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Studies Say This is What Worry Does to Your Brain. (Something No Entrepreneur Can Afford)

Welcome to your brain on stress.

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BY Marla Tabaka - 03 Dec 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I've never met a dumb entrepreneur, have you? Sure, we all make mistakes, but most entrepreneurs figure out how to learn and grow from their missteps. As a whole, entrepreneurs are pretty smart people.

Studies show that excessive worry has both short-term and long-term impact on those smarts, and no entrepreneur can afford even a temporary setback, not often anyway.

What do entrepreneurs worry about the most?

I've lost count of how many entrepreneurs I've worked with over the years, but I can say that the concerns and problems that slow them down are similar across the board:

  • Failure
  • Finances, never having enough money
  • Guilt
  • Fear of being found out (Imposter Syndrome)
  • Fear of not being good, smart, or capable enough
  • Concern that they won't be able to handle the growth since they are already overworked and overwhelmed

Here's your brain on worry:

According to a Princeton study, a person who is preoccupied with financial worry sees, on average, a drop in cognitive function equal to 13 points of IQ. They say this is equal to the effects of losing a whole night's sleep. We've all been there and are familiar with the loss of brain function the next day, sometimes for days to come.

Money isn't the only worry that has this impact on the brain. The hormones that flood the brain during any episode of stress have been linked to a damaging loss of brain mass and other unwanted physical consequences. Other studies have shown that people with the highest levels of the hormone cortisol (known as the stress hormone) suffered the most memory loss and damage to some parts of the brain.

There's no argument that stress and worry can shorten your lifespan and negatively impact your life in general, but here's the kicker.

Most of what we worry about never actually happens.

Studies on this topic vary in results, but most show that about 85% of the things we worry about are simply that, worry. In addition, most people handle a crisis better than they thought they would, and entrepreneurs are masters at learning valuable lessons during these times.

Worry begets more worry, creating a vicious cycle that only escalates as we give in to the habit. I've addressed this problem and long-term solutions in many articles here on In this article I list some powerful methods to put your worries to rest over time. Today I'd like to relay some very simple tactics that can help in the moment.

Create a distraction.

The part of the brain that escalates fear, the amygdala, has the intellect of a two-year-old. When a toddler throws a tantrum and the parent distracts them from it, the child's fear and discontent resolve within minutes. It's the same for adults. Rather than allowing a damaging cortisol spike to occur when you sink deeper into worry, distract yourself by counting backward from a hundred, or a similar tactic.


Anxiety and breath cannot co-exist. During moments of increased stress, we tend to take very shallow breaths. Deep breathing immediately calms the body and mind.

Stop using the word, but.

"But" only escalates your discomfort, as it leads to more of the same negative thinking. Try replacing the word with "and". This breaks the negative loop and leads to more promising beliefs.

Write it down.

The roots of your anxiety can be explored, rather than deepened, when you journal about your problems. What you think you're concerned about is rarely the deepest root to your fear. Keeping your worry bottled up in the brain won't lead you to a solution, your brain needs to have a visual means to process things. After you write about your worry, re-read your entry and make a list of how you can see the problem differently. Typically, even the worst-case scenario isn't as devastating as we make it out to be. But mostly, we just aren't seeing the whole picture. There are usually many potential outcomes, some of which may be good, or at least neutral. Worriers see only the negative possibilities.

Get in some quick cardio.

Don't put it off until you can get to the gym. Stop. Run in place, jump up and down, put on some crazy music and dance. This not only creates that distraction I mentioned earlier but gets the pent-up energy out of your system. You'll feel the difference immediately.

Track your worries.

Each time a worry creeps in write down a brief description of it. As weeks and months go by, you'll have evidence that the majority of your worries never materialize. Use this list as evidence that it's okay to release your worry and think more optimistically.

Five-hundred years ago Michel de Montaigne said: "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened." It's led to a chuckle or two for centuries, but ever have truer words been spoken.

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