another great way to create more balance in your life and start controlling “the loop” right away, even if you work for someone else, is to change your mindset about it. Instead of looking at rest, leisure activity, exercise, and time for reflection as things you only do when you’re done with work, weave them into your actual work process by giving them the same importance and attention you give to marketing, customer service, or any other element that’s essential to your business. You should even give them more importance because they are well known to improve productivity, inspire creativity, give you more energy, and help you live longer.

The irony is that these small changes make your business more profitable, so why ignore them or put them on the backburner? Somewhere along the line we got the idea that unless we’re sitting at our desks, staring at a computer, in a boardroom, or on a conference call, we’re not using our time wisely. There’s no better use of your time in a business day than taking a break to recharge yourself. It only takes a few minutes, and the bang for your buck that you and your business will receive will be off the charts!

TAKE SOME ACTION!

Make the commitment to get away from your office every day to go for a walk, stretch, listen to some music, sit quietly and reflect , work on some simple breathing exercises or do a 10 minute meditation. I downloaded a great mediation app called headspace on my iphone and I’m hooked on meditation now. I sets me up for success every morning and I LOVE it.

Bottom line, It doesn’t have to take hours and nothing will happen while you’re gone that you can’t deal with when you return. Start right away and make it a habit, and you’ll see the results immediately. There’s a massive upside to this both personally and professionally. In fact, the only way you can fail is by closing this post and going back to the same old habits that got you here. But if you’re reading this, so that’s probably not you. 🙂