By Liz Gutman
Anxiety is a totally normal and even expected part of running your own business. Here’s how to keep from being crippled by it.
As the public face of my company, I encounter a lot of pressure to appear as though I’m 100% together at all times.
But, in truth, as an entrepreneur, there is no way to completely avoid freaking out. So many things constantly come at you – staffing issues, tax worries, equipment malfunctions – it would take a miracle to achieve a state of never-ever-freak-outedness. But when it all seems overwhelming and impossible, know that you can (and will!) get through it. Here’s how:
I know – it’s a total cliché. But it’s everyone’s number one piece of advice for a reason: it works, as long as you really commit.
No, taking one big deep breath usually isn’t enough. If you find yourself starting to clench up or getting that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, take a moment. Sit (or stand) with both feet planted flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Breathe in for a slow three-count – one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand – hold for another slow three-count and breathe out for a slow five-count. Do this at least ten times.
Now open your eyes. Better?
I battled severe anxiety long before becoming an entrepreneur, and it was a revelation to discover how much regular exercise helps calm my mind.
It doesn’t have to be hardcore. I used to run, but now I go for brisk walks of about 30 minutes in the morning instead. Walking isn’t quite as exciting as running, but can be even more beneficial (see links here, here and here) than more strenuous activity.
Take a stroll on your lunch break, stretch or do gentle yoga before bedtime, knock out some jumping jacks while you’re watching Netflix. Any of these things will help as long as you stay consistent (I shoot for three times a week). It’s an investment that pays off if you keep doing it! You’ll be amazed at how much it improves your outlook.
3. ASK FOR HELP
This may be the easiest-said and hardest-done piece of advice out there. I have massive issues with asking for help; it’s especially hard for entrepreneurs and even more so for women. We spend our entire lives internalizing messages to be quiet, be nice, don’t make a fuss, figure it out. “Quiet strength” seems like an admirable quality until you think about the nuances of that subtly oppressive first word: quiet.
Don’t be quiet. Reach out. Ask a friend to spend some time with you. Feel some feelings. You are not alone.
4. STAY IN THE MOMENT
Planning ahead is an integral part of running a business, but the flipside of all that forethought can be abject panic. I tend to spin out when I start imagining completely made-up nightmare scenarios that haven’t happened (but they might!).
Repeat Step 1 and Step 2. Think about the very next thing you need to get done, and do it. Break a task into as many small steps as you can and check them off as you go; it can really help remind you that every little thing you do counts and is moving you closer to your goals. (I like Asana or IDoneThis for my lists.)
We can’t always accomplish 67 things every single day. Sometimes it’s five things, sometimes it’s just one. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re going in the right direction.
5. WRITE IT OUT
Whether it’s a list, a note on my phone, or a scrawled page in one of my many notebooks, I always find it helpful to get stress-inducing thoughts out of my head and onto paper or screen. For me, if those thoughts are accessible in a tangible format, I don’t have to carry them around in my head anymore – I can always just check that dang list.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and your mind. If you need a mental health day, take one. (Your business will still be standing in 24 hours, I promise.) Pet a puppy, smell a flower, read a chapter of a non-business-related book, listen to the “relax” mix on brain.fm.
Remember: it’s okay and completely normal to freak out. It can even be cathartic and helpful in the long run. You will get through the anxiety and tomorrow you’ll emerge stronger and more centered.
Anything I missed, entrepreneurs? Please share your freak-out stories and tips in the comments!
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