Quick practices for when you feel stress coming on.

Asking an entrepreneur if she/he feels stress is like asking a fish to tell you if it ever gets wet — it kind of goes with the territory.

However, just because stress is normal doesn’t mean it’s something we want to keep experiencing.

Every entrepreneur has her own reaction to, and definition of, stress. For example, some people break into a cold sweat when they hear the word “spreadsheet” — whereas others never met a pie chart they didn’t like. (Fine, I admit it: I’m raising my hand on that last one.)

Yet, there’s another, more sinister problem with stress. While intermittent doses of stress can lead to inventive leaps or creative solutions, chronic stress — the never-ending, day-in-day-out, migraine-inducing type of stress — can lead to serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, depression and heart attacks.

Another issue with stress is that as entrepreneurs, we generally don’t have an hour to sit around and stare at our navels. We’ve got work to do, dammit!

Therefore, here are six 60-second stress busters you can do the next time you feel that freight train of stress coming on — and yes, each of these take just 60 seconds or less:

1. Create a “stop doing” list.

I was speaking at an industry conference with Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great. In his keynote, Collins said that every entrepreneur (and person, for that matter) should create a “stop doing” list to go along with their to-do list.

As entrepreneurs, it’s natural to experience “job creep” — that painful disorder where we tell someone to do something, discover he can’t do it as well as we can, and then say, “Oh, just let me do it.” (You’re nodding your head right now, aren’t you?)

To create a stop doing list, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What activities should I stop doing today?
  2. What activities make me feel happy when I do them?
  3. What can I do today that will move the needle toward my goals?

The truth is, there comes a point where you simply can’t keep adding things to your to-do list, unless you enjoy visits to the ER.

2. Lower the bar.

Let’s say you wanted to be a world-class high jumper and you came to me because I’m a famous high ump trainer. I tell you to set the bar at 8 feet off the ground because, well, that’s where the world’s best are — and you want to be the best, don’t you?

What are your chances of clearing that bar? Exactly: slim and none.

But, what if, instead, I asked you to step over a bar that’s, say, 2 feet off the ground. Then you gradually worked your way up until you were clearing a bar that’s a reasonable height (say, two-and-a-half feet for guys my age).

My point is that in life and business, we often set the bar too high (“My book’s gotta be a New York Times bestseller! We’ve gotta make 500 percent of our quota!”) While there’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals — in fact, every mission-driven entrepreneur is driven by them — never hitting your goals can be a particularly painful source of chronic stress. Therefore, lower the bar once in a while and give yourself permission to be, oh I don’t know … human.


3. Don’t believe everything you think.

For most of human history, the majority of human beings believed the Earth was flat. (And for you hold-outs out there, please see this.) We also believed things like:

  • Bloodletting cures diseases.
  • Women couldn’t lead.
  • Digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

The point is that just because you, or even a majority of people, believe something, doesn’t make it true. You don’t, for example, have to be perfect. You don’t have to make everyone happy. You don’t have to hold onto pain to show how strong you are.

If your beliefs aren’t serving you, the great news is that you can change them. See tip No. 1.

4. Put your worries on the clock.

The next time you feel the stress train about to come into the station, set a timer for 60 seconds (or five minutes, if you’re really exuberant) and worry.

Yes, I said: Sit there and worry.

It’s funny, because when you force yourself to worry, it’s actually quite hard to do. We so often try to push worry aside that sometimes, it keeps trying to get our attention — like a 3-year-old who keeps saying, “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom …” (Why do you think he does that?)

So, go ahead and give worry your full attention for 60 seconds. You may just find that once you give it attention, it will stop tugging on your pants leg and go on to something else.

5. Smile more.

Yes, it’s corny. But, hey, it works. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the mere act of smiling releases “happy hormones” including dopamine and serotonin.

6. Breathe (properly).

An ancient proverb says: “The secret to long life is to keep breathing as long as possible.” (Hold on, that was a birthday card I got for my brother.)

Anyway, it’s likely that you’re going to breathe at some point during the day. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!) Yet, strange as it sounds, many people aren’t breathing properly. Try this:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of three.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for a count of three.

Feels better instantly, doesn’t it? Handily, the body has a built-in stress reducer, and it’s called your breath. However, studies have shown that many people practice shallow breathing, which can actually increase stress. Therefore, make it a practice when you feel stress to consciously practice deep breathing, which will instantly make you feel better.

While you’re at it, do these other 60-Second stress busters throughout your day even if you don’t feel stressed — and reap the rewards of lowering your stress in 60 seconds or less.