How to Manage Business Owner Stress:
How Business Owners & Entrepreneurs Can Reduce Stress to Create Meaningful & Sustainable Personal & Business Growth
This article has been written for both business owners and professionals. It provides a yogic perspective on managing stress while creating meaningful and sustainable growth.
Your Unwanted Thoughts & Painful Emotions Are Determining Your Life (Whether You Like it or Not)
Whether we like it or not, our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions determine so much of our lives, but only because we avoid them. Avoiding our unwanted feelings & thoughts often involves avoiding people and situations that produce these feelings and thoughts, including the very people and situations that are an important part of pursuing our most meaningful projects and a meaningful life. And as this list of people and situations (that we feel compelled to avoid) grows, life becomes narrower and narrower, and we become more and more rigid. In other words, by avoiding whatever triggers uncomfortable thoughts/emotions, we miss opportunities for growth and to exercise our freedom.
We continue to avoid doing the things we know that we should be doing in order to grow. We squander opportunities and then beat ourselves up. And then we trust ourselves less. Our relationships suffer; we feel more and more disconnected. And whatever little happiness/success we experience quickly evaporates. Moments of inspiration (during which we strongly feel that we have more potential than our current life suggests) become less frequent and more frustrating because they remain unfulfilled. We treat our successes as inconsequential because, ultimately, they haven’t gotten us much closer to our ideal. This compels us to think about all the time we’ve “wasted” in our past. We believe less and less in our own inherent value.
We become stuck in cycles of anxiety and self-sabotage. We become stuck in habits that we’ve inherited and developed in the process of managing/avoiding (and trying to eliminate) the discomfort of feeling incomplete. This includes “destructive” addictions (to things such as food, gambling, shopping, dysfunctional relationships, etc.), but it also includes addictions that we might not think to be destructive, such as exercise and self-help. Either way, our attempts to free ourselves only reinforces our imprisonment. We become stuck. Fighting against ourselves.
And freedom is unavailable to those who remain imprisoned by themselves.
How Avoidance Affects Successful Business Owners (& Professionals)
Stuck in cycles of anxiety, when business owners or professionals are unable to reach their goals, they:
fear abandoning the strategies that have earned them success thus far. They are afraid of “losing control” as they change.
fear that the only way to earn more is to do more, and wonder if this is sustainable if they want more time freedom.
feel that they are missing something (and they don’t know where to look). If only they had the “right” information or more information about the future, they feel they would succeed.
wonder if they’re doing the right thing; they feel that they would flourish if only they found the “right” thing/career/person/support.
feel that they are unsupported by circumstances and “unlucky”.
feel that there is “something wrong with me” (and they think that fixing their lives—including professional growth—will correct this feeling of inner lack).
feel that they need “permission/approval” from more successful people in order to become like them, feeling inherently unworthy of being as successful as they want; in other words, they feel that they can’t justify—to themselves or the world—why success should be theirs.
wonder if there is anything distinctive or special about their own abilities.
can’t see a bright future, and don’t feel particularly motivated to make changes. Their despondence leaves them wondering if they will ever reach their “potential”.
wonder if they’ll ever have the meaningful freedom promised by business ownership.
are perhaps unable to afford the quality of life they desire (for themselves and their families).
know what they ought to be doing but simply can’t bring themselves to do it.
feel that they’ve perhaps damaged their important relationships.
are likely suffering from burnout and are frustrated about the R.O.I. on their time and attention.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that your anxieties are becoming unmanageable. You no longer want your personal and/or professional life to be reduced to simply navigating whatever produces anxiety because this approach only exacerbates your issues: missed opportunities, frustration, and a growing feeling that you’re falling behind. You appreciate that “growth” doesn’t consist of just acquiring some impressive new thing (e.g., vacation home, luxury car, partner, etc.) that will earn you recognition and “fix” your own feelings of inadequacy. Instead, you define “growth” as something that also produces freedom—of time, of money, and of fulfillment—and of a new and more complete sense of yourself.
...freedom is unavailable to those who remain imprisoned by themselves.
The Anxiety of Freedom:
3 Steps to Stop Restricting Your Growth & Freedom
What follows are the three essential elements of addressing your self-imposed limitations, the implementation of which can help you begin to gain clarity about a growth/freedom strategy that is unique to your past, your abilities, and your vision. The process of implementing these three elements does not follow a linear path. You’re never “finished” any of them. Rather, they each are deepened as you continue to grow and (necessarily) become more calm and resilient, self-aware and self-connected, fulfilled and free.
(1) Experience Inner Stability:
Running From Your Anxieties Means that Your Anxieties Are in Control
Resilience and inner calm are not things that we must “obtain” from some place outside of ourselves. We already have them. We need only figure out what we’re doing that is preventing us from experiencing them.
But simply wanting to experience inner calm and resilience isn’t enough because the simple exertion of willpower isn’t enough, especially when the source of this willpower is the anxious individual looking to “get rid of” something in/about themselves. In these instances, our anxieties are in control. The habitual self who needs to feel secure is in control. And this habitual self who is in the habit of reaching for security cannot grow.
This basic habit—of avoiding our anxieties—produces and reproduces self-sabotaging behaviour, feelings of isolation and meaninglessness, and the relentless craving for whatever ‘next’ thing we feel we need in order to finally feel “at peace” and “complete”: more money, fame, love, attention, status, respect—the car, the house, the job, the promotion, the partner, marriage, the child, retirement, and even spiritual enlightenment. When we are no longer running from ourselves, our attention is no longer consumed by a future ideal that we think will fill up our sense of lack—a future ideal that exacerbates our lack more than frees us from it.
But we cannot turn off these basic desires—to avoid anxiety and to seek security/control—with our will. This is why we need a practice to bypass the habitual self’s desire to rid itself of pain. We need a practice that bypasses the unconscious motivations that are keeping us stuck in anxiety and self-sabotage. In other words, we need a practice for freeing ourselves from the (habitual) ‘old maps’ that are determining our thinking, acting, feeling, and even our perceiving.
What practice is most effective for helping us bypass our habitual self? Learning to sit with our anxieties ensures that we won't waste our life running from them. Acquainting ourselves with our inner calm and resilience allows us to develop a radically different relationship with anxiety: anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating, and moments of rest/downtime don’t have to be anxiety-producing (by reminding us about what we’re not doing or what we could or should be doing in order to continue to grow).
This is important because anxiety is a non-optional part of growth. Perhaps the simplest way to deal with anxiety is simply to be willing to feel it. Simple, yes, but certainly not easy. (And made more difficult by craving some state of being that we think is on the other side of anxiety.)
This is what it means to become fearless: fearlessness just is no longer running from our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions. And running from (or trying to destroy) our anxieties just means that our anxieties are in control.
We are then able to tell the truth about our situation—where we’ve been and where we are, who we are and what we [actually] want—and thus enjoy sustainable and meaningful growth in our competence, confidence, autonomy, progress, and freedom.
Perhaps the simplest way to deal with anxiety is simply to be willing to feel it. Simple, yes, but certainly not easy. (And made more difficult by craving some state of being that we think is on the other side of anxiety.)
(2) Experience Your “True” Self:
A Personal Vision Filters & Focuses Your Attention & Resources
Mining for gold requires digging up some dirt. But we don’t dig up dirt for the sake of digging up dirt. Experiencing our “true” self doesn’t require sanitizing our inner lives of whatever (we think) causes our sense of inadequacy/shame. It doesn’t require ‘fixing’ all of our weaknesses so that we are immune to criticism. It doesn’t require achieving bulletproof mental health. In fact, the quest for any kind of personal perfection only reinforces our inner lack (which is the source of our deepest anxiety). In addition to reinforcing our inner lack, our craving to be more substantial also reinforces our sense of separateness/isolation, which then motivates self-interested ways of being in the world, ways that keep us ‘stuck’ in identities, situations, and habits that produce and re-produce suffering.
What gold are we mining for? The peace of being who/what we are, our own “true” self: the transparent site of our natural inspirations, values, and strengths expressed through a personal vision aligned with this “true” self, one that allows us to uncover and develop what we are uniquely capable to do something about. A personal vision filters and focuses our attention: we don’t waste our time putting out fires and/or shoring up personal weaknesses that have nothing to do with our self/vision. We’re not trying to ‘collect’ strengths with the hope that we’ll finally eliminate our feelings of personal inadequacy. Our life (and our ‘self’) isn’t a problem to be solved.
A personal vision calls us beyond our self-preoccupation; excessive focus on our ‘self’ can cause us to remain firmly in the grip of our compulsions, anxieties, and rumination. A personal vision calls us to self-development through contribution instead of self-obsession through craving and comparison. Growth for the sake of growth often leaves us feeling empty and isolated. Growth—and goals pursued—for the sake of expressing and developing our “true” self leaves us feeling connected, capable, successful, and free. The inspiration to contribute in a more meaningful way calls us beyond our own need to fix our ‘self’ towards useful and fulfilling growth. A personal vision calls us beyond our ego and allows us engage in pursuits with no compulsive desire for some end that (we think) will fill up our inner sense of lack. In this way, goals and habits become more of a means for being ourself rather than ends that will define our worth.
However, whether it contains ‘contribution’ or not, a personal vision that is the result of only intellectual calculation is often infected with inner lack, the need for recognition, doubt, fear, and insecurity. In fact, we can waste our entire lives chasing a vision that was never truly ours to begin with. A fulfilling personal vision is, rather, the result of self-connection. It is the result of connecting with our own intrinsic motivations, inspirations, values, standards, and needs. And these deeper elements of ourselves are difficult to access (and own and commit to) if we’re not quiet/stable enough to hear them, and/or if we choose to ignore them as we continue our pursuit of ego-security/recognition.
A personal vision is always a vision for self-realization—for realizing one’s self (in the world).
A personal vision is always a vision for self-realization—for realizing one’s self (in the world).
(3) Experience Fearlessness:
Your Strategy, Execution, and Growth are Connected to the Things You Avoid
Fearlessness just is no longer running from ourselves. As we learn to sit with our anxieties rather than unthinkingly react to them, we’re less trapped by them. And when we’re less trapped by our patterns of reactivity, there is more space to see our underlying patterns, and to understand—by directly experiencing—how these patterns are producing and reproducing our destructive habits. We are also able to see the ways in which our attention is habitually and automatically pre-occupied. This allows us to assess whether we’re spending our attention on matters that reinforce our suffering or that liberate us therefrom.
Changing our habitual self requires confronting these hitherto unconscious habits, especially those that we develop and inherit in order to avoid painful thoughts/feelings/situations. Focusing our efforts on making our implicit habits more explicit will allow us to see how our flourishing is tied up in the tangled emotions connected to the things we avoid. Unless we become clear about the unconscious patterns that are determining our choices, we’ll often pursue remedial measures that further reinforce our problem (and thus reinforce our self-sabotage).
Furthermore, confronting what we avoid about ourselves allows us to experience how/when our anxieties are in control. What situations trigger us? What do we do as a result? What benefit do we [actually] derive from this? Once we repeatedly see—actually see—that the actual benefits we derive from avoidance are not aligned with our objectives, new behaviours become available to us. But this doesn’t occur if we don’t directly experience the pattern; a purely intellectual understanding that a particular habit is “destructive” isn’t enough to change our behaviour. Simply studying the depths of our inner life alone is insufficient to live freely.
No longer running from ourselves allows us to (finally) bring to light these tensions and hidden (often warring) commitments that have been preventing us from adopting new behaviours. These tensions and commitments remain unintelligible because we do not approach the (difficult) work of becoming self-aware; in other words, we don’t face ourselves. And when we don’t face ourselves, resources remain trapped in repressive habitual behaviours (i.e., our habitual ways of acting, thinking, feeling, and perceiving). As such, we continue to shame ourselves for our failure to course-correct, and we continue to search for more/better “advice”. No amount of good advice will help us if we are bound by self-sabotaging patterns that prevent us from acting on (what could be) good advice or even requesting said advice. However, confronting our repressive habitual behaviours allows us to to un-cover our own resources that allow us to overcome or transcend our existing ways of being in the world. Self-awareness just is becoming aware of the various factors determining our existing ways of being. Becoming aware of these factors allows us to (1) transcend the limitations imposed by the factors that are disposable, and (2) pursue the freedoms permitted by those factors that are indisposable. Self-awareness is self-transcendence.
Our desire to find permanent emotional/material security (to finally be “at peace”) actually reinforces the basic sense of lack/anxiety that we’re trying to eliminate. In other words, the very quest for permanent freedom from our personal suffering might be the very thing keeping us from our deepest fulfillment.
This is what it means to become fearless: fearlessness just is no longer running from our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions.
Beyond Coping: Growth is the Result of Surrender (not Pursuit)
Growth requires opening our (current) self up in ways that we don’t control, which may include abandoning the very strategies that have earned us success thus far. This ‘openness’ is more accessible from a place of inner stability; no longer running from our inner lives, we are more inclined to honour our own needs and inspirations. In other words, we are more inclined to being ourselves, being who/what/where we are, which means being less resistant to—and weighed down by—ourselves and our past, and therefore freer to create/realize our “true” self in the world.
Guided by our inner lack and trapped in ego-protection, we are more inclined to destroy ourselves and our relationships; all we see is lack. Conversely, guided by a personal vision for self-realization, we are more inclined to fearlessly explore and pursue opportunities to realize our vision; our vision/self-realization, in other words, becomes more important than our ego.
In other words, growth is just the result of freeing ourselves from limitations imposed by our habitual self’s desire for recognition/security. The mindless pursuit of what we think will earn us more recognition/security/status keeps us stuck and/or unfulfilled. The “self-less” pursuit of a vision compels the self to grow beyond itself, beyond the ego. To grow, in other words, we need to “let go” of our existing sense of self.
Beyond Growth: The Relationship Between Growth & Freedom
Our inability to confront our discomfort often prevent us from growth.
Avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from looking directly at the terms of our life/career/business situation.
Avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from making difficult decisions about warring commitments and responsibilities.
Avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from doing what we know we should be doing in order to produce results.
Avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from abandoning the strategies that have earned us success thus far (the abandonment of which is required for further growth).
Avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from acting on opportunities.
When life forces us to make changes that require growth, avoiding our discomfort/stress prevents us from quickly identifying a way forward.
We feel we have less time, and aren’t quite sure what to do with little time we have). As such, we can’t /don’t focus our efforts on the few critical things that will produce the best results and a sense of improved capability and progress. We surrender our time freedom, financial freedom, and the freedom of fulfillment. We don’t freely choose our priorities; our priorities seem self-defined. Our relationships often suffer. We feel we have fewer resources to act on our creativity. We feel we have fewer resources to autonomously make decisions about our lives and businesses (including our work environment and who we work with). We feel we have fewer resources to pursue the development of skills we find personally meaningful (including mentorship/coaching). We feel we have fewer resources to make an impact on those around us, and to think seriously about our legacy. Our stress often feels meaningless. In other words, we have less control of our time and our impact.
...growth is just the result of freeing ourselves from limitations imposed by our habitual self’s desire for recognition/security.
How Anxiety Can Help a Business Owner Do More Meaningful Work, Live a More Meaningful Life, and Reduce Stress
Our anxiety shows us what we care about but perhaps didn’t realize we cared about. As such, anxiety gives us the opportunity to think seriously about how we’re spending our limited time and attention. We will never have all the “answers” to our most pressing personal/professional dilemmas, and we will never know how things will turn out. And we cannot pause time or retreat to some place that is ‘outside’ of experience to “get everything right” before we continue living our lives. Regardless of our comfort level or sense of direction, we are required to move forward anyway: we have no choice but to respond to the needs our unique situations even though we have no justification for doing it. These are non-optional dimensions of life. And as anxiety-producing as this often can be, no one else (but you) is responsible for how your life will turn out. It’s difficult to change your life if you refuse to own up to this responsibility.
Your anxieties may be costing you your potential, integrity, and fulfillment. Trying to “eliminate” your anxieties will keep you trapped by them. And avoiding your anxieties is likely costing you time, money, health, relationships, freedom, and fulfillment. Anxiety isn’t optional. Developing a different relationship with your anxiety—i.e., transforming your relationship with anxiety into a source of capability and contribution—allows you to achieve the kind of inner stability required to fearlessly pursue your most capable, successful, fulfilled self.
The most important part of this process of freeing ourselves from our limitations and achieving fulfilling growth is ensuring that the ego isn’t in charge of the process of developing resilience and fearlessness. If we cannot monitor the machinations of the ego (and its deep self-preserving habits that are keeping us imprisoned), the ego wins, and we remain stuck (and/or success feels empty).
The key to sitting with our anxieties is ensuring that we’re not ‘sitting with anxiety’ for the sake of accomplishing some goal (including “eliminating anxiety” or “achieving growth”).
The key to experiencing our “true” selves is ensuring that we’ve put aside the need to become more substantial and secure.
The key to confronting what we’ve been avoiding about ourselves is ensuring that we’re not trying to fix anything.
Anxiety isn’t optional. Trying to “eliminate” your anxieties will keep you trapped by them. And avoiding your anxieties is likely costing you time, money, health, relationships, freedom, and fulfillment.
Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, and Professionals:
What to Do Next
Balrāj is a yogin who takes an “yogic” approach to helping business owners and professionals whose anxieties (& psychology) are restricting their personal and/or professional growth and freedom (time freedom, money freedom, and the freedom of fulfillment). He offers private meditation, half-day online retreats, and fully-customized results-based coaching. To speak directly with Balrāj about your situation, schedule a Clarity Call.
This article about managing entrepreneurial stress while continuing to create growth is a part of the Yoga Lifestyle & Personal Growth section of our Guide to Spiritual Yoga for Beginners.