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Articles - Stress in the Family Business

Spiritual component essential to healthy entrepreneurial life

Friday, April 11, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Not only do entrepreneurs have the normal stressors that plague all career-minded Americans, such as the competing demands of love and work, but they have the added stress of having these domains of life overlap considerably.

Working long hours, working out of your homes, or working and living with your spouse/business partner twenty-four hours a day leaves little time to recuperate inner strength. As the stress increases and the opportunity for recuperation diminishes, many entrepreneurs fall victim to stress related illnesses, mental or emotional problems, chemical dependency, and spiritual despair.

The process of losing your health (physical, psychological, interpersonal or otherwise) begins long before symptoms develop. The stress process begins the moment you allow any part of your life to be out of alignment. If one system (such as your body, your marriage, your work, etc.) is unattended or allowed to stay out of healthy alignment for too long, it affects the other systems which in turn produce stress and deterioration.

In order to keep your dynamic systems in healthy productive alignment, entrepreneurs need to attend to and take care of the whole person, in relationship to other whole people, in relationship to the whole business entity. In other words, you cannot really separate the mind, body and spirit. These are not separate distinct parts of yourself, but interacting developing progressions, just as the other systems (i.e., family, friends, coworkers, employees, customers) of which you are a part.

Mind, body, spirit

The basic components that makes us human are the mind, the body and the life force or essence that some call spirit. Unresolved stress in any one of these areas will affect the other areas, leading to a breakdown in your functioning as an entrepreneur, a spouse, a parent, a colleague and so on. If you are going to manage the excessive stresses of entrepreneurial life you actually need more stamina than the average person.

To combat the pressures caused by the competing demands of love and work and to build the necessary stamina for this complex lifestyle, you must build a power plan to maintain and enhance your health not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

This article will focus on the development of your spiritual power plan, taking for granted for the moment that your mind and body are well cared for. Even if this last assumption is not true, too little attention is paid to the spiritual component of entrepreneurial life and I want to correct that error.

Spirit or spirituality are not synonymous with religion or religious. Church has nothing to do with spirituality directly. Rather the spirit is that part of each human that makes us a distinctive personality. It is the part of us that defines us and yet connects us to others. It has long been known that a strong healthy spirit will guide us successfully through adversity, whereas a conquered spirit will succumb to illness and death. It was Mother Theresa's strong spirit that transcended her small stature and seemingly insignificant role as a nun to profoundly affect thousands of people for the better.

Conversely, It is the conquered spirit that explains the powerful effects of subtle forms of brain washing in prisoner-of-war camps. In other words, spirit is that singular life force that directs and shapes our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, keeping spirit or life force healthy is essential to the process of achieving healthy balance in any life. For entrepreneurs especially, the key to effective stress management is the proper alignment and interaction of a healthy mind, a healthy body, and a healthy spirit.

90 percent believe in God


Remember that spirit is not bound by religion. Many successful entrepreneurs do not belong to a church nor any religion, but they do have a strong sense of spirit and they do believe in God. According to Gallup Polls as recent as 1997, 90% of Americans believe in God.

The spirit connection is not just a belief in God but the ability to relate to God, often through communities such as churches provide. The healthiest Americans are among those religious groups who have a strong identity with their church. For example Matthews and Koenig reported in 1997 that even if you control for dietary practices, Mormons, Jews and Seventh Day Adventists are healthier than other Americans. These three religious groups are known for their strong sense of religious community.

Therefore, it is not the religion, per se, that contributes to overall health, but the intensity of the commitment to spirit whether by being a member of a religious community or by maintaining a spiritual connection in some other way.

Religion without science is blind

Einstein once said, "Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame." As we move into the twenty first century we are realizing the truth of this statement more and more. Entrepreneurs are not different from other people on the planet. We are part of something much more than the sum of the parts. Those who embrace their spirit connection are finding greater health and prosperity and science is starting to prove it.

For example, in a Duke University study by Herb Koenig, elderly patients who are regular church attenders stayed in the hospital a shorter length of time (ten days on average) than those patients who did not attend church (twenty-five days.) In another study (Graham, Kaplan, Coroni-Huntley, James, Becker, Hames, and Heyden, 1978) researchers compared smokers' blood pressure among participants who were two-pack-a-day smokers. Those who attended church had lower blood pressure than those who did not; indeed the church attenders had blood pressure that was no different than those who did not smoke. In a third study (Desmond and Maddox, 1981), this on of heroin addicts, researchers reported that 45 percent of participants in a religiously oriented treatment program were still abstinent at the time of a one year follow-up, compared to only 5 percent who participated in a non-religious program.

It is true that you cannot always prevent pain. Although change is constant, you cannot always predict accurately what those changes will be and pain may be a natural by product of the interaction of your dynamically interacting systems. Yet if you have a healthy spiritual connection your suffering may be minimized, as the previous few studies indicate. For Viktor Frankl, a Jew confined in a Nazi concentration camp: "Man is not diminished by suffering, but by suffering without meaning."

Research shows power of prayer

Many methods of relaxation have been studied, including prayer. While prayer does not achieve any greater relaxation than for example, transcendental meditation (TM), other research has indeed shown the healing (not just relaxing) power of prayer. In fact, those who are prayed for, even though they do not pray for themselves, heal faster.

It is time to make not just new years resolutions but resolutions for a lifetime. If working hard to make an entrepreneurial business successful and profitable results in workaholism, drug addiction, financial problems, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs and divorce, what's the point? Even if your life has led you in one of these stressful directions, don't despair. Make meaning of the experience and put the disaster into the context of your life. Then reorient that life to meet your values.

If one of those values is a belief in God (as is true for 90% of Americans), yet you are not attending to that spiritual relationship, the balance in your life is compromised and will inevitably lead you to some form of personal or interpersonal dysfunction.

On the other hand, if you develop a stronger sense of self, a sense of self as belonging to something larger than just this earthly existence, and you make a commitment to that higher self (i.e. through prayer or inner contemplation), even when you have suffering, you will have a meaningful and prosperous life to share with the ones you love and work with.