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Techniques for dealing with anxiety as a business owner

female business owner experiencing anxiety over a laptop and some papers
Image credit: energipic via pexels

Nadezhda Markova is a clinical psychologist and an author at the blog Paths between us. She supports her clients in coping with anxiety, burnout, interpersonal difficulties, and emotional dysregulation through the methods of cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Nadezhda is part of the team of specialists at hOUR THERAPY, a service designed to help companies provide quality psychotherapeutic support to their people through individual consultations or group lectures and events.

Nadezhda Markova sitting on a couch
Nadezhda Markova

When we think of a leader and entrepreneur, we usually imagine confident personalities, ready to take responsibility and invest their time and emotions in the process. Anxiety doesn’t fit the picture. However, the very same process of growing a company is challenging and unpredictable and many business owners end up with feelings of worry, unease, and fear. If that sounds familiar to you, keep on reading for some tips on how to deal with anxiety. 

Relaxation Techniques

Anxiety can sometimes be so overwhelming that it takes our ability to rest and sleep. Meditation, breathing techniques, sport, mindfulness, imagining a safe space, time spent in nature can help you relax physically, increase your energy, and maintain a calmer focus. It may take some time to find out which relaxation technique works best for you, but once you do, you’ll feel rewarded.

How this helps

Our bodies and our thoughts are strongly connected. Stress and anxiety usually lead to feelings of tense muscles, increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, restlessness. Simultaneously, our mind often interprets these physical sensations as a sign of a serious threat. Interpretations themselves (“If my body feels this way, there must be something dangerous going on”) lead to even more physical sensations and so on and so on – you get the vicious cycle.

The ability to physically slow down and regulate your body sensations brings more peace and predictability to your mind. Not to forget that the inability to physically relax is often related to sleep issues and every entrepreneur can tell how important sleep quality is.

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Schedule Worry Time

I guess you have tried to not worry about a certain problem. Does it work? Probably no.

How about trying to intentionally worry? I understand this might sound eccentric, but let’s give it a try. Open your calendar and choose a convenient 15-minute timeslot (preferably not early in the morning or late in the evening). Name it “Worry time” and patiently wait until the moment comes. Enjoy worrying.

How this helps

The thing is, you’ll probably worry anyway. By dedicating time for that, you are benefiting from:

  • Making it productive – you can use the time to write down your fears, to analyze your resources, to choose a strategy, to act
  • Ventilating – expressing your emotions can be relieving itself
  • Taking a new perspective: does the problem provoke the same level of anxiety now, a couple of hours later? Do the issues of yesterday look so scary today?
  • Time-framing it – do continue with your other planned activities after worry time is over

Paradoxically, many of our non-desired behaviors decrease when we intentionally try to engage with them. Anxiety is not an exception.   

Distinguish between Real, Potential, and Probable Problems 

With so many thoughts going through our heads, it’s often difficult to distinguish real danger from potential danger. Real danger is the one that is happening to you now. You have evidence for it, you have already started experiencing it. Potential danger is something that might happen to you and your business. It might be quite probable, or the chances might be low.

For example:

  • Having had a spoiled release is a real thing to worry. Anxiously anticipating that someone might not be providing top quality is worrying about a potential problem.
  • Losing deals against competitors is a real problem.  Focusing on a competitor who might have a better product than yours and kick you off the market is a potential threat.
  • Having a high turnover rate is a real problem. Worrying about what you would do if important people quit is a potential danger.
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How this helps

We can act mostly when the threat is real. We can analyze it, delegate resources, and seek help. Even if we can’t handle the whole problem, we can do at least something about it. Being competent to do something gives us power. Power overcomes anxiety.

When discussing real danger, I often refer to American psychologist Carl Roger’s quote:“The facts are friendly(…) Every bit of evidence that one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true.” . Anxiety doesn’t necessarily feel friendly, though it’s your choice to view facts not as something scary but as information about how reality is like.  And focus on what you can change about this reality. 

Let’s have a look at potential threats. They are not (yet) true and that’s why it is difficult to estimate them. Anxiety is very creative, and things often look scary in our fantasies. Ask yourself: how probable is this to happen? If chances are high, think of a plan B. If probability is low, put this off till your worry time and try gaining a new perspective on it, when the moment comes.

The “If So, Then What…?” Question

Choose a thought that provokes intense anxiety (for example “My company won’t get this funding”). Now imagine this becomes true – you really don’t get the funding. Then what?

Maybe you’ll say something like “I won’t have money to grow my business”. Okay, if that’s true, then what?

“Key team members will leave”. If so, then what?

Continue asking yourself until you reach a very basic statement, which leads to no more “then what”-s. I’ll give you a clue: It is often related to feelings of unworthiness or being unloved/unaccepted by others (“I’ll be a failure,” “People will let me down”, etc.). These are core beliefs that we have adopted over our lifetime. Challenging periods and certain triggers can provoke such negative beliefs about ourselves, other people, or the world around us.

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How this helps

Knowing your core beliefs is essential because it helps you realize many of your automatic interpretations and reactions. These statements are usually stable, but they can be changed over time, so that you adapt a more realistic and less anxiety-provoking perspective. Writing down such thoughts and beliefs, analyzing pro and contra evidence or consulting a therapist can help you in this process.

Growing a company is an unpaved road and you might meet anxiety on your way. Make sure to bring the right attitude and the ability to take care of yourself and you’ll make the most of this encounter. 

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