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7 Ways Small Business Owners Can
Alleviate Stress & Increase Focus

Chronic stress is bad news. High levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, can, overtime cause inflammation. Inflammation is required as an important part of the immune system but when levels become too high, for too long – it can cause a whole host of problems relating to mental and physical health. Everything from a weakened immune system, to depression can often be traced back to issues with inflammation and more often than not, stress (see this study for more information on the link between stress, inflammation and poor health).

Although it is often highly rewarding, running a small business can be extremely stressful. Hitting deadlines and then chasing invoices for example can takeaway precious time from doing the core-work of your business. This can lead to a vicious circle of frustration and high levels of stress.

We look at some relatively easy ways that you can reduce stress and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that are associated with less anxiety, lower blood pressure and a general feeling of wellbeing.

Belly Breathing

Also known as “diaphragmatic breathing”, belly breathing is a quick and effective way to induce a feeling of relaxation. People who sit down at a computer all down, usually generate an inefficient breathing technique and pattern than primarily uses the chest muscles and neglects to incorporate the diaphragm.

In turn, inefficient ‘chest breathing’ can interfere with the effective functioning of the digestive system, nervous system and even your ability to fall sleep.

Whenever you alter your breathing pattern – even back to the way nature intended, there is a risk of feeling unwell or even passing out, so be sure to practice belly breathing lying down to begin with.

  • Lie down with one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly; just below your rib cage.
  • Breathe in through your nose – as you do some move your belly upwards so that the hand on your stomach is moved towards the ceiling
  • As you breathe in through your belly, the hand on your chest should remain still and not rise upwards.
  • Hold the breath for a second or two and then breathe out by relaxing your stomach muscles.
  • You can breathe in and out through your nose or you can breathe in through your nose and then out through your mouth.

Try to ensure that your breathing is rhythmic. You can start with a tempo of 4-2-5; that is – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat this whenever you catch yourself feeling agitated, or repeat it daily until it becomes your default method of breathing.

Stretch Your Hips

Another problem that is accompanied with sitting down for hours each day, is an ‘anterior pelvic tilt’. This is where the muscles in the hips become tight and cause your back to curve unnaturally. This can also happen if you walk or run a lot, or if you sleep in the foetal position.

One particular muscle in the hips is called the psoas muscle. If this becomes tight and/or inflamed in can cause a range of problems, including breathing inefficiency (chest breathing instead of diaphragmatic breathing) and even problems with digestion. Many medical professionals (and holistic health practitioners) state that a tight psoas, can in turn lead to heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

The best way to avoid psoas-problems, is to find a chair that places you in a different position to the typically seated posture. For example, a kneeling chair, or ideally a standing desk. If this is not possible, try to take short breaks and stretch your hips every couple of hours – or when you get home.

Stretching your psoas muscles, should alleviate any sitting-related back and neck issues and help to alleviate symptoms of stress – especially before and/or after diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

Listen to Music

‘Music Therapy’ may sound very ‘new-worldy’ but there are a mounting number of studies that give it scientific backing.

The best music or sounds that induce a sense of wellbeing will differ slightly between people. This is because familiar music can often induce happy feelings associated with specific memories or events. Music without lyrics is best when working at the same time – even instrumental rock, although upbeat can induce a sense of wellbeing and also focus.

According to one study, a specific song - Marconi Union, “Weightless” was shown to have a dramatic impact on anxiety levels when listened to, reducing markers of anxiety by up to 50%

Finally, if you are able to use headphones, there is some research to suggest that binaural beats are effective at improving energy levels and alleviating stress. Specific binaural beats are also a great tool for meditation. Be warned though, they do sound a little bit strange!

Use a Pomodoro Timer

“Pomodoro” is Italian for “Tomato”. A pomodoro timer splits out your working day into ‘sprints’ of 25 minutes, interspersed with 5 minutes of rest. You can use a Pomodoro website, an app, or an actual timer to organise your day into these intervals.

These intervals are ideal for breaking up the day - with 25 minutes of focus, followed by 5 minutes of either checking up on emails and catching up, or a quick walk or trip to the bathroom.

Most work related issues can wait for 25 minutes – with this in mind you can focus on the work at hand, instead of constantly checking emails and worrying if you are getting on with the right thing. Think of each 25 minutes as a session of an opportunity to practice mindfulness, as, where possible, you focus on the work at hand and bring your attention back to it whenever your mind starts to drift.

Let Go & Outsource

Speaking of meditation and interruptions – consider hiring a virtual receptionist to help you to work more efficiently and avoid any intrusions when you are focused on the work at hand. An annoying sales call whilst in the middle of an important project can send anyone’s blood pressure rising, however, with a virtual receptionist or call answering phone app, you can avoid unnecessary interruptions and stay focused on what you are doing.

A 24/7 service can also be a huge stress-buster. Allowing you to switch off from work mentally, as your receptionist deals with all of your calls and only interrupts you in case of emergency.

Using a virtual assistant can also help you to work much more efficiently, by for example booking and arranging all of your travel arrangements, scheduling appointments and filtering out unwanted emails.

Alter Your Environment

Whether you work from home or from an office (it could be a little tricky in an industrial workshop), consider adding plants to literally bring the place to life.

Office plants have many benefits making the environment more pleasant, colourful and relaxing. In fact, one study showed that office plants reduced tension and anxiety by over 30%

Plants are also able to improve the air quality. Plants such as Aloe Vera and Areca Palm for example, are efficient at soaking up airborne toxins and increasing the amount of oxygen in the room.

It’s not always a practical option, but the presence of office dogs has also been showed to reduce levels of stress and anxiety in office workers. For more information, please see this study.

Eat the Right Foods

Always consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or using any supplement.

What you eat can have a huge impact upon your mood. If you eat low quality, processed food – it will almost always, have a negative impact on your mood (especially when the sugar-rush crashes).

Foods high in selenium, can reduce inflammation and in turn reduce levels of stress. Brazil nuts for example are a great source. Another mood-booster is vitamin D, which can be found in relatively high levels in fatty fish and eggs. Finally, bananas and pumpkin seeds are good sources of potassium, which reduces blood pressure.

Adaptogens are a type of food which can help to reduce stress. Adaptogens include ginseng and goji berries.

Of course, eating specific foods should be part of a well-balanced diet. If your body is craving specific nutrients, then you are more likely to feel tired and irritable.

In this article I’ve tried to leave out the obvious stress-busters including exercise and meditation, but if you have the time and energy, they should provide the foundation of your ‘wellbeing routine’. In particular, exercise in nature AKA ‘green exercise’ has been shown to have quite a profound, positive effect on mood.

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