I am a member of a few different blogging + business groups on Facebook (which are AWESOME – here’s a great list of some groups you can join if you’re interested), and something I’ve realized noticed lately is talk of dealing with mental health as a small business owner. It’s not something that many of us talk about professionally, but the reality is that one in every FIVE adults in America experience a mental illness in their life. That’s 20% of adults in this country! So, with such a prevalence of mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, just to name a few, why don’t we talk about it?
As a small business owner, I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from colleagues on NOT sharing my experience, but I’ve never been one to really submit to societal pressure 😉 For those who don’t know (which probably aren’t many – I am very open about mental illness in my life), I deal with depression, anxiety, and a bipolar disorder. The question is, how do we reconcile our mental illness with our small business goals? The reality is, we have an entirely different set of pressures when it comes to running a small business, and it can sometimes feel impossible to get motivated or deal with the anxiety that can come along with that. I know that I deal with this on a regular basis, but I’ve come up with a few ways to practice self care and deal with my mental illness while running a small business. Hope this helps a few of you as well.
***Disclaimer: I am obviously NOT a mental health professional. I am, however, a small business owner that deals with mental illness.
So, this one is pretty basic. If you’re anything like me, you may be stuck inside a home office all. day. long. Not only is this not conducive to a creative mindset, but it can really bring your mood down! Thankfully, there’s an easy fix for this – just get outside! Go for a walk. Read in the park for a bit. Personally, I allocate funds into my weekly budget for working outside the home (this usually means Coffee Bean). Just bringing my computer to a different space and working for a few hours can make ALL the difference.
Another option would be to join a coworking space. They are becoming increasingly popular in bigger cities, and I can say from personal experience that being surrounded by other like-minded individuals can really turn everything around. Not only are you in a different environment, but you have a built-in network of people to collaborate with. I was a member of Hera Hub while in San Diego, and it was an AMAZING experience. The spa-like atmosphere of the office, along with all of the inspiring women that I shared it with, gave me something to look forward to every day. Also, if you have a hard time finding motivation to actually get to work, having an office outside the home can make you feel as if you have more structure. Which brings me to…
Build in a Routine
I will be the first to admit – I am TERRIBLE at routine. I love the concept of sticking to a schedule, but when it comes time to actually implement it? Nope. The thing is, building in a routine when you are a small business owner can really help with a lot of pain points that many of us deal with. One of the main things that I experience on a daily basis is a fluctuation in motivation. There are days when I want to do ALL THE THINGS, and then there are days when all I want to do is sleep and gorge myself on Poptarts.
Sticking to a routine can really help with all of this. I suppose the trick is, however, to make a routine work for YOU. It’s not to establish a routine based on some arbitrary schedule that you write down. How can we do this? First, take notice of how you best work throughout your day. When are your peak times? When is your slump? Do you like getting up early, or do you prefer to stay up later and work into the night? The reality is, there’s no PERFECT routine for everyone. But being aware of your body’s natural rhythm, and then establishing some sort of daily routine, can help with those slumps.
Routine gives you an expectation for what the day is going to be like, which can really help if you deal with anxiety like myself. It can also do wonders for motivation problems – if you know what you need to do, all you have to do now is DO IT. Sometimes figuring out what to do next can be the biggest hurdle. Whatever you do, however, don’t try and FORCE anything. Creating a routine, sticking to it as much as you can, and then evaluating and changing it as needed, is the trick.[Tweet “Implementing a routine gives you an expectation for your day, which can help with anxiety.”]
I will say that the biggest tool I have when it comes to dealing with anxiety, stress, and general overwhelm, is to just breathe. Often, we work throughout our entire day without taking even a moment for self reflection or calm. We power through, assuming that getting as much done as possible is what is important, when the reality is, we should be taking care of ourselves, first and foremost. This type of self care, that is, LETTING your mind rest, can make or break your work.
Self-reflection techniques are different for everyone, and I encourage you to take the time to discover what works best for you. It may be spending twenty minutes first thing in the morning to journal, or write down what you’re feeling and experiencing (which can be a powerful tool in an of itself). It may be exercising (something we should all be doing anyway), traveling to a quiet space outside, or, if you’re like me, meditating.
Whatever you do, just let your mind rest. I’m not saying you need to stop thinking of everything; not at all, actually. I do find myself thinking of work while laying on the couch in the afternoon with some calming music or focusing on my breathing later in the evening. The difference is the way that I think. I’m not letting my mind go a mile a minute. Instead, I’m able to think coherently about problems and come up with realistic solutions.
My biggest problem has always been too MUCH creativity – to the point where my mind is racing at all the possibilities for projects and ideas. It’s easy to let this kind of thinking control you, but by taking a moment to just let yourself breathe through it, by intentionally compartmentalizing every thought you have, the overwhelm seems to dissipate. I prefer to do this by using the Stop, Breathe, and Think app on my phone (or the iPad, while I’m in bed, since phones aren’t allowed in the bedroom). This is my favorite meditation app, because it gives me the opportunity to choose emotions and then suggests different guided meditations based on how I am feeling. I also find that listening to calming music while I go to sleep gets rid of that extra headspace that I tend to live in when I should just be letting my mind rest.
Take Time When You Need it
This builds a bit onto the last point, but I do want to mention it – there will be difficult days, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. If you find yourself struggling on an off day, for whatever reason, don’t work. Do whatever it is that you need to do in order to put yourself first and get back on track. Being healthy and happy is the most important thing in life, even before clients or work or your blog. It’s okay to take a day off for self-care, I promise.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
This will be different for everyone, but asking for help can truly be the best thing you can do for both yourself and your business. It may mean finding a life coach that can help you clearly establish your goals and a plan of action to meet them. It may mean hiring an assistant to delegate smaller tasks to, so that you can stop worrying about the details and start focusing on the bigger picture. Or, if you’re like me, it may mean finding a professional that you can talk to and coming up with a more intenstive treatment that includes anything from therapy to medication.
Regardless of what it is, please, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. As small business owners, we deal with more than just the stressors of daily life; we have ten thousand other things to worry about – building our business, making an income on our own, working with clients. There are also the legal and very real implications of self-employment, which bring with it a whole lot of stress (that I don’t even want to talk about right now). There’s no reason why you should be doing it all on your own.
Give Yourself Grace
My favorite mantra in all of the internet comes from Emily Ley – “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.” Now, I’m not particularly religious (or religious at all, really), but I think that this mindset transcends the Christian undertones it conveys.
We all deserve grace, from ourselves and from others. We deserve leniency and understanding, because nobody is perfect, least of all ourselves. Why are we so understanding of others’ shortcomings, but fall prey to the idea that we are somehow failures if we aren’t perfect? This way of thinking can be incredibly destructive, for both our personal and professional lives. If you’re anything like me, there are moments when you think – why am I even trying if it’s not going to be perfect? I’ve come to realize that internalizing this thought can actually prevent me from creating anything at all. The best we can do is our best, and I promise you, that is enough.
How do you deal with mental health as a small business owner? If you have anxiety, depression, or other mental illness, what techniques have you discovered to ease the overwhelm and help you meet your goals?