How is Being Stressed Good for Entrepreneurs?

This is part of a series about stress and resilience for stressed entrepreneurs. (More next week)

There are types two of stress. Not all stress is created equal.

Eu-stress is useful, Di-stress is distressing.

Some stress, for limited periods of time is actually really GOOD. Without any stress, we would not be motivated or challenged into achieving anything.

Eustress is a term that refers to the good form of stress that that helps an individual or business grow and remain healthy. The term was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, consisting of the Greek prefix eu– meaning “good”, and stress, literally meaning “good stress.

Having no stress, so staying in your comfort zone, means that there is no stressor or stimuli requiring you to do anything. If you don’t do anything different, you won’t get anything different. Life will remain comfortable – until it doesn’t.

After a time you won’t be comfortable with what was, because it’s human nature to want and desire. Happiness = progress and if we’re not growing, we’re dying.

Often, being comfortable is the worst! Action only happens when the pain of staying the same becomes so unbearable that you are willing to try something new. Quite simply, if you have no pain, there is no reason to change.

This is why so many successful people have a rags to riches story – they had a pain or stressor driving them. A di-stress, which motivated them to achieve and succeed. In other words they were already so uncomfortable that it became more comfortable to rise to the challenge and its stressors, using them to change.

A good coach will help you to find your stretch zone. The place where there is the right amount and the right kind of stress to motivate, and challenge you without allowing you to feel threatened or infusing you with enough fear to tip you into your panic zone.

Ultimately putting stressors in place that create types of eustress will promote higher performance and mean that you will reach your goals and achieve greatness. We all know that we’ll achieve much more in the gym with a personal trainer than without. Similarly a good coach will find personalised ways to create the right stress with and for you. Enabling you to achieve your greatest potential.

Di-stress on the other hand is the bad kind of stress; the kind which puts us into survival mode rather than competency mode, and means that the amygdala is running the show.

Competency mode (which as it sounds means that we are competently achieving) requires access to the prefrontal cortex, which allows for reflection, planning, introspection, imagination, empathy, compassion, a sense of morality, etc. In survival mode, however, strong emotions hi-jack the prefrontal cortex so that you literally can’t think creatively or compassionately OR problem solve because access to the part of the brain needed to do so is cut off by the amygdala.

The amygdala is constantly on guard, making an appraisal of threat and attempting to keep you safe. BUT in this day and age the threat of physical harm is minimal so the amygdala guards against threats to our self-esteem.

SO

If you are feeling defensive or stressed, the first question to ask is

what are the stressors AND is it them which need to change?”

The stressors are what stimulate the release of stress hormones. A simplistic view would suggest that they might be external. But if stress comes from the outside, (our environment and circumstance) then what stresses one person would stress everyone, right?

SO CLEARLY… it is more complex than that. We’re all different, and our beliefs, reaction and response to stimuli ranges in extreme.

Understanding what stimulates stress in YOU, is hugely powerful.

Once again it all comes down to belief. Greater clarity here is another step towards greater self-awareness and will ultimately help you to grow your capacity to be a more capable and successful entrepreneur.

Once you have the data, you are able to remove (yourself from) those stressors, or find ways to adapt (reframe your beliefs).

For example, an extroverted person might find an open plan office great for interaction and they might get more done in this environment. An introverted person might find it stressful and may need to spend time alone or working in smaller groups in a more defined and confined space into order to be happy and productive. Neither is right or wrong, but being able to select circumstances that are right for you is emotionally intelligent.

So…

  • What do you find challenging?

  • What are the external factors that you find stressful?

  • What might you discover if you conducted a personal stress audit?

  • How do your beliefs impact your responses?

After you have identified what the stressors are in your life, it is a good idea to also identify your own personal signs of strain or stress responses – and then, the signals of those around you. That way you can stop before you end up in burnout or breakdown.

There is a sliding scale between competency and survival mode. Think of the tolerance of pressure as a thin white line on an iron bar. When pressure is put on this iron bar for a time it does its job well and then, just before it snaps, a thin white line appears.

How do you know that you are stressed? What tells you if it is good stress or bad stress?

On a scale of:

1 to 100, with complete BURNOUT being 100

  • Where would you place yourself?

  • What tells you it’s there?

Often the tipping point is when we reach quality or quantity overload.

Either there is TOO MUCH going on, we feel overwhelmed (quantity) and go from being productive to exhibiting signs of being in survival mode, such as being ‘cottonwool headed,’ or exhausted.

OR

The complexity of what is going on is TOO MUCH (quality). Instead of setting a learning goal, or asking for help we enter survival mode and panic, freeze or enter a place of black and white thinking or catastrophizing.

In stress situations we have 20 minutes of functioning at our pinnacle performance before we hit survival and begin to shut down. In survival mode your IQ drops by about 20 points as the blood moves from your prefrontal cortex into your amygdala.

At this point we move from competency to survival mode and our sense of humour vanishes. Our capacity for thought is compromised and we literally can’t think our way out. Our imagination shuts down. Our empathy is gone. All normal processes of the body get interrupted, to focus on flight or flight. The subconscious turns off its willingness to be influenced or make changes as, once in “protective” mode, it turns off the brain’s “learning” mode.

Clearly this is not a place where you are at your highest potential or being your best self.

When you are an entrepreneur or living any kind of bold and adventurous life it’s a great idea to take regular breaks throughout the day to check in with yourself, and state manage using techniques like breath work, or short bursts of exercise (dance breaks are my fave!) to reset your internal physiological state.

Ultimately, awareness gives you choice. Being responsible – or response-able – in stress response, starts with understanding the causes of stress for you, and having a set of tools in your proverbial toolkit to return you to a healthy competency state. This is the first step in being resilient.

Resilience is not about avoiding stress, but noticing our triggers, identifying the beliefs we have about the activating event and choosing an appropriate consequence. Emotional intelligence is choosing your response.

How is Being Stressed Good for Entrepreneurs?

I’d love to hear if you found this useful and what you learned – please come and share your insight with our tribe of misfit entrepreneurs.