The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.35

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

Stress and Loneliness: 8 Coping Strategies for Solopreneurs

Running a solopreneur business is, by definition, lonely — you’re a solopreneur. And to add insult to injury, everything rests on your shoulders, so stress is part of the job.

Some stress and loneliness is OK, but if it starts affecting your work, or your mental and physical health, you need to seriously do something about it. Here are the top 8 coping strategies I use to deal with loneliness and stress.

Coping strategies for loneliness

Each of us has different needs when it comes to “loneliness” and connecting with others.

I’m on one end of the “easy to handle loneliness” spectrum – I can happily sit behind my computer and work on something cool for days on end. At the other end of the spectrum, I know people who absolutely thrive when they’re around other people, and wilt when they have to do their own thing for too long.

Why we need connection

There are some very basic human needs we can only get from connecting with others. The amount of connection you need defines to what extent you’re an introvert or extrovert. Introverts get and recharge their energy levels by being alone, while extroverts are energized in the company of others.

But even as a self-diagnosed loner I need connection with others. Aside from the basic human, psychological needs, I need to:

  • Get out of my own head
  • Explain what I’m doing to see if it makes sense to others
  • Understand that what I do is for others (and not just to create cool stuff)

Spending too long in your own head leads to “echo chamber thinking”. You think you understand what you’re doing. But it’s only when you try to explain it to someone else that you realize how close to the truth you really are.

So here then are my top 4 strategies or dealing with loneliness.

1. Create and respect time boundaries

The first thing to do is to create clear time boundaries. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this “work time” and “non-work time”.

  • When you’re in work time, work. Go full speed and focus just on work.
  • When you’re in non-work time, savour the moment. Forget about work.

Time boundaries combat loneliness and makes you more productive:

  • You actually have time to connect with others.
  • Your ability to focus on cognitively demanding tasks maxes out at about 3 hours per day.

I generally work from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a couple of breaks including lunch. Outside of those times, I am not available online – I spend time with my family, do chores and wind down. (I learnt this lesson the hard way.)

2. Start or join a mastermind

I’ve been part of a small Mastermind group for about 6 years now (I had to look up how long we’ve been doing this).

When I look back at my business over the years, I can trace almost every breakthrough back to one of our mastermind meetings.

A mastermind has to have the right mix of personalities, respect and confidentiality. When it works well, it is a forum for connecting with like-minded people, testing ideas, and celebrating successes.

3. Get an accountability partner

An accountability partner is someone who holds you accountable for your promises. You make a commitment to:

  • deliver something
  • by a specific time
  • to someone else (your accountability partner).

You have to check in with your accountability partner at specified times (once a week is a good cadence). Just the fact that you have to connect with that person gets you out of “lonely” mode.

Hint: this should be someone outside of your personal network.

4. Do something silly

Give yourself permission to do something silly.

Organize a flash mob. Join an improv club or Toastmasters (especially if you don’t like speaking in public). Spend an hour with your family or friends in a trampoline park (like this one in my home town).

Just make sure it’s something that requires you to interact with other people. Learning to play the guitar is great, but it’s a solitary pursuit.

Coping strategies for stress

As a solopreneur you have to do everything. Clients, cash flow, marketing – it’s all on your head, so stress tends to mount.

The problem with stress

Stress is an insidious thing. It creeps up, slowly and without us noticing it, and before you know it you start snapping at people. Your relationships suffer, and getting to work comes with a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach.

Here are my top 4 techniques for dealing with stress.

1. Fear-setting

Fear-setting is an exercise developed by Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Work Week fame. In short, it works as follows:

  1. Define the thing you’re afraid of
  1. List the things you can do to prevent it from happening
  1. List the things you will do if it happens.

Then, you need to do two more things:

  • Write down the benefits of an attempt, or a partial success
  • Write down the costs of inaction (emotional, physical, financial, etc)

If you’re battling a lot of stress, it’s a good idea to schedule an hour a month to do the exercise. Here’s a more detailed article on how to do it.

2. One thing at a time

One of the biggest causes of stress is jumping from one task to another - and never getting one thing completely done. Do this for too long, and you’re juggling a ton of tasks in your head – a perfect recipe for more stress.

Learning to focus on one thing at a time can be hard (because we’re so used to the adrenaline we get from juggling many things at the same time). But master the technique, and get stuff done, leads to:

  • Feeling good about getting stuff done (which reduces stress)
  • Less things to deal with (which reduces stress).

I wrote about picking one thing and getting it done here.

3. Exercise

Exercise is a great stress reliever. You have to focus on what you’re doing, forget about work while you’re at it, and it generates endorphins which make as feel good.

You don’t have to boil the ocean. If you’re not exercising right now, start with a brisk morning walk, or stretching and breathing exercises. If you are exercising, don’t let it get so much that you’re unable to do your work.

I went back to the gym this summer. I’m proud to say I now have a 7-week streak behind me (40 minutes 3 times a week), and I feel better, my focus is improved and my stress levels are lower.

4. Have some fun

Give yourself permission to have fun.

Do something that gives you joy and makes you laugh. And if you can do it with others, you’re not only relieving stress – you’re also combating loneliness.

It’s way too easy to get sucked into the things that drive us, forgetting that it probably won’t matter that much a hundred years from now.

In summary

So there you have it - 8 coping strategies for dealing with loneliness and stress. A quick recap:

Deal with loneliness:

  • Create and respect time boundaries
  • Start or join a mastermind
  • Get an accountability partner
  • Do something silly

And deal with stress:

  • Fear-setting
  • One thing at a time
  • Exercise
  • Have some fun.
My greatest regrets are the things I didn’t do.

Or as the kids say: YOLO - you only live once.