I have to be honest—I’m frazzled. It’s the holidays, and like most small business owners, December is typically one of the most stressful and challenging times of the year. I not only have all my regular work to do, but I’ve got a number of business-oriented end-of-year tasks, a lot of personal demands on my time, and because the office is closed for a number of days during December, I have fewer days in which to accomplish everything. And I’m not even an owner of a retail or hospitality business—where the holidays can be a small business owner’s “make or break” season.
Let’s face it—the holidays are tough if you’re an entrepreneur. How can you make stress work FOR you instead of AGAINST you during this critical season?
“You cannot avoid stress,” said Raphaela O’Day, senior performance coach and innovation catalyst at Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. “There are several types of stress, not all of which are ‘bad.’ It’s up to you to take advantage of the moment and learn from your stress, instead of letting it get the best of you.”
Fifty-four percent of entrepreneurs feel stressed during the holidays, according to the Bank of America Business Advantage Fall 2019 Small Business Owner Snapshot, released December 4, 2019. Sixty-six percent expect to face challenges this holiday season, including balancing work and personal commitments (42 percent), creating customer demand (37 percent), and keeping prices competitive (36 percent).
The ability to channel stress into positive energy is often called “resiliency.” “Resilience is the learnable ability to regularly recover, adapt, and grow from stress,” says O’Day. “And the key to resiliency? Oscillating between energy expenditure and strategic recovery.”
“Expending energy through stress and restoring energy through recovery is no different in the workplace than it is during a workout,” according to Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute white paper, “The Power of Resilience: How Reframing Stress Can Fuel Performance.” “When weightlifters want to complete 50 bicep curls, they don’t attempt to do them all at once—they do them in sets of 5 or 10, with recovery in between.”
In other words, stress can actually help you grow—if you plan how to recover strategically. One of the keys is actually planning to take time to recover, rather than just plowing head first into the next stressful time. It’s possible to learn ways to recover from stress so that you can have the energy to take on future problems.
“Recovery doesn’t have to be meditating or long walks on the beach,” says O’Day. “It’s whatever works best for you. It can be high energy, low energy, or anything in between. All that matters is that it makes you feel stronger, and better prepared to face challenges in your day.”
Part of the reason we’re so stressed during the holidays is because there are so many different demands on our attention, and according to Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Ellen Braaten, that means our brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Over time, that can lead to decreased memory, fewer new brain cells, and cause existing brain cells to die.
But holiday stress is time-limited, so it’s the kind of stress we can learn to deal with.
“Our recent survey of more than 1,000 business owners across the country found that while just over half of entrepreneurs feel increased stress around the holidays, they are coping by taking extra steps toward self-care and going on vacations,” said Sharon Miller, Head of Small Business, Bank of America.
According to the Bank of America survey, entrepreneurs have found a number of ways to cope with the stress of the holidays and to take better care of themselves and others:
48% – taking extra steps toward self-care
38% – going on vacation
25% – developing processes to handle the influx of business
29% – providing employees with special perks and bonuses
28% – giving back to their local communities
And nearly 3/4 plan to spend time with family and friends.
“If there’s an end date, keep your eyes on the prize,” O’Day suggests, “and plan serious recovery time as a reward at the end.”
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019
This article originally ran in USA Today on December 4, 2019