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Practical steps for the self-employed to help manage stress

3-minute read

Tips to manage stress from Dr Hazel Harrison
Dr Hazel Harrison

Dr Hazel Harrison

9 May 2023

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With one in three small business owners experiencing burnout, it's more important than ever to be mindful about how we handle stress. Clinical psychologist Dr Hazel Harrison shares three simple steps for managing stress.

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing.

Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our Mind Your Business initiative.

First, what is stress, and how can you manage it?

If you’ve been feeling more stressed recently, you’re not alone. Many people have reported an increase in stress since the pandemic started. So let’s take a closer look at stress, what it is, and what you can do to manage it well.

Your stress response is designed to protect you from danger, connect you with others and help you to rise to a challenge.

Stress can be defined as having three main parts*:

  • Changes to your physiology – you might notice that when you’re feeling stressed, your heart beats faster or you feel sweaty
  • Wanting to avoid a situation – stress makes you want to escape discomfort and get back to something that feels safe
  • Lack of control – feeling that lots of things are happening to you that you can’t influence and manage

Life may feel very challenging right now. It’s understandable that you may be feeling more stressed about many different aspects of your life including your health, your family, your business, your finances – it might feel like the list is endless.

But stress isn’t all bad and there are things you can do to help yourself if you're feeling stressed right now. Here are my top three tips.

1. Move your body

Your stress response changes the chemicals in your body and gets you ready to fight or run. This response can be great at protecting you from danger in short sharp bursts, but is often less helpful to you when you continually feel stressed.

Moving your body can be a good way to harness the stress response, change the chemicals in your body, and ultimately help you to feel happier and calmer.

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going for a long run or doing a high intensity workout. Cleaning the house, walking up and down the stairs, or dancing in the kitchen are all forms of exercise.

Find an exercise you enjoy and give it a go.

2. Understand it and learn from it

Stress makes us want to avoid situations and try hard not to think about them. But sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is to recognise you’re feeling stressed and try to understand what might be causing it.

It might help to talk it through with someone you trust, or to write about your thoughts and feelings. Doing this may also help you learn more about what stress feels like to you and what the triggers are. This could help you to navigate stressful challenges in new ways.

3. Know what you can control

You may feel like everything is out of your control right now, and that can be a scary experience. But you do still have some control.

You may find it helpful to make a list of what you can control, and what you can’t. Sometimes you may notice that you’re wasting your precious energy on things you can’t do anything about, rather than focusing on the areas you can influence.

Knowing what you can control will help you know where to focus your energy and give you back a sense of control again.

Remember, we’re all different

There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to solutions for combatting stress. Be curious, try out a few different ideas, and see what works for you.

You may like to visit Mental Health at Work for more ideas about how to manage and reduce stress.

  • Kim, J.J., and D.M. Diamond. “The Stressed Hippocampus, Synaptic Plasticity and Lost Memories.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 3, No. 6 (2002): 452–462

Pressure versus stress

Video credit: Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing training team

About Dr Hazel Harrison

Dr Hazel Harrison, is a Clinical Psychologist with more than 10 years' professional experience in both the National Health Service (NHS) and private sector. Bringing psychology out of the clinics and into everyday life, Dr Harrison is also an award-winning presenter and writer for BBC Bitesize and BBC Teach.

What have you found helps you? Let us know in the comments below.

Visit Mental Health at Work's dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing.

Mental health resources for the self-employed

Looking for self-employed health insurance?

With Simply Business you can build a single self-employed health insurance policy combining valuable covers and services. Whether you want to be covered for stress support, physiotherapy, or in-patient hospital treatment, we've got the right health cover to suit your needs.

Start your quote
Photograph: fizkes/
Dr Hazel Harrison

Written by

Dr Hazel Harrison

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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