Dealing with stress in business - Sort of!


So. It’s World Mental Health Day and mental health is something that we care greatly about at BrightSparks (see our Emotional Resilience Training programme and our information and resource blogs). As BrightSparks’ Managing Director, I was asked to write something about the impact of stress and how it affects me by our Marketing and Development Manager, Leonie.

Now I suspect the reason that she asked me to write this blog is because, right now, I have a load on my plate. There’s a chance I may not be doing quite as well as usual at pulling off my "everything is tip-top with me" veneer as the stress starts seeping out into my general demeanour. 

I think the first thing to admit is that at times in business, I do experience high stress (as I suspect most entrepreneurs and business owners do). This has something to do with the unbridled ambition I have to constantly be driving forward. An ambition that has resulted in me founding 3 start-up businesses in the last 2 years, as well as having my second child in 5 years (ergo sleepless nights and constant worry that I'm not getting it right). I have taken on a staff team that I worry about doing the best by as well as providing a great service to all of our clients and constantly having to push myself and those around me to innovate so that we can do more than just survive!

Ok, this is turning into a bit of a therapy session. To summarise, I think the most important thing I've learned in recent years is that the way I think and act in work and business inherently leads to stress which does have an effect on my mental health. There, I said it, I do not have perfect mental health (I am not sure anyone really does).

My wife and business partner, Katie, describes it as if I have this limit to the amount of things I can contain in my brain at any one time. She visualises it as my body as a vessel of water. I am constantly carrying water to the top of my brow and then something else happens and I try to contain the water that is overflowing out of the top of my head, desperately trying not to let any hit the ground. The thing that’s causing the water to overflow at the moment is a 16,000 word tender. I am writing this inside of a week for a client that I deeply respect and want to help win the tender (worth a very large amount of money) so they can do some great things for disabled kids.

Luckily, I have learned a few things that help me when it comes to managing stress. The first is (boringly) running. Now I absolutely despise running. I have never understood the logic of setting off to run somewhere just to return to the same point you left. Plus, the monotony of it is painful. However, it's the only thing at the moment that fits with my work, school/nursery run schedule, so running it is.

When I set off running, there is a period where I worry that the run is eating into my work time and I start to get a bit stressy/anxious about that. I kind of have to fight my instinct to curtail the run for a while until I get far enough away from the office so that its irrelevant. It's only at this point where my mind starts to feel softer (thats the best I can do to explain it) and I am able, at least for a short period, to get some perspective about where everything fits in my brian. There is probably some brain chemistry reason for this but the more frequently I run the longer this feeling lasts for and the better I feel about my capacity to handle stress.

The second thing is mindfulness (yes I can feel you lot rolling your eyes) but it works for me. I use the Headspace guided meditation platform which I find easy to build into my day. For me, it helps me to put the hand brake on when I feel like the stress of the day is starting to get on top of me. It's a bit like a full stop. It forces you to halt the stresses of the day for a short period which kind of allows me to reflect and prioritise the order of things in my head. It makes everything feel a bit more manageable.  

But, in truth, I don't have a magic bullet for this one (sorry if you were looking for one in this ramble). I think when it comes to mental wellbeing everyone is just trying to do the best they can to get through the day in a way where they can feel as happy and fulfilled as possible. The world (and particularly business) however, often has different ideas. 

Written by Andy Simpson, Managing Director of BrightSparks