Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Serenity Enemy: Deprivation

As I go into planning my business's year in 2008, I am experiencing a familiar feeling:


Recently, I did a story for the San Francisco Chronicle on homeowners feelings of deprivation as the housing market implodes. Though I'm not in that situation, I think the way therapist Bill Horstman describes deprivation's effects apply to business owners, too.

Do you have any of these symptoms?

1. Sleep disturbances: "If you find yourself trying to go to sleep or waking up (thinking about finances), that's usually one of the first signs" of stress. Horstman recommends sleeping pills, but I'll share my own recommendation: meditation.

I've heard it said that you should meditate every day, except when you're stressed. Then you should meditate twice a day. When I've been in a particularly rough patch with work or waiting for checks to come in, I meditate in the morning and at night. Especially the nighttime meditation seems to ease me into sleep. While I'm meditating, I imagine opening my fist and letting all my concerns drop into the ether. I do this as often and as long as I need to to relax.

2. Overworking: "If folks are constantly in a state of financial woes, they will skip the activities that have historically been their own private mental, spiritual and social way of relaxing," he said. "Instead, they step on the gas of more work. Although this may atone their sense of guilt, it causes burn out and actually decreases work productivity. Thus, the more hours worked, the less accomplished."

Sound familiar? He doesn't offer solutions here, but this is exactly why I put "gym" and "meditation" and "yoga" on my to-do list every single day. I have to create artificial boundaries around work, lest I allow myself to sink into the mire of my own worry. This is where, I think, you develop that serenity muscle to which I'm so fond of referring.

3. Isolating: All small-business owners fret over cash flow. It's an occupational hazard. But when was the last time you sat down with a group of similarly-employed people and vented about that check that's late or your own poor planning? Turns out, that's normal, too--especially for stressed people worried about others' opinions.

"If people have seen you as upper-middle class or being able to do just fine and suddenly you feel in trouble financially, you may not want to break what you think is others' image of you," advised Horstman. "So people withdraw from their social group. It's a shame because if they went to friends and said, 'I feel god-awful, what are you feeling?' they're likely to find that people aren't that judgmental."

So lay it on me: What's your work stress? What's your money stress? Don't hold it in!

4. Canceling vacations: Are you cutting out your holiday vacation for fear that spending money now will mean less money later? Don't do it, warned Horstman.

"People think it's a good idea to cut back on vacations but the real thing to do is cut back on the way you vacation--not the vacation itself," said Horstman. "It's stress reduction and a type of self-care, but it's also getting your mind off things. If you go on a camping trip, you'll feel great and you'll be refreshed. Generally, the less it costs, the more relaxing and fun it is, and then you won't have to pay for it with future guilt and worry."

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