Helping business owners with mental health issues, Start Small but Dream Big
Self care for entrepreneurs
Self care is something I struggle with. I’m far from alone. When we’re busy with work, family, running a home, and all the other pressures of modern life, it’s easy to neglect ourselves. Even more so when you’re setting up, or running, your own business. Time is money, as they say, and that is especially true for most entrepreneurs. If we’re not working, we’re not earning. And not earning is a scary prospect when you have bills to pay.
But self care is important. Even more so when your living relies on you being fit and able to work consistently. If we don’t practice self care, we become tired and worn out. We don’t perform at our best at work, and it can affect those around us too. How many of us take out our bad moods and worries on our nearest and dearest?
Self care with existing mental health problems
When we have existing mental health problems, self care is not important: it’s vital. Stress and tiredness are a trigger or aggravating factor for many mental health conditions. When I’m anxious or feeling overwhelmed, the depression kicks in. I’m constantly tired and irritable, well, when I can muster the energy to even speak to people. My productivity drops.
There are a number of things that we should all be incorporating into our lives to help care for ourselves. I’ve compiled it in what I consider to be the order of importance, but you are welcome to differ.
Schedule time off
This can be a tough one. When you’re an entrepreneur, there is always something that needs doing, and many of us feel guilty that we’re not working in a way that we probably wouldn’t were we employed by someone else. But working seven days a week, especially the long hours that many business owners put in, is not sustainable. We can lose sight of the woods for the trees. Time off needs to be considered sacred.
Our brains need a rest (and our bodies too, depending on what your business is). Instead of feeling guilty about taking time off, consider it an investment. Make time off part of your schedule. Write it into your diary. Commit to it. If necessary, let your clients know that you will be taking off xxx time each week, and you will deal with their queries the following day.
Set your work hours
Again, when you’re self employed this can be difficult, for the same reasons as above. Treat your business like a job and set your hours. Yes, there may be the occasional time that a deadline or crisis means you have to work beyond them, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Again, if necessary, make your clients aware of your normal working hours. This will discourage them from contacting you at all hours.
Conversely, if you struggle with procrastination, having set hours provides you with a routine to motivate you.
Sleep is a necessity. We cannot function without it. Get enough sleep for you. Ignore all the interviews you see where entrepreneurs and high flyers boast how little sleep they manage on. It’s not a competition. Yes, some people need less than others, but don’t aspire to four hours a night if you really need eight to function properly. Tiredness often makes mental health issues worse, and it’s not worth it.
If you’re struggling to sleep, I find that guided sleep meditations really help me. My favourite one is by Jason Stephenson. He has a wide range of meditations on YouTube, but this is the one I usually use.
Don’t isolate yourself
When you work for yourself, there is a real danger of becoming isolated, especially if you work from home. If you’re anything like me, you get caught in a cycle of feeling low and lonely because you haven’t seen or spoken to anyone, but lack the energy or motivation to see or speak to someone, which makes me feel even worse. I now make a conscious effort to meet up with people regularly, and at least text or message someone every day.
Fire bad clients
Many entrepreneurs – particularly when they’re starting out – take on every piece of business offered to them. This is down to fear. Fear of not making enough money, fear of getting a poor reputation. One thing I have learned over the years is that not all business is good business. Not all clients are good clients. Some clients are simply not worth having. You’ll come across them if you haven’t already. They’re the ones who complain about everything, who query everything who have unrealistic expectations, or who want you to work for very little and expect you to be grateful.
I recently had to fire a client because I simply couldn’t meet his precise, but poorly communicated, expectations. At least, I can only assume they were precise in his head, because nothing I produced met them despite following his instructions. I was worried about appearing unprofessional if I decided to end the contract but, in reality, my inability to meet his expectations was making me look incompetent in his eyes, while I was getting more and more stressed.
Telling a client you’re firing them is never a fun job, but this article from Nicolas Reese provides four adaptable scripts that you can utilise.
Have a second phone
Most of us now receive and send emails from our phones, as well as make calls. If you use the same phone for personal and work, it’s very difficult to switch off. Even if you’re trying ignore work, chances are that you’ll still find yourself at least skim reading them. If you feel that you do need to check them just in case of emergency, do so on a set schedule, e.g. every two hours. Few things are so important that you can’t be out of contact for a little while.
Eat and drink
Eat on a regular basis through the day. Hunger and low blood sugar levels will affect your mood and energy levels. I’m not going to tell you what to eat. I’m no dietitian and you probably know at least as much as I do about what constitutes a good diet.
I will, however, remind you that too much caffeine isn’t a great thing. I love my tea (I brought a year’s supply of Yorkshire Tea with me when we emigrated, not sure what I’ll do when it runs out), but if I have more than four cups a day, I start getting palpitations and shaking. Because these are the symptoms I experience with anxiety, they can cause me to feel more anxious. Caffeine also affects our ability to sleep, so should be avoided later in the day.
Lots of people would put this further up the list, but I hate exercise (I actually have anxiety about it). But getting out, moving around, even gently, is a good thing. If you can find something you enjoy that doesn’t feel like exercise, that’s ideal. I love to dance and ice skate. I do them vigorously enough to break a sweat and get out of breath (especially rock and roll), but it doesn’t feel like I’m exercising.
This turned into a longer post than I expected! But self care is massively important if we are to function at our best or, sometimes, even just function. This is true for everyone but especially so for those of us who need to take particular care of our mental health.