I have a good friend and client who runs a small business, and he frequently tells me that, even though his business is profitable, he's up many nights worrying about it. Now he's got something else to worry about: All this stress may cause him to get cancer.
That's according to the results of a study released recently.
To be more specific, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology's Congress in Vienna studied 15,938 Britons over the age of 40 for 15 years and found that men in this category who suffer from "generalized anxiety disorder" were twice as likely to die from cancer as men without the disorder and that women who suffer from severe anxiety had no increased risk of cancer death. What's still not known is whether the incidence of cancer and anxiety are actually related. But the connection seems clear.
"Society may need to consider anxiety as a warning signal for poor health," said study lead author Olivia Remes of Cambridge University's Institute of Public Health. "With this study, we show that anxiety is more than just a personality trait."
Uh-oh. Approximately 70 percent of small businesses in the U.S. are owned by men. The average age of a small business owner is 51.7 years. This means me. And probably you.
Running a small business is stressful. Every day, we're worried about getting jobs out the door and work done on time. We stress about employees showing up, bills coming in, competitors eating away at our sales, an economy that teeters on recession, and, most of all, the cliff that's always looming four months ahead of us where our backlog runs out and we're wondering where the next sale will come from. Yeah, you know this cliff.
Now we're told that if we worry a little less, we may be able to avoid cancer. Of course, if you're diagnosed with an illness like acute anxiety, then you should be seeking professional help. But, for the rest of us who aren't in this category, but still worry a lot, what can we do to reduce our anxieties, too? I know a few smart business people who seem to handle the anxieties of running a small business with grace. And here's what they do.
They change their situation.
Tony Robbins preaches this. He taught me years ago that if you're obsessing and worrying about something, the best thing to do is to do something completely different -- and healthy. Drop everything, get in your car, and hit a few golf balls for an hour or two. Interrupt the day with a movie, a ballgame, a jog near the river. Ever hear the phrase "out of sight, out of mind"? It's true. The sooner you remove yourself from the situation, the sooner your mind gets distance from the problem and the less of a problem it becomes. You can then return to it in a more relaxed, and less stressful, condition.
They have perspective.
A friend of mine showed me how to change my life through a single email. He gets one every day from Shorpy.com, and it's become my favorite site as well. What's so life changing? Shorpy is a site that houses thousands of digitized, very old photographs. And every day, they'll email you a few to look at. Go ahead: look. You'll see people from the turn of the 20th century in shops, businesses, streets, cars and their homes. They all had the same problems you and I have now -- money, relationships, family, weather, the economy. You can see it on many of their faces. And you know what? They're dead. All of them. And so will you and I be in a hundred years. Now, doesn't that put things into a little better perspective?
They fix the two things that create anxiety for every business owner.
My grandfather, who ran a very successful and illegal gambling organization (OK -- another story for another time) once gave me this important advice: All problems in business, and I mean all problems, come down to just two things: time and money. If you had enough of both, your problems would be marginalized, you'd have less anxiety, and therefore your chances of developing cancer would be diminished.
Easier said than done? Not true. Save and bank more cash and don't over-extend yourself financially, and as time passes your growing nest egg will not only give you more peace of mind but also enable you to make better, less desperate (and stressful) decisions. Also, whenever any new task or problem happens, instead of thinking "How will I do this?" say out loud "Who will do this for me?" The weight off your shoulders will be enormous once you realize that you can't do everything yourself. Delegate. Give yourself more time. Watch your anxiety decrease.
See? That's not so tough. Three easy ideas and any one of them may reduce your anxiety -- and your probability of getting cancer. So try one. Or wait until Microsoft solves the problem entirely. Your call.
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.