Science-backed ways for small business owners to de-stress


Melissa Zehner, Lendio

Americans are increasingly stressed, anxious, and depressed. And it seems like work is what’s making most of us so miserable. 60% of those polled by the American Psychological Association cited work as a significant source of stress in their lives. The only factor that ranked higher was money, at 64%.

Work-related strain seems to be even worse for small business owners: 41% of them say managing their business is their biggest source of stress, and 24% even report having had a nightmare about their business failing. This worry isn’t surprising, as small business owners are notorious for working long hours, neglecting their health, and risking their personal savings or collateral to fund their businesses.

So what’s an overwrought small business owner to do? De-stress. While chilling out is often easier said than done, there are plenty of scientifically proven ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.


Disconnect from technology

86% of adults report constantly or excessively checking emails, texts, and social media accounts—and that doesn’t include time spent working on the computer or watching TV. But health and wellness experts say nonstop screen time is responsible for a host of physical and mental health problems.

Luckily, it’s easy to reduce the negative effects of screen time by simply disconnecting from tech for a while.


Put down your phone

According to 37 studies, there’s an association between mobile phone use and increased stress and anxiety. Excessive smartphone use is also linked to poor sleep, which can further heighten feelings of unease.

While most experts agree we all spend too much time on our smartphones, there’s no rule of thumb for what constitutes a healthy amount of smartphone use. How the device is used also impacts well-being. Excessive time on social media is correlated with negative effects, but using a smartphone to, say, learn a new language would likely have a more positive outcome.

To reduce your smartphone use, try

  • Tracking usage with a timer.
  • Uninstalling time-wasting apps like games.
  • Leaving your phone in another room.
  • Scheduling no-screen time.

If you must use your smartphone for business, set your device aside as soon as you’ve completed the task at hand. This move will help you pare down the time you spend on your smartphone, and it may even increase your productivity by limiting distractions.


Check your email less often

Constantly checking email doesn’t just undermine your focus and productivity—it amplifies how stressed you feel. In a small study by the University of British Columbia, participants who were limited to checking email just three times a day “experienced significantly lower daily stress” than those who had unlimited email access.

Yes, it’s often crucial to your business to check your email, but you probably don’t need to be doing so all day. Schedule a few set times to read and reply to emails, then close your inbox while you work on other tasks.


Take a nature walk

While disconnecting from tech will improve your well-being, you’ll reap even more rewards by spending that break time with Mother Nature.

A 2018 study found that walking through natural environments can reduce both physical and psychological stress levels more than urban settings or workout facilities can. A 2015 study came to a similar conclusion, noting that a 90-minute walk through a natural environment can reduce neural activity in the area of the brain linked to mental illness, whereas urban walking doesn’t yield the same benefits.

To maximize the de-stressing benefits of your no-screen time, go hiking, hit the beach, or find a local park.


Take care of your body

Being kind to your body is one of the easiest ways to de-stress. Doctors have been touting the benefits of sleep, exercise, and meditation for years—and, it turns out, they’re really onto something.


Work up a sweat

There may be more to running than chasing that high. Research shows that regular workouts mitigate stress in several ways.

People who exercise regularly:

  • “Report a higher quality of life and improved health status—both physically and mentally.”
  • “Exhibit fewer health problems when they encounter stress,” including anxiety and depression.
  • “Are better able to tolerate intense workloads and [are] minimally stressed by low ones compared with low physically fit individuals.”

Running, doing team sports, practicing yoga or tai chi, and dancing have all been shown to improve physical and mental well-being. If running your business limits your free time, try incorporating exercise into your workday by cycling to the office or scheduling a lunchtime game of ultimate frisbee.


Try mindful meditation

If you’re feeling stressed, take a seat and hone your “om” skills.

A review of 47 meditation studies by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University concluded that mindfulness meditation programs can improve anxiety, depression, and pain. Meanwhile, participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program showed increased gray matter in parts of the brain that control learning, memory, and emotional regulation.

If you’re new to meditation, try an app like Calm that walks beginners through the process. You can choose from more than 100 meditation programs designed to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, increase focus, manage emotions, and more.

And you don’t need to block off a big chunk of your workday to start meditating. Most of Calm’s meditation sessions range from five to 20 minutes.


Get some shut-eye

A sleep-deprived brain suffers from impaired coordination, concentration, creativity, decision making, and socioemotional processing, as well as elevated cortisol levels and irritability—all of which are likely to make you feel more stressed.

To improve your well-being and make smarter business decisions, get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

And here’s a happy coincidence: Two of the tips we’ve already covered, limiting screen time and exercising, can contribute to better sleep.


Melissa Zehner is a writer and editor who specializes in finding and telling the most compelling stories about American small business, from grassroots movements to game-changing tech to government policy. She’s written for more than 40 small businesses and currently serves as Editor of Lendio News. When she’s not playing wordsmith, you can find her reading, cooking, or hiking with her dog Spencer.