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You wake up at 4 a.m., thinking about all you have to do. Going back to sleep is pointless. Why not get in to work early to get a head start on the day?
All is humming along until one of your employees steps into your office with a problem. The day unravels from there.
Finally, at midnight, you drop into bed, exhausted. It feels like you are playing the whack-a-mole game, hopping around putting out one fire after another. That’s just one day in the life of an entrepreneur.
Throughout the day, you might have encountered stressors and you might have been able to resolve them. But it’s likely you have not fully completed the stress cycle. And the compounding effect of multiple, incomplete stress cycles is what contributes to burnout, as Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski write in their book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”
When chronically stressed, our brain and body react as if we are in constant danger. The fight-or-flight reaction spikes our cortisol and puts us at risk for a number of life-threatening conditions. When the parasympathetic nervous system does not have a chance to return our body to rest, our brains rewire themselves into a state where our immune system is compromised, and we may face life-threatening damage to our organs and tissues.
Chronic stress makes us prone to worrying and fear, increasing our mental load and straining our bodies even at less extreme levels. It causes us to lose our motivation and drive to succeed. A stressed-out person has difficulties learning and regulating emotions and problems with concentration and memory.
This sets us up to be reactive and ineffective and to make mistakes and oversights, which cause further stress. It’s a negative downward spiral. It’s the survival trap.
Help Them Help You
Breaking free of the survival trap means that even as you manage a crisis, you proactively and consistently do things to move your business forward.
Look for ways to resolve the current crisis while adding value to your business. Uncover the underlying problem that led to the crisis and try to resolve that rather than slapping a Band-Aid on the situation.
The first step is to breathe. Most situations do not have to be handled immediately, but we jump into problem-solving when our adrenaline kicks in. Instead, take deep breaths, go for a short walk, and generate a list of three to five questions for your team. Engage them in problem-solving with you. Ask them:
► What gap in our system led to this issue?
► What ideas do you have for how we might prevent this in the future?
As your day ends, take time to complete the stress cycle. Exercising after work is a great way to release the stress from the day. You will likely sleep better and set yourself up for a better day tomorrow.