A few minutes focused on reducing stress pays dividends all day.
By Derek Doepker
For entrepreneurs, stress is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a moderate amount of stress can boost productivity, creativity and performance. Research shows that a moderate deadline, as opposed to one that’s extremely tight, can boost creativity.
On the other hand, many entrepreneurs are facing an overwhelming amount of stress, which can hinder performance. Entrepreneurs, compared to the typical population, have higher rates of stress, worry, depression and addiction. With stress, like exercise, the key is to maintain just enough to stimulate the system, without overloading oneself or doing damage.
Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs think relieving stress means giving up meaningful work or engaging in time-consuming stress management techniques. Fortunately, there are a few evidence-based methods that can rapidly reduce stress and increase resilience in just minutes a day. By incorporating these practices into your daily life, you’ll watch stress levels plummet and your performance soar.
Strategy 1: Box breathing.
It’s hard to imagine more stressful work than being a Navy SEAL. To equip SEAL trainees with a way of quickly entering into a calm, energized and focused state, former Navy SEAL Mark Divine of SEALFIT teaches the box breathing method.
Research supports that slow, diaphragmatic breathing reduces the stress hormone cortisol, while also improving attention.
Here are the steps for box breathing:
Inhale for four seconds
Hold your breath for 4 seconds (without clamping your mouth or nose shut)
Exhale for four seconds
Hold for four seconds without air in the lungs
Repeat steps 1-4
This activity can be done for as little as 5 minutes to enter into a calm and focused state.
Strategy 2: Yawning.
According to neuroscience researcher and author Mark Waldman, repeatedly yawning for one minute is one of the fastest ways to reduce neurological stress and anxiety. Yawning can also enhance alertness.
While it may seem unusual, a quick test will prove how quickly your mind can calm after engaging in conscious yawning. To do this, simply force yourself to yawn several times. You may notice that you begin to stimulate a real yawn. Repeat this for up to 60 seconds and note the relaxed and alert state your mind enters. This can be done any time during the day to quickly calm your mind.
Strategy 3: 5-minute walks.
Exercise has long been a powerful stress buster. But fitting exercise into a busy day can be challenging for some entrepreneurs. Research in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has shown that taking a 5-minute walk every hour can be just as beneficial as a 30-minute walk at the start of the day. In fact, the frequent walking group showed an improved mood, whereas the 30-minute walking group didn’t.
Entrepreneurs can incorporate frequent walks by:
Walking during phone calls
Holding walking meetings
Using treadmill desks
Walking outside for a break
Using smartphone dictation or recording software to walk and speak notes
Strategy 4: Gratitude.
Positive psychology research shows that gratitude has numerous benefits for improving mood, relieving depression, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. While there are a few instances where gratitude hasn’t been shown to make a positive difference, for many entrepreneurs, gratitude can be an easy and time-efficient way to fight off stress and improve their mood.
A simple gratitude practice can include taking several minutes to write down reflections in a gratitude journal as well as conveying gratitude to those at work. As a bonus, taking the time to express gratitude to those in your network (e.g., writing thank you cards) can be an excellent way of sparking conversations that could lead to business growth.
Strategy 5: Saying no.
Entrepreneurs are often willing to take on challenges and risks that others won’t. While this personality trait can help blaze new trails, it can also potentially lead to burnout.
Whether it’s website design work or doing the laundry, many entrepreneurs are taught the benefit of outsourcing tasks that are outside their wheelhouse. What can be more challenging, however, is saying “no” to potential opportunities because of the stress they might add. This could also mean saying “no” to a client who requests too much.
The key here is a mindset shift. If you resent taking on work and it stresses you out, it could not only negatively affect you, but could also negatively affect those working with you — including your clients. Sometimes the best thing you can do for others is to let them work with someone who has the mental and physical capacity to better serve them.
Putting it all together.
Each of these strategies only takes a few minutes to implement, making them almost effortless. The key is remembering to do them. It’s recommended to first start with one or two of these strategies and create an “If-When-Then” plan.
For instance, “When it’s the top of the hour, then I will yawn for 60 seconds.” “If someone calls me, then I will get up and walk while taking the phone call.” “When I pack up my belongings at the end of the day, then I will recite to myself three things I’m grateful for.”
Write down your plan and read it at the start of each day until it becomes a habit. Apply any one of these simple strategies today to enjoy a renewed sense of well-being and newfound peace of mind.
as published in entrepreneur.com