Running a successful business poses numerous challenges. From acquiring the necessary startup capital to making time outside of a separate full-time job, the hurdles you face each take a psychological toll.
The result is stress — and stress is an enemy. Managing it becomes a challenge unto itself.
But there is another way to think about this problem. What if stress were good? Or, more accurately, what if it were not the bad thing we’ve all come to fear? Fortunately, for those of us in the entrepreneurial world, there are solid reasons why this might be true!
Stress means you’re challenging yourself
In business, as in life, standing still is not an option.
A choice exists between momentum and entropy, moving forward or moving backward. When you push yourself in the direction of productivity and accomplishment, you are challenging yourself to do things you’ve never done.
This leads to uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear.
But to run in the opposite direction would be a mistake.
“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”
These are the wise words of former Chrysler president Lee Iacocca. As the man who took the automaker from the brink of bankruptcy in 1979 to massive profits in the early 1980s, he knew a few things about staying busy and channeling that stress into success.
Embrace the part of yourself that feels uncomfortable. In doing so, you will be following in the footsteps of entrepreneurial giants of the past, including people whom you consider your heroes.
Stress has health benefits
Yes, you read that correctly. It may seem counterintuitive that something as seemingly harmful to body and mind can literally help you. However, some compelling evidence suggests just that.
One aspect of this is mental.
According to a UC Berkeley study, moderate or short-lived amounts of stress can improve memory and performance. This is because stem cells in a certain part of the brain — the hippocampus, which deals with stress — actually grow, with learning and memory improvements following as a natural result.
Similarly, unless the stressful conditions are too acutely intense, your performance improves because of greater alertness. It’s almost as if the part of your brain that handles stress were a muscle that atrophies when it is not being used.
Another side of the story can be found in our immune systems. Scientific studies, like one published in the tongue-twistingly titled Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology, show rather mixed results.
On one hand, stress — or at least chronic stress — suppresses the body’s immune response.
On the other hand, stress can actually stimulate immune activity, providing the body with greater protection from diseases or infection. It all ties back to something that is deeply embedded in our human DNA: the “fight-or-flight” response.
“You don’t want to keep your immune system on high alert at all times,” said the study’s lead author. “So nature uses the brain, the organ most capable of detecting an approaching challenge, to signal that detection to the rest of the body by directing the release of stress hormones.”
Once again, the key seems to involve the level of stress, with smaller amounts doing more to help than to hurt. However, we eventually reach a point of diminishing returns.
Stress is a normal human response
The normality of this experience cannot be “stressed” enough. Polls show that one in every four Americans has recently experienced “a great deal of stress” in their lives.
But just as certain situations call for certain responses (think happiness and sadness), sometimes stress is the only reaction that makes sense.
Among potential causes of stress, entrepreneurship is certainly understandable. After all, you’re dealing with significant amounts of money, plans that might go wrong, and people who have various sets of expectations. It would be genuinely strange if you weren’t stressed out by all of that.
Find ways to keep your stress in check.
No one should be expected to a grow a business 24/7 — not even Lee Iacocca. Find time to work out, pursue hobbies, socialize with friends, or engage in other activities that bring you some degree of relaxation.
The goal is not to eliminate stress altogether. The goal is to keep your stress at healthy levels. At the end of the day, as with so much of life, it’s all about finding the right balance.