May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
As a business owner,I understand my mental health is as important as my physical health and for anyone suffering from any type of mental exhaustion, overwhelm or depression, know you are not alone.
I've witnessed close friends and family members recently struggle with their own mental health during the past year, proving that we are all struggling on some level to navigate this (post-pandemic) world. No one has been untouched by the last three years – no one. And even without the pandemic, mental health has always strained us with overworking, being under-resourced, and holding on to unprocessed trauma.
So while yes, running my own business for over ten years has been fabulous most of the time, what I tell budding entrepreneurs is that the main component to running your own business is being a problem solver due to the fact most businesses originate from solving a problem for your market/consumer. And you as a business owner have to consistently find those people to support your business so their purchases can keep it afloat. And it's a constant navigation of working around obstacles, finding solutions and repeat testings on what works and what doesn't.
This constant problem solving can wear you down mentally and physically as there always seems to be a problem. It can be a bit like that game whack-a-mole, even with the best strategies in place, as unexpected surprises happen all the time and your nervous system is on alert to find and deal with them. So if your head isn't in the game, to use an old sports analogy, then your business, and ultimately you, will suffer.
So let me share my keys to keeping my mental health stable and my business on track:
Yes, it's that simple. There are moments in my day when I take a big inhale in and let it all out. I've had friends ask me what the sigh is for, and it's just me, exhaling all I'm hanging on to and releasing any bodily anxiety or mental tension. Audible breathing can release so much. I remember reading years ago of how moaning when ill can really help you feel better when you are physically feeling poorly. I've remembered this and have moments of audible releases to signal to my brain and body, I see it, feel it and release it. Try it and see if you feel differently. And if you are so inclined, meditation is an extension of this for me and continues to help me immeasurably.
2. Take time out.
If I'm frustrated by something, stopping has proven more successful in the long term than just cobbling something together and pushing through. It's better to step away and just start doing something completely different. I've been amazed at the solutions that will magically appear or I'll think of when I'm not twisted and tied up with the pressure of solving it that very moment. Relaxation and release can provide some of the best Oprah 'Aha' moments and problem solving that are unexpected.
This is something I'm trying to do more of as I'm not really one for getting out of the office and out of work mode. But I mentally feel the value of it when I DO do it – even for short segments. It can even be as simple as around the block for ten minutes to just let it out and let it go. Sometimes I even shake my body while I walk to release stress, anxiety, and frustration. when I get my body moving.
I read that animals shake off their anxiety to release it. In fact my mother has a very anxious dog and I watch him yawn and shake off his anxiety which reminds me to do the same. Even Taylor Swift told us to shake it off and it works as bodily shaking has proven results which you can read here:
4. Working with my own natural rhythms and energy levels.
One of the real benefits of running my own show is having control over my schedule. After dealing with various physical and emotional health issues for the past ten years and currently recovering from my first covid infection, I now know when I function best and least during the days and plan accordingly. I'm still old school in that I have a paper calendar to schedule appointments, but I like that I can see a whole month to make sure I'm not over-scheduled one week or have an important appointment after lunch when my energy levels are at their lowest. I need recovery days and times and I plan sprint mornings and weeks. Working with my unique energy levels and not against them allows me to find a way to be my best self in a professional capacity.
5. Knowing my limits.
I'm still learning about my skill set and how I work best. I'm still a work in process so I can be a bit haphazard when I want to try to do everything and wear all the hats in the business in case I might be interested in pursuing a task long term. But now I also acknowledge when to hire a professional, an expert, to step in and take something off my to do list. The money will be well spent if I don't my waste time tinkering and getting meh results. I've experienced long days ending with no results and extreme frustration because nothing was accomplished for the business that day besides me realizing that I wasted a day taking photos that are useless. (and yes that has happened).
Also setting boundaries and time limits helps with this as it's easy to start working ALL THE TIME especially when you see yourself as your business and are working from home. If you don't do this task, it won't get done. It can't wait. I have to get it done. Blah, blah, blah.
My husband told me when I started working for myself, I was going to realize that I had a really demanding boss. And he was right. I'm still learning to let myself off the hook (occasionally) and to not go all out about getting EVERYTHING done that day. Rather, set my priorities for the day and do those. And even when I don't succeed some days, to let it go and start again tomorrow. I've also heard that setting three goals for the day is enough as it helps with overwhelm and encourages accomplishment.
6. Seek professional help.
I'm not embarrassed to say, I've been seeing various mental health professionals off and on for over 30 years. Life is tough and help should not be stigmatized.
And sometimes it's not always a matter of what is going on outside, but can also relate to your hormones and chemistry (especially as we age), and no matter how healthy you eat, sleep or exercise you get, sometimes, science is the only solution. So don't be afraid to seek someone who understands and has the skills and authority to help you get back to yourself.
Recently more research and articles have been published that exalt the restorative and healing powers of sleep. As someone who inherited her father's disruptive and short sleep patterns, sleep can be elusive for me even though I understand its value and try to nurture it in my life. I know the quality of my decision making is better when I'm rested as I feel more centered, embodied and present in the moment. I also know I'm more patient with others.
So when my sleep is interrupted or I'm unable to relax and get my mind ready for sleep, I put on a Yoga Nidra meditation via Insight Timer, a free meditation app that you can listen to on your phone. Sometimes it takes a two or three meditations to get me back asleep, but it does help.
Here's a list of sleep podcasts too if you want to learn more about what your body does during sleep and how it helps every aspect of your waking life.
8. Find You Community.
I have been fortunate enough to build a community of other entrepreneurs and nurture friendships so we can openly discuss the perils and pitfalls of being a solopreneur. Remember the old adage, a problem shared is a problem halved? Meeting regularly with other business owners who understand its unique demands and commiserating and problem solving together helps stave off isolation and loneliness – some of the most common contributors to declining mental health. You have to take time out to meet with your peers and build friendships, connections, communities to keep yourself engaged and alive. Time with others can be key in feeling seen, heard and thriving.
9. Life is a process, not a destination
All my life, in the back of my mind there is a constant need to reach a destination. What destination you ask? The next destination my mind makes up once I complete a task or goal that I have previously set for myself. I'm always on to the next task, goal, destination. Seeking, striving, doing.
And that's when burnt out can show up and exhaustion, mentally and physically, take hold. So I have to remind myself that I am more than my productivity. Don't miss out on the process of being. How I am creating myself every day with the small and large decisions I make. Yes, there are times for rewards, celebrations and acknowledgements, but there are many more days of seeking, learning, creating. Finding as much joy in the process as you can to help alleviate highs and lows.
These nine suggestions are always in my mental health toolbox when I need them as solopreneruship can be isolating and exhausting. Even when things are going well, I need to remind myself to call on them to keep me on track so that I don't decline. Recently, I've restarted writing Julia Cameron's Morning Pages (if you don't know about them, see some info here) as I've always found them valuable when I actually do them and not just think about doing them. It's a preventative action that can make the difference in my day, week, month and life.
When I see the value in my actions and work, my relationship with myself is clearer and more stable and my relationships with others is more fulfilling and happier. My health and happiness trickles out from within.
It's the old oxygen mask theory, you have to put on yours first before helping others. So use your own mental health tools and see what works for you so can you can help others.
Because, what's a given, are on-going challenges in both business and life, and knowing my first steps for triage, especially when isolation, self doubt and overwhelm, starts to happen due to mental and physical strain, help to stabilize and heal.
As the saying goes (with my updated insertion), if you don't have your (mental) health, you don't have anything.