Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sometimes You Need to Slow Down Before You (re)StartUP

I've been encouraged by the recent focus on the mental health aspects of being an entrepreneur, particularly as a certified stress management coach and well-being consultant.

As I've mentioned before, unresolved chronic stress can lead to serious physical conditions, including: digestive problems (ME!), fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system.

People with chronic stress also are more prone to anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and even depression. It's a given that stress is part of the Founder Hustle. Yet, we often feel the need to hide our stress and anxiety from others in order to appear in control, on point -- like we're crushing it! This pressure can take its toll on our health.

You may have noticed that I've changed the branding on this blog: Slow Down to StartUP.

It's based on my personal experiences as a founder, and the stress management work I've done with other leaders. It's been important to acknowledge that, along my journey, I've had to "slow down" in order to (re)start each time I've launched something. From all of this, I have defined this four step process to "slow down" on your journey to do great things in the world. It's relevant if you're just starting-up, OR if you're coming back from a pivot or a setback, and are (re)starting-up:

1. Learn your stress triggers and go-to stress coping behaviors

A stress trigger is any incident that causes you to have a stressful physical or emotional response. When you feel stressed out, it may feel like you’ve dropped the ball in some area of your life – business, finances, relationships. If your roles/responsibilities are not balanced or are in conflict with each other, you may experience heightened stress. It's important to figure out what are your stress triggers – it's your first step to make a change in how you respond. To slow down, make time over one week to track your stress triggers as well as the coping behaviors you typically engage in when you're feeling stressed out. For example, think about how you'd complete this sentence: "When I get stressed out, I usually ..." Then, make note of whether your coping behavior is proactive for your health, or could be counterproductive to your well-being if you were to keep doing it over a long period. There's no judgment here -- you're just gathering helpful information to better understand the way you deal with stress.

2. Use deep breathing to manage your physical response to stress

When you experience stress, your body releases hormones such as epinephrine, nor-epinephrine and cortisol that increase your blood pressure, speed your heart rate, and raise your blood sugar levels. These physical changes -- also known as the fight-flight effect -- can help you respond with greater strength and speed to escape a threat. However, when you're in a state of stress, the threat often is not REAL but PERCEIVED in your mind. And, yet, your body can get stuck waiting and expecting for the threat to appear. A basic element of relaxation is your breath, and it's always accessible to you. Deep breathing can reduce your physical and mental fatigue, and can promote a state of calmness. To slow down, get focused on your breath as a new, proactive way to respond to your stress triggers. Here's a different way to complete the former sentence: "Now, when I get stressed out, I like to take three deep breaths to calm down."

3. Adjust the way you think about your situation

We collect and store in our minds various beliefs. Some of your beliefs may have served you well in the past, others may have led to less positive outcomes. Over time, you stop noticing that you have these underlying beliefs, even though they still shape your current reality. For example, if you perceive a task as being difficult or unpleasant, that's most likely how you will experience completing it. Your beliefs are not static -- you can alter your underlying beliefs to create new experiences. Allow yourself to let go of beliefs that no longer serve you in this phase of your life. To slow down, begin to notice your thoughts and words -- especially the words you "speak" in your self-talk. Yes, you do talk to yourself -- and it's OK! Tune in when you hear yourself say: "I have to ..." as the words imply a burden or, perhaps, even resentment about the task. Start to flip the script on your self-talk, and speak about all the things you get to do in your life.

4. Make a conscious choice to reduce your stress triggers

Admittedly, this can be the most challenging step of the process as it often involves taking direct actions that may affect other people. The first three steps are focused on your triggers, your reactions, and your mindset. This step suggests you examine your stress triggers not just for their impact on you, but to consider how you can minimize or eliminate them altogether. To slow down, consider how can you adjust, delegate, or eliminate tasks (and relationships) that previously caused you to become stressed out. When communicating with the key people in your life, have assertive and compassionate conversations about your goals and needs. Remain open to new ideas and allow flexibility for trial and error. Spend more time with people who resonate with your mindset and support you in achieving your goals.

Stay tuned for more resources for the Slow Down to StartUP process, and let me know how I can best support you on your journey!