Key learning outcomes:

  • Recognise the need to pinpoint the root cause of stress.
  • Distinguish between the sources of stress that you can change and those you cannot.
  • Assess your time management skills and their impact on your stress levels.
  • Learn that aiming for perfection can create additional pressures in your life.


Stress can affect all of us. It can be a short-term issue, for example, occurring in peak times at work, or a longer term problem, when you are dealing with more challenging, ongoing circumstances. If you do not learn how to manage your stress, it can create long-lasting, serious issues that may damage your health and wellbeing. Operating a business in today’s fast-paced and competitive environment has meant that some stress is inevitable; therefore, learning to deal with it is an essential skill. This article outlines some proven tips and tools that can help you to manage stress. The key is to find what techniques works for you and implement them in your daily life.

1. Determine the source of stress

It can be easy to think that “everything” is stressing you, but often there is a root cause which may be causing stress in many different areas of your life. In order to reduce your stress levels, you really need to identify the root cause of the problem.

For example, you may be feeling stressed because your partner is upset that you are not spending enough time with the family. You need to think about the cause of this problem, rather than think your partner’s anger is just another issue you have to deal with. Perhaps your business is short-staffed at the moment and you are working longer hours to compensate. The root cause of the stress is therefore the lack of staff rather than your lack of family time. If you cannot solve this staffing issue, you will continue to see stress creep into other aspects of your life. We have a great article called “Five Whys” which might be helpful if you are having trouble identifying the root cause of your stress.

2. Learn to control what you can

These wise words from Reinhold Niebuhr are worth remembering and thinking about: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It is a fact of life that there will always be some things that are beyond our control. Think about natural disasters; as unfortunate as they are, no amount of worrying and stressing is going to stop them. We can only control how we prepare for them, or how we react to them. It is the same in business and in life. Once you identify your source of stress, you need to determine if it is something you can change. If not, the only thing you can do is change your reaction and attitude. Perhaps your industry has seen a downturn in market demand. This can be a great source of stress for many business owners and operators. Worrying will not change the market, but adapting your operating style may have a positive affect on how you come through the downturn.

3. Bump up your time management skills

Without doubt, the biggest source of stress we observe is the shortage of time to do what needs to be done. Time is a great equalizer. We all have the same number of hours and minutes every day; the difference between success and failure can come down to how we use them.

Enhancing your ability to make the most of your time is a great way to reduce your stress. There tends to be a direct correlation between high stress levels and poor time management skills. This is because the more stressed we become, the less focused and efficient we are. If you are feeling stressed, it may be time to get back to some time management basics. We have a number of tips and tools that will help you. We suggest you start with our articles “Top Ten Time Management Tips” and “Top Ten Time Management Mistakes” to help identify the things you need to do to get back on the right path.

4. Focus on the important

One of the most common things that can happen when we are feeling stressed is that we can get very busy, being busy. The minute you feel your stress levels increasing, you need to clear your mind and focus of the three most important tasks and activities for the day. Take a deep breath, think about them and write them down. We know that there are a million things going through your head – but it is essential that you cut through the noise and focus on your most important three! Just taking a couple of minutes to write them down will force you to re-focus your attention in the right direction.

Our mind, while amazing, is not very good at multi-tasking. If you can train yourself to focus on what is most important, you will start to feel the control coming back into your day or life. One technique we use at Absolute Best is the “Pomodoro Technique”. This time management tool requires you to focus on one task or activity at a time for just two hours. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve when you give something 100% of your attention for even just a short period of time.

5. Learn to say no

High achievers tend to say “yes”, all the time. There is an old saying that if you want something done, give the job to a busy person. While this might be true to some extent, it is important that you learn that saying “yes” all the time can be the source of your stress.

It is ok to say “no”! If you do not want to do something, do not have the time or resources to do it, or you do not have to do it, then you should think very seriously about agreeing to do it. This is particularly important when you are feeling under pressure or are already feeling stressed. For example, it’s great to be the class parent at your child’s school or to volunteer to host the next big family function, but it has to be the right time for you. We understand that this can be hard, but we hazard a guess that you have put yourself forward in more than your fair share of situations, so it is ok to say “no” this time around.

6. Don’t let perfect get in the way of better

Voltaire said that “perfect is the enemy of good”. This concept can be the source of stress for so many high achievers. The very reason that they achieve great results is because they are not prepared to settle for second best. This is an attribute that we admire, and we are not suggesting that lowering your high standards is the answer to stress management; however, sometimes it is important to let go and move forward.

When you find yourself stressing over something that is not quite perfect, ask yourself this question: “is it significantly better?” If the answer is “yes”, then you need to stop worrying and move forward. For example, perhaps you would like to exercise five times per week. Work or family pressures might mean that you are currently only getting to the gym two or three times per week. This is still significantly better than the alternative of not going at all. So take the pressure off yourself. This is not to say you should give up on your goal of exercising five times per week; however, your time would be better spent working on the issues that might be preventing you from getting to the gym, rather than worrying about not exercising as often as you would like to.

7. Find your quiet time

It is proven that getting some quiet time can help to relax you and to reduce your stress levels. It is important to find what works for you. For some people, meditation or yoga is something that they find beneficial, and for others it might just be taking some time out for a quiet walk, a massage or a nice hot bath. The important thing is that you need to find something that allows you to quiet your mind. We suggest that you try a few different techniques until you find the one that works well for you.

8. Get moving

Exercise is a proven tool to reduce stress levels and to increase productivity. One of the things that can happen when we are stressed is that we think we need to work harder and longer. However, in reality this only serves to reduce our productivity levels and in turn increases our stress.

Exercise helps to relieve your stress through a number of ways. When we exercise, our brain lifts the production of endorphin, and these work to make us feel good. Exercise can be an active form of meditation; for example, imagine you are playing a game of tennis with friends and you switch your focus from what might be worrying you to hitting that perfect forehand or serve. Finally, exercise can help to improve your mood. Often when we are feeling stressed, we don’t feel good about ourselves. With a bit of regular exercise we can start to feel better in just a few sessions, and this in turn improves our sense of well being and confidence.

9. Eat to live well

Once again it is easy to fall into bad nutritional habits when you are feeling stressed. “But I do not have time to shop and cook – I am just too busy!” We hear this a lot from people who experience time pressures; however, this is another catch 22 situation. If you were eating healthier food that gave you lasting energy throughout the day, you would find that your efficiency and time management improves significantly, and this then works to reduce your stress levels.

If you are busy during the week, think about preparing some healthy meals on Sunday that can get you through the week. Make sure you are eating regularly throughout the day; missing breakfast or skipping lunch can see your energy levels hitting a low point by early to mid-afternoon. We have a great article, “Managing Energy Levels”, which will help you to be more productive throughout the week. It can also be tempting to over-indulge in such things as alcohol and coffee. Remember, like most things in life, these are best enjoyed in moderation.

10. Get plenty of rest

Sleep and stress are not great bedfellows! When you are stressed, the quality and quantity of sleep can be adversely affected. And when you do not get enough rest, you start to feel even more stressed. A few good nights rest can make you feel a lot better, and we suggest you try some of these tried and tested tips. Avoid having stimulants in the evening, which means no coffee or tea. Some people limit these types of drinks to the morning so they are completely out of their system by bedtime. Also avoid excess sugar or alcohol; sugar can give you an artificial high, and while alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it will impact the quality of your sleep. Try some relaxing music, a nice warm bath or some meditation to quiet your mind. Avoid watching TV to put you to sleep, as it will stimulate your brain. Also, exercising too late in the day can leave you feeling a little hyped up.


There is little doubt that unless you deal with stress, it can cause significant issues, not just for your productivity and business but also for your health. The key is to learn to look for signs of stress and try to deal with them as early as you can. When you feel things are getting a little out of control, or if you have an event coming up that you know has the potential to stress you out, put in place some mechanisms to help you deal with them quickly and efficiently.

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