Entrepreneurial Stress

With very few exceptions, those in leadership roles (whether they be entrepreneurs, senior corporate figures, or those with positions of great responsibility) tend to be the type of individuals that thrive under stress.

Dr. Michael Freeman (a former CEO, who is now a psychiatrist and psychologist) told me that, “on one hand, competitive high-pressure jobs lead executives into many situations that can induce worry and fear (anxiety), hopelessness and despair (depression), and urgency (stress). On the other hand, some people are drawn to high pressure jobs by their adventurous personalities, their ability to tolerate risk, and their motivation for achievement.”

In my own experience; the short-term stress of projects and other situations can be a fantastic (and frankly, a productive) asset, but over longer-periods it can be hugely destructive. Over the years, I have lost a number of close friends who have taken their own lives as a result of the mental illnesses associated with stress; and have seen many more who have suffered for decades, with significant impairment to their quality of life.

Understanding Stress

For anyone in a leadership position, it’s therefore critical to manage your stress; and a few basic principles can really help.

  • If things get really bad, get help:
    I cannot underline enough how important it is to seek help from a medical professional if stress is getting on top of you. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, and shows you taking ownership of the problem. The overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs I work with in the USA, for example, privately credit their therapist as being as critical to them as any member of their board.
  • Understand who you are:
    We are all different, we are all built with different tolerances to stress and stressful situations- and that’s absolutely fine. Knowing (and making peace with) your own limits is critical. This exercise can also help you remember “stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life…” ( Andrew Bernstein)
  • Don’t get caught-up in the competition:
    A great piece of advice from Dr. Freeman was not to “make the mistake of confusing net worth and self-worth.” In leadership, people often talk about income as being the ‘score-card’ for success, but frankly; this is a misnomer; and many of my colleagues in the ‘city’ brag about how they got into work at silly-o’clock in the morning, and didn’t leave till silly-o’clock at night. Many of the most successful people I’ve met in the world work-smart not hard, there is a big difference.
  • Don’t be isolated:
    Leadership roles are often lonely. CEO networks, mentoring groups and many more such organisations can be hugely important in giving you a group of peers, on the same journey as you with whom you can share experiences, stories and garner support.
  • Defend your physical and mental health:
    This is perhaps the most obvious piece of advice, but good nutrition, rest, exercise and relaxation skills (such as mindfulness, meditation and hobbies) are essential. In high-pressure roles, it’s often difficult to make time for such-pursuits, but you have to be strong enough to carve out time in your life, and defend it relentlessly. This is not only good for you, but preciously important for your relationships and family.

Many of the most profoundly important things I’ve achieved in my life, have been as a result of stressful situations; and I am deeply grateful for that- but stress is a drug, and in moderation and with control, it can be enjoyed safely- but when it spirals out of control, it can destroy lives.


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