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Business owners’ guide to stress

August 12, 2016 - Owning a farm or other business is much more than a way to make a living; it is a way of life. Everyone involved in business knows there are occasionally some very stressful times. During busy seasons or critical production periods, it is normal to be faced with time constraints and work pressures. If you are also faced with major financial issues, these pressures can be multiplied many times over.

Unfortunately, at times, these demands can put everyone involved in the business under a great deal of stress. With so many potential challenges (many of which are out of your control), it is important to identify practical ways of coping.

Before learning to manage this stress, it is critical to be able to identify it in yourself and in others. By identifying it, you can then take action to reduce it. Some strategies to help manage this stress are outlined in this Factsheet.
Admitting you are stressed about family or business isn't a sign of weakness - admitting it is the first step towards handling it.

Signs of stress
Stress manifests itself in different ways in different people. Below are some of the more common signs; the list is not meant to be comprehensive. They can be organized into four categories.

Behavioural indicators

  • resentment
  •  "using" people
  •  irregular personal care
  •  isolation
  •  active protesting
  •  staying in bed all day
Physical signs
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • eating too much or too little
  • excessive drinking
  • excessive smoking
  • stomach cramps
  • child/spouse abuse
  • high blood pressure
  • teeth grinding
  • diarrhea/constipation
  • head/back/neck pain
Emotional indicators
  • frustration
  • anger
  • bitterness
  • shouting/screaming
  • crying
  • withdrawal
  • depression
  • guilt
  • nervousness
  • mood swings
  • worrying
Psychological signs
  • negative attitude
  • feeling worthless
  • feeling a failure
  • fear of people
  • hopelessness
  • forgetfulness
Strategies to manage stress
Managing stress takes daily practice, discipline and a deliberate effort. You need to understand how to manage your stress, how to accept the uncontrollable factors and work on the ones you can control. You must develop strategies that work for you.

Your reaction or attitude towards a particular event or situation is a major factor in reducing stress. For example, if a loved one is late, and you immediately jump to the conclusion that they've had an accident, you will experience more stress than if you assume they are just running behind.

  • Controllable vs. uncontrollable - Know the difference between what you can and cannot control. Take action to change what you can. Accept the rest. Ask yourself: "What will happen if I ignore this?"
  • Look for the light - Most situations can be viewed from several different angles. Most of the time it is possible to put a positive spin on a stressful situation. Adopt a winning attitude.
  • Approach a situation as a challenge, not a crisis - Stop worrying and start problem solving. Problem solving is the proactive approach to finding solutions to controllable problems.
  • Give yourself credit - Set realistic daily goals and then rejoice in what you accomplish each day. Don't dwell on what you didn't get done.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive - When you look at a situation, take charge and become involved - don't sit on the sideline.
Many businesses have many stressors all at once. Here are some hints to manage various events and situations.

  • Don't procrastinate - Plan ahead and get things done. Before equipment is needed for next season, replace worn parts, change the oil (if necessary) and do regular maintenance. When buildings are empty, clean up and do repairs. Plan ahead financially - including provision for unexpected cash requirements.
  • Practise time management and set priorities - List what you want to get done in a day or a week. Rank your plans from 1 to 3, starting with the most urgent. Start with the "1's" and work through your list. If the "3's" don't get done, they were not that important in the first place. Always expect the unexpected and make contingency plans.
  • Prioritize stressors - Decide which stressors you want to deal with and which ones you do not. Giving some priority to stressors will help you spend your energy wisely.
  • Say no - Many people find it hard to turn down a request because they do not want to be viewed negatively as a "non-participant" or "difficult." How-ever, sometimes you just have to refuse extra commit-ments because you do not have the time. You can still help by offering an alternate suggestion.
  • Take the engineer's approach - Engineers are trained to break big projects into smaller, more manageable parts. As each step is finished, celebrate the accomplishments.
Source and reaction
If you seriously want to ease stress, determine the source, then manage your reaction.
  • Listen to your body - Pay attention to physical, mental and emotional signs of distress, such as fatigue, carelessness, aches and pains. Change your pace or activities.
  • Take care of your physical and mental self - Get adequate rest, nutrition and exercise. Well-nourished, rested people withstand stress better. Those who work in a physical environment, such as construction or farming, contend they get enough exercise at work. However, by adding walking, dancing or running, for example, you increase your pulse rate and bring fresh oxygen to your muscles. Stress is reduced in the process.
  • Work off your anger -Redirect any built-up anger into something positive, such as chores. Later, after the initial anger has passed, formulate your anger into words. Pinpointing the real feelings that led to the anger will help resolve not only the immediate difficulty, but other problems as well.
  • Take relaxation breaks - Several times a day, take three deep breaths, hold, tense and relax each part of your body. Let your mind wander, where you imagine yourself in some restful spot for a few minutes.
  • Balance work and play - Plan time for activities that give pleasure and provide balance.
  • Talk it out - Find someone to talk to about your worries and frustrations. Get professional help when needed. There are times when everyone can benefit from mental health agencies, crisis hot lines or private counsellors.
  • Stop worrying about what others think - If you worry too much about your image in the community, you'll come to question everything you do - How does it look to the neighbours? This increases stress when things are not going well. Remember others are more concerned about their own image than yours.
  • Look for your own positive feedback - Running a business can be very rewarding, but at times there is very little feedback. Find those things that give you positive feedback. Enjoy it when you are paid a compliment.
  • Develop a support network - Sometimes it is difficult to reach out and ask for help, especially if your finances are the core issue. Talk to your spouse, partner and family. When appropriate, your friends and neigh-bours can provide a tremendous support network. Sharing ideas, concerns and working out solutions together will help you feel less isolated.
  • Look for the humour in everything you do -Laughter is good medicine. Positive thoughts and humour will help maintain perspective when you tackle serious problems.
It is important to realize that not everyone sees a situation the same way. What is stressful to one person may not be for another. Individuals must be sensitive to this reality and try to understand others' reactions.

Furthermore, there are times when professional help may be required. It is important to understand that if the situation is serious, it is time to consider professional assistance.

It is useful to remember that most stressful situations will pass. Although it can be very hard at the time, focus on the good and enjoyable times.To access financial and business information and services, visit our website at

Coping with Farming Pressure. Home Economics Section, Manitoba Agriculture. Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1999.

Making the Most of Your Stress. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. 1991.

Managing Stress: Keeping the Pieces Together. Home Economics Section, Manitoba Agriculture. Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1999.

Network Supports. Challenges Newsletter, Manitoba Agriculture. May 1999.

This document is intended as general information and not as specific advice concerning individual situations. The Government of Ontario assumes no responsibility towards persons using it as such. In certain circumstances, professional help may be required. It is important to understand that if the situation is serious, professional assistance should be sought.

August 12, 2016  By OMAFRA Factsheet 887


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