NEW YORK (AP) – Right before Election Day, it occurred to Beth McRae that her stress levels were rising and affecting the people around her, including the employees of her public relations firm.

“All hell was breaking loose, and I realized, wow, this is an epidemic of stress and that I needed to take better care of myself,” said McRae, whose company, The McRae Agency, has offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego.

McRae, deciding not to let the tension and anxiety get the better of her, began a routine of prayer, meditation, yoga and focusing on improving her company. She is one of many small business owners who are responding to the stresses of today’s economy by taking better care of themselves and their companies.

Some are driving a few more golf balls.

Bretton Holmes had brought some golf clubs and a golf simulator into his Lubbock, Texas, media relations firm, just to be able to do something physical during a workday. “Then I realized it was having a stress reduction effect as well,” he said.

“I think everyone’s stress is up,” said Holmes, president of Holmes Worldwide Media. “Every time we hear the ball being whacked in the other room, we say, ‘somebody had a bad (phone) call.”‘

Many owners have seen stress levels soar in the past two months or so, when the crisis in the financial industry turned catastrophic, sending the stock market plunging and forcing the government to step in and rescue commercial and investment banks. Consumers and businesses cut their spending back, and an already sagging economy was pummeled ever further.

The anxiety sent Julie Kampf back to the gym two months ago. “That’s when the stress hit me,” said Kampf, president of JBK Associates Inc., an executive search firm in Englewood, N.J.

“I think any business owner is losing sleep over this,” she said. “We’ve had a fantastic year, and all of a sudden, like in October or November, we really saw the drop.”

By exercising, “my energy is coming back, my focus is getting better. It helps me deal with the ongoing stress of every day,” she said.

Kampf said her company is still busy, but not as much as it was a year ago. So she’s also working on stress by trying to motivate her employees. At staff meetings each week, everyone needs to come in with new ideas for increasing revenue, something that she says helps keep the attitude upbeat.

Stress and anxiety can be contagious. Employers who deal with their own stress effectively and make sure their staff’s stress levels are under control can stop a vicious circle.

“I stay positive and we have a good business, said Armand D’Accordo, whose information technology company CMIT Solutions is located in Merrick, N.Y.

“It’s not the employees worry about the next paycheck or if a client asks to delay a payment.”

For independent retailers, this holiday season is likely the most stressful that most of them have ever experienced. Retail sales nationwide have been plunging, and this season is forecast to be the weakest in at least 30 years.

Lynne Friedus, who owns a gift shop in Manhattan’s East Village, said she actually had a good year but business is down now, and not helped by the fact that the theater next door is closed. She’s taking walks, seeing friends, having dinner out and doing other things that help keep her anxiety in check.

“You’ve got to just find the things that de-stress you a bit, give you some enjoyment,” she said.

For many owners, the key is recognizing that they can only do so much, and not drive themselves crazy over things they can’t control.

One day, McRae said to herself: “I think I’m going to resign as general manager of the universe today.”

“If I have a negative attitude, it’s not going to help me, it’s not going to help any one around me, it’s not going to help the economy,” she said.

AP-ES-12-11-08 1515EST


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