Running a Business When You Have Anxiety
With one adult in six suffering from a common mental disorder , it’s not really a great surprise that I’m writing about business anxiety.
According to the ONS, there were 4.7 million self-employed workers in the first quarter of 2016 so given the 1 in 6 stats, there’s a strong likelihood that if you’re reading this, you’ve suffered from anxiety or depression yourself, or know someone else who does.
This blog post has been lingering in my drafts folder for many weeks as I pondered whether or not to hit publish.
I really didn’t know whether I should go public about my personal struggles of having anxiety…eventually the fear of being judged and losing followers paled into insignificance as I realised that yes, I should fess up because there might be other women in business trying desperately to hold their shit together and feeling like they’re on their own.
After anxiety popped up and waved a very aggressive ‘HELLO’ at me at the end of the summer, I was suddenly falling down a familiar deep, gloomy hole that I’d fallen down before and didn’t want to fall down again.
Alternating between feeling OK and complete despair was/is mentally exhausting and I knew I had to DO something before it took its toll on me and ruined my business.
I went the ‘woo woo’ route to start with and tried supplements, EFT, meditation, affirmations, mindset work, self-hypnosis, crystals and oils (not dissing all these things – love the woo woo!). Each week I tried a new ‘thing’ to see if it would help. Some helped a little, some not so much. Then I had a really great week and thought “That’s it, I’m fixed!”, only for the anxiety to make a dramatic return, this time bringing a friend, depression.
Depression had been nipping at my heels for many weeks and now here it was, with a firm mouth grip on my ankles. I just couldn’t shake it off.
What does anxiety ‘feel’ like?
There can be lots of physical and physiological symptoms, or just a few. Here are some of the more common symptoms…
- A feeling of dread/fear or panic
- A sense of unease
- Sleep issues
- Numb/tingling hands or feet
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Feeling sick
It’s important to know that everyone’s experience is different. Visit the NHS website for a full list of symptoms.
What anxiety feels like for me…
At first it feels like I can cope OK, all life’s little problems and worries gently rest on my chest like a weightless sheets of paper. Then as time goes on, I start to worry more and more, like whether my children are safe at school, people judging me online, that I always put my foot in it, that I’ve got a mystery illness which means I’m going to die….the list goes on…and before I know it the sheets of paper are really heavy on my chest, like a ream, and that’s when the anxiety hits me and I feel immediately panicked and fearful. This feeling can last a short time or hours and when it’s over I usually have an emotional outburst and just cry.
Another feeling is being permanently tense. You know when you’re a passenger in a car and someone in front of you breaks heavily and you poise physically to crash and the adrenaline kicks in and you feel a bit sick. That’s how I feel all day sometimes and even at night when I’m trying to sleep, I realise my jaw is aching or my fists are clenched because I’m so tense.
I shake my hands because my fingers tingle, I go having no appetite and feeling sick to insatiable hunger, I can’t get to sleep because it feels like my heart is pounding and no matter what position I get into I can still hear/feel it, I wake in the early hours (usually 4am) – like ‘Ping!’ then end up waking up feeling groggy, I’m grumpy and intolerant with my kids and then I feel sooo guilty and worry I’m not a good mum, I cry (a lot), the worry is insurmountable and borders on obsessive.
Minor little things in business seem so much bigger than they are – a cancelled membership in the summer felt like the end of the world for me (I was in tears all morning), a throwaway comment on someone else’s business Facebook page left me feeling paranoid it was about me and the ‘everyone is better than me’ messages come in thick and fast. My self-esteem really takes a battering and my inner critic pounces on the opportunity to constantly put me down.
Going to the GP
When I realised that I wasn’t getting better and that I was feeling more than anxious, I took myself off to see my GP.
It felt like I was admitting defeat, that I should have got better with the woo woo, that it was my fault somehow that I didn’t. My GP was amazing and suggested a blood test to check my hormone levels and thyroid…and then a few days later, the results were in…I was in
menopause (yes, I cried and I struggle to type and see the word on my screen) which can cause a wide range of symptoms. According to my GP, if you’ve experienced mental health problems in the past, they are more likely to re-appear at menopause. I’m a bit younger than average, possibly because of all the rounds of fertility drugs I’d had for IVF treatment in my 30’s.
I came away with a prescription for some anti-anxiety/depressant pills and I literally could not wait to get home and get them down me! Screw being judged for needing pills. I TRIED so hard not to need them, I didn’t want to be on them but I had to do something before I crashed big time.
After a couple of weeks the depression lifted, and my anxiety settled to a level I could cope with. At the time of writing the post, I’m still coming to terms with being in menopause – I guess that will take a little longer to sink in.
And despite all this, I was/am still very much in business. I am thankfully able to function for the most part…I mean I do get some really bad days where I just want to curl up in the foetal position and hide from the world but generally speaking, I’m ok. I show up for my dreams. I provide my Superstar members with training every month. I write blogs and newsletters. I do my Facebook lives. I laugh and smile (no one would ever know).
Tips to help with business anxiety
If you’re suffering with anxiety, here are a few tips which have helped me and may help you too…
- Stop fighting it: When you’re having a really shitty day, don’t firefight and continue working. It’s counter productive and you’re better off having a self care day and looking after yourself.
- Do what you can, when you can: Your work pattern may change depending on how you’re feeling (I’m writing this part of the blog at 7.24pm because I couldn’t face work all day), so be flexible and work when you feel up to it.
- Make your work environment fu**ing awesome: Candles, essential oils, plants, teddies, blankets, posters, notebooks, books, sprays etc. Make it as pleasant and nurturing as possible.
- Be brave and fess up: Look again at those stats at the start of this blog – you are not alone. Reach out and share how you are feeling to your friends and supportive work colleagues/peers. A problem shared is a problem halved…blah blah, you get the idea. Just sharing can take some of that weight away.
- Walk, a lot: I’m not a gym bunny but I do try and get out for a walk and fresh air every day. When I’m having an ‘everyone can f*ck off’ kind of day, I just stick a hoody on brave it. The exercise and fresh air really does help.
- Go with the ‘Woo woo’: I am still embracing all things woo – they DO help but I was obviously I was in too far down the hole at my worst. Now I use them to complement the happy pills 🙂 Get meditating, journalling, colour stuff in, use essential oils, do some tapping (Tap with Brad on YouTube is my fave), do a sleep hypnosis every night put crystals in your bra or whatever else you can try to make you feel better. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you’re doing something.
- See people, real actual people: When you’re stuck on your own all day, it can have a profound impact on your mental health. Get out and see people. If the prospect of networking is too daunting go with someone you know. Arrange to see a trusted friend for coffee.
- Get medical help: If you can relate to any of the symptoms of anxiety and it’s affecting your ability to run your business for more than a couple of weeks, go and see your GP – there’s no need to suffer. It doesn’t make you weak or a crap business owner.
- Try and stay on top of things: The phrase ‘eat that frog’ comes to mind. Those little things at work which cause you minor anxiety, will soon grow into big scary things if you keep putting them off which will increase your anxiety levels. If you are really struggling, do the bare minimum but try and do something, no matter how small, even if you just reply to one or two emails in a day it keeps things ticking over. It’s also well worth looking into getting some help in the form of a Virtual Assistant or research automated tools for your business.
- Plan ahead: Plan at least 4 weeks ahead in your business. Schedule blog posts and social media updates so if you are struck down by a bout of anxiety, your business is still active.
- Nurture your gorgeous mind, body and soul: Eat well, drink plenty of water and consider supplements which can help with anxiety symptoms (check with your GP first). Yoga is really good but any kind of exercise is better than none. Practice daily mindfulness and research as many alternative therapies as you can to find something that suits you.
- Be honest: I know this might be a bit uncomfortable for you but if you’ve messed things up, missed an email, forgotten something important or generally been a bit absent due to feeling anxious, rather than making silly excuses, just be honest. People will appreciate your honesty. Remember those stats too – chances are they will understand.
Are you a business person who’s struggled with anxiety or depression? Be brave and share your story in the comments to help and inspire others.
Thanks for reading,
 McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-exec-summary…. 5 October 2016]
This blog post provides general information and discussion about anxiety and menopause. The words and other content provided in this blog, and any outgoing links, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with a GP or other healthcare professional.