Feeling down is all part of being human. But negative emotions can run rampant among entrepreneurs, who are simultaneously worried about their lives and their businesses. Fortunately, there are effective techniques to help you maintain your normal, happier emotional state, which is great for you and your business.
After lots of trial and error, I’ve developed a dependable routine for beating anxiety, including a five-minute stress relief hack, and a set of techniques to manage stress in the long term.
I recently interviewed Charlie Hoehn and Adil Majid, who both spoke about this phenomenon of sadness and anxiety in entrepreneurship, and their own experiences handling them while working for themselves. Having anxiety as an entrepreneur, it turns out, is not uncommon. We all need to find ways to cope with them to be successful, and that can be tough.
Anxiety, sadness, and other recurring negative emotions can have particular causes or triggers, but for many of us, there isn’t always a clear “reason” for feeling sad—it just happens. I’ve found that if you can, it’s best to shake off those feelings when they first start, rather than allowing them to build up and eventually cause burn out. Fortunately, there are dependable ways to shake it off.
I figured this out when I was having trouble managing my own negative emotions. Five years ago, I remember regularly waking up in the morning and feeling a heavy cloud of sadness for no real reason. It made it difficult to get out of bed, work, even eat.
I started looking for effective ways to emerge from such poor moods. After fiddling around with multiple apps, reading self-help books, and trying changes to my diet, I landed on something deceptively simple. It’s a five-minute routine that helps me stop feeling out of it, and it’s worked for the people I’ve shared it with too.
[A note here: For many people, depression and anxiety disorders are medical conditions that require special treatment. If you’re struggling, please, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. See #4 below.]
My 5-Minute Hack to Shake Off Anxiety
The first step is the hardest: finding the motivation to try this exercise when you feel low and depressed. That inner voice will be telling you that it’s pointless, it won’t work and it’s stupid.
But here’s the deal. Commit five minutes to trying it, and I can promise you’ll feel better as soon as you do. It’s only five minutes.
Step 1: Choose two songs with a good beat that you know the words to (mostly!). Think of songs that always make you feel energetic. Avoid moody love songs, downer music and instrumentals—now’s not the time for that. Queue them up in Spotify or wherever you listen to music, but don’t play them yet.
Step 2: Turn on the shower and make it a little hotter than usual. Don’t do anything dangerous, but push the limits a bit. (If you have a heart condition, you might want to skip this exercise.) While the steam is rising, undress and silence notifications to avoid any interruptions.
Step 3: Start your first song and turn the volume up full blast. You need to hear the music over the noise of the shower. If you’re using your phone, a portable speaker is a good idea, and if you have a waterproof phone, such as an iPhone 7, you can step right into the shower with it. If neither of these is a good option, consider leaving your laptop at the door and blasting the volume.
Step 4: If you can stand making the water a touch hotter, turn it up a notch. You want to be sweating by the end of song one.
Step 5: Jump into the shower and start moving around as you lather up. Then, start singing as loud as you can. You may feel silly and self-conscious at first, but keep to the deal you made at the beginning to give me just five minutes of your time.
Step 6: When the song comes to an end and the second one starts, swing the shower to cold. The cold water will give your whole body a shock, but the hotter you are, the better your body can bear it.
It’s exactly what the Scandinavians practice as they sit in their saunas and then rush out naked and roll in the snow or dive into a chilly lake. It’s a strange combination of pleasure and pain, but it’s bearable. Besides, the whole thing is almost over.
Step 7: With the second song playing and the shower on cold, keep singing along to help distract yourself from the cold water. Taking deep gulps of steamy air helps too. Try to appreciate and enjoy it despite the discomfort.
As the song comes to an end, you can stop and dry off, but if you’re up for it, stay in the cold water for a third song to keep going.
Why Does This Counter Depressed Feelings?
An experience like this causes a drastic shift in mindset. It forces your mind to focus away from the negative emotions you may be experiencing, and outward to your physical experience. An intense shock like this lets your mind clear, and re-tune.
Although I discovered this technique for beating anxiety by accident, I did some research afterwards and found that some parts of this routine are backed up by research.
There are some studies indicating that cold showers may be effective for treating depression. On top of that, music therapy including singing, has been shown to decrease pain in patients recovering for spinal surgery. My homemade routine combines both of these elements, and is quick and easy to do at home.
Now you have a secret weapon to use when those feelings start to come up. Just select your songs, step in the shower for five minutes and see how quickly you can transform how you feel.
How to Manage Business Stress in the Long Term
There are times when the stress and strain get overwhelming to the point of paralyzation. It’s during these acute periods when the tactic outlined above works well. It’s good for quick and easy fixes to a bad mood and low energy.
But you can’t go about throwing yourself into the shower five times a day. Once you are rejuvenated by this routine, there are steps you can take to ensure that you are creating as positive an environment for your life as possible.
Here are six steps you can take to create a more consistent state of calm during your work day.
1. Identify and Minimize the Sources of Stress in Your Life
If you only take care of the symptoms, the underlying problems will never go away. It’s important that you address the root issues creating your stress.
The first thing you need to do is isolate the specific sources of stress in your life. As an entrepreneur, your first thought is likely going to be, “my business.” But get more specific. Is it dealing with clients? Is it the accounting? Or maybe the feelings go deeper—a fear of failure, for example. Try to figure out where your stress is coming from and list the sources you uncover.
After you’ve got your list together, plan for how to optimize your life to avoid and/or reduce these sources of stress. If it’s a specific task in your business that you dread, consider outsourcing it or automating it. If it’s something you must do yourself, consider eliminating it from you business.
This may seem extreme, but consider the Pareto Principle: 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. This means that the unpleasant client or task that keeps on giving you a hard time may not be worth the pain. Letting them go and renewing efforts on the clients and tasks that are working best for you may not only be good for your inner state, it may be great for your business.
2. Incorporate Stress-Reduction Techniques into your Daily Routine
Chances are, you have a list of daily tasks you need to complete for your business. But do you have a list of self-care tasks?
Even if it’s on your list, it’s likely that self-care comes at the very end of your long list of priorities. If you are looking to reduce stress, self-care must be a part of your daily routine. That means making time for things like exercise, meditation, and eating healthy. Many people prefer doing these tasks in the morning when they can be undisturbed and before they get distracted by the hustle and bustle of work.
A simple way to get started is to begin the morning with my shower routine. What you’ll find after doing it for a week or two is that you actually start to look forward to the cold water, instead of dreading it.
3. Meditate Once a Day (At Least)
You’ve read it once, and you’ll read it again. Meditation is amazing and has far-reaching benefits for your health and well-being. Taking 10 to 20 minutes a day to practice mindfulness is an investment in your mind and health. It’s been shown to improve brain matter thickness, may protect your cognitive health as you age, and can even improve your cardiovascular health . Meditation is simple (although it does take practice), inexpensive, and getting more accessible with help of apps like Headspace and the Breathe app.
4. Get Help
We all think we can do it all alone, especially newer entrepreneurs. Early entrepreneurs are hesitant to invest any time and money into hiring people, or automating processes. And unfortunately, that can carry over into not investing in or seeking help for stress reduction.
Many of us may recognize that we are stressed and that it’s affecting our performance, but how many seek assistance to remedy the process? If anxiety is severely affecting you, it might mean getting help from a medical professional, either a doctor or a therapist. Other options could include joining a mediation group, a conversation circle, or an exercise team. There’s no reason that you need to implement stress-reduction tactics alone when you can do it with the support of a group.
5. Take Breaks, From Everything
Sometimes stress relief techniques can turn into another thing to check off the to-do list. Some people start feeling stressed when they miss a mediation or gym session, which is completely counterproductive. That’s why it’s important to take breaks from everything.
Like Charlie Hoehn said during our interview, there is cultural pressure in the modern world to fill every moment with something productive. But entrepreneurs need to incorporate activities into their lives that are for pure enjoyment. These can include things like an eclectic hobby or learning about a random, “useless” topic. Sleeping in and skipping your gym or meditation session is good to do occasionally. It’s all part of living a lifestyle that optimizes positivity and forgives failures.
6. Track Your Progress
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The same is true with stress. Try to keep track with your mood throughout the day, at least once a day. There are plenty of apps that will help you do this, but something as simple as writing your mood down in your calendar works. Use precise descriptors, such as “appreciative,” “irritated,” or “cocky.” Put down more than one emotion on your list when needed.
A great app for this is Stop, Breathe & Think, which also offers a free list of guided meditations. Tracking your emotions serves the dual purpose of giving you moments of self-reflection during the day, as well as allowing you to monitor your progress. As you become consistent with implementing stress-reducing activities in your life, you should see steady improvements in your emotions as well. You can also track your emotional state more automatically with a device like Spire, which uses information from your breathing to understand your current emotive state.
Reducing stress is not an easy task. It’s takes consistency and effort. But once you are armed with the energy and positivity derived from my five-minute routine above, you can then take steps to improve your overall stress management.
In an age of endless sources of anxiety and distractions, it’s more important than ever that entrepreneurs take the time they need to inject positivity into their lives. If stress and anxiety are consuming you, you can be almost certain that your business is going to suffer.
Start out small by trying out the five-minute technique for beating anxiety and let me know how it goes in the comments!