How Do You Respond to Stress and Criticism?

It is incredibly important to learn and understand how you respond to stress and criticism, especially as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are on the front-lines and everything falls on their shoulders; all successes, failures, mistakes, criticism and feedback. How we respond to each will determine much of our ability to thrive in our business and as a person in each circumstance.

Plus, as an entrepreneur, there’s no boss to keep holding you accountable. So if something happens, and you subconsciously start shrinking back due to a coping mechanism, nobody will be there to keep requiring you to show up.

Your Upbringing Environment Influences Your Coping Mechanisms

I was raised in environments where I learned that mistakes and imperfection got you in trouble. I created coping mechanisms by striving to be ‘perfect’ and thinking I am wrong every time I make a mistake. These elements created a coping mechanism of disengagement, dissociation and ‘shrinking’ back if I couldn’t be perfect or if I made a mistake.

As things get more complicated in life and business, it’s hard to keep things ‘perfect’ when really what needs to happen is to own up to mistakes, correct course, and move forward; to deal with the imperfections of life and business.

I had a strong subconscious belief that failures and mistakes make me less of a person and especially: less of an entrepreneur. Obviously, this is not a healthy belief and can wreak havoc in so many areas of life. However, it is important to acknowledge these beliefs within us because our belief, whether conscious or subconscious, will create ways of being (coping mechanisms) in the world that will be incongruent to our goals. I have gone through many rough times because my beliefs and stress responses due to these beliefs have led to reactions that led me further from my goals an entrepreneur.

How Stress Responses and Subconscious Beliefs Negatively Impacted My Business

For example: I learned a VERY very very (did i say V-E-R-Y) challenging and painful lesson in 2018. As my business grew and more clients and projects came on board and as I started working with different contractors and employees to execute the jobs, I (naturally) started receiving feedback.

“It’s frustrating to have to talk to three separate people about my project.”

Thoughts going through my head: When it was just me working on (in) the business, this wasn’t an issue…..Does this mean I am now a failure?

“We’ve been frustrated with the lack of communication and time management”

Thoughts going through my head: When it was just me and maybe one other person involved, time management and communication were top notch. Does this mean I am now a failure?

As Your Life and Business Expand, More Chaos and Criticism is a Given

As the company (Philadelphia Zoning) grew and more people became involved and more projects came on board, it is natural we were having growing pains. But at the time, I still had unhealthy subconscious belief frameworks that illicit stress responses that disallowed me from moving through these issues; so instead I withdrew and became increasingly depressed and anxious. This stress response led to bigger issues down the line.

In hindsight, this feedback was important and normal as a growing service business. I needed to understand where things weren’t working so I could assess and fix the problems. But I let the feedback get to me on a personal and subconscious level; I was (mainly subconsciously) interpreting the feedback as ‘bad’, ‘failure’, etc. which led to more health and business problems. Eventually, my stress response was triggered on a constant basis, so I began compensating to try to make the constant feeling of death go away. I pulled away more, isolated myself, and convinced myself in some crazy way that ‘it was no longer for me’…

My “failures” made me less available to my work. Failures and feedback were defining me, rather than pushing me to improve the business. I was shrinking into a corner with every failure and piece of feedback; as if feedback was an attack and failure was a death sentence.

Learn to Understand the Why and Where of Your Stress Responses

It’s really important to understand our stress response, where each comes from, why we respond the way we do, and how to manage them and understand them in the proper context so that we don’t self sabotage our hard work. Everyone has a different level of stress acceptance, a different way of managing stress; and ultimately stress and criticism mean different things to different people. For those that experienced abuse or unrealistic pressure in childhood, they have to work hard to understand that they likely take any and all criticism personally, thus feeling threatened, which can cause them to retreat and isolate.

I myself am learning to train myself to understand that when there is criticism, I do not have to take it personal and get defensive as if it is an attack. I can accept it at face value and choose to improve whatever the situation may be.

This isn’t easy. This is a huge part of self development and awareness. Your experiences in your upbringing drastically affects your responses and interpretations of things as an adult; many of them maladaptive. But it is doable. The more you realize you are not physically threatened by criticism, the more you can practice improving how you respond to stress so that you can reduce the self sabotage in your life and work.

Questions to Assess Your Stress Responses

How do I respond to stress at work?

How does it feel in my body when I receive criticism? Do I shut down? Do I get combative?

How do I feel when I make mistakes?

Have I abandoned projects when it got hard or complicated or when people gave negative feedback?

What did I learn in my upbringing about criticism, feedback, and failure?

You have to know yourself because when your career, business, and life expand, you will inevitably be subjected to more criticism, failure, and stress.  It will help you to understand how you personally respond to the three C’s: Chaos, Criticism, and Challenge. All three are inevitable and you have to learn how to not let it derail you (at least for long).

A defining moment in my life was being able to look back on a pattern and see that whenever more challenges, chaos, and ESPECIALLY criticism would arrive, I would find a way to stop what I was doing and move onto something fresh and new.  Moving on to a clean state was my way of dealing with things when criticism or ‘failure’ or “soiled” whatever I was working on. In my mind a mistake meant I wasn’t meant for it, so I kept starting something new whenever something didn’t go perfectly.  

You can only start over so many times before you realize that you have to deal with everything that comes up in order to move through it. Those lessons will follow you and the same challenges will inevitably present themselves once again.

Some people reading this may not be able to relate and some of you may. Again, this has a lot to do with beliefs you have adapted throughout your life about failure and criticism and chaos. Having very high standards is a good thing because it motivates you to do great work, but there comes a time when the high standards can become impossible, unrealistic and downright unhealthy.

You can call this a character flaw, as I have thought about myself before. But describing ourselves as flawed is extremely disempowering and leads us to believe there is something wrong with us. ‘Flaws’ or nuances are different on an individual basis. We all have them, and a lot of the unhealthy ones we need to work through were developed as coping mechanisms earlier in life. 


I hope this helps you further understand how your beliefs developed over time create certain stress responses for you in regards to criticism, failure and chaos in your work and life. Once we can become aware of how our stress response affects us and why we respond in such a way, we can move towards becoming more aware of our triggers and responses so that we don’t make things even more difficult for ourselves in the way we respond.


Please reach out if you can relate!