I own a small business and find that I often suffer from stress and am very tired by the end of the day. What tools can I use to help me handle stress?

Sarah Trotman, small business sector specialist, spoke to small business lecturer Chris Matthews from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand to find out some useful hints on how to handle stress.

For many small business operators, the excitement of starting their own business is great, but worry over finances and other ongoing issues is often stressful. While some stress can be positive as it helps motivate you to achieve your goals, you do need some tools in place before stress levels become so high that they begin affecting your physical or mental health.

* Recognise what causes your stress.


Putting a label on the cause is important.

A real contributor to stress is worry about a nameless problem - if you don't know the real cause, how can you fix it? For instance, if your stress is caused by competing priorities then it is best to address this issue rather than letting yourself feel overwhelmed with the number of things you have to do. By identifying what's causing your stress, you can decide if you can do anything about it. At least if you decide there is too much to do, you can deal with it by prioritising.

* Separate worrying from planning

No amount of worrying will get things done or change anything. Planning to deal with whatever is causing the stress will at least give you an opportunity to look for ways of alleviating it. Planning is a positive activity and should be treated as an opportunity rather than a burden. Research suggests that spending three times longer planning something will make the task one-third shorter.

* Make time for thinking

Space and time to think about you and your business is critical. Headspace to let ideas flow and plan for the future can lead to better decision-making and finding creative ways to solve problems. But remember, keep it a positive exercise, don't turn it into a worrying session.

* Make time to do nothing

Time out is important. Leave your cell phone behind and find a sanctuary where you can relax, take deep breaths, and slow down and enjoy life. I often take a break during the day for a short walk that leaves me feeling invigorated and ready to carry on.


* Create a to-do list

Make sure you have a to-do list which you regularly update and which clearly shows tasks that you have completed so that you can reprioritise as necessary. Never set a job in concrete. If something more important comes along, then relegate what needs to be put off with a new deadline.

* Know the difference between urgent and important

Urgency is a major stress causer. We often bow to the tyranny of urgency for tasks that are of limited importance. Decide what is really important to your business and prioritise accordingly.

* Acknowledge that you can't do everything

Stress caused by fatigue is a killer. If you have help then ease your time burden by delegating activities to others or, if you are a one-person band, admit your limitations and SAY NO. Success takes time and it is better to take longer to achieve your goals than be burnt out by them.


* For more information on workplace stress click on the links below.