I’m writing this from a train to London. I’m sweating and I have intense stomach pain. My brain (without consent) is cycling through all the ways I could potentially die a painful and embarrassing death today.
So far, my morning has looked like staying in bed too long in a bid to avoid the thing giving me anxiety (travelling to London alone). Feeling like I couldn’t breathe while getting ready and thinking about everything that could go wrong, including now being late. Tears because I couldn’t get a taxi. Stomach pain and a mad dash to the loo when my taxi did eventually arrive. Shaking as I walked up the station steps. Feeling dizzy as I got on the train.
I’m currently anticipating another dash to the loo* and checking every 5 mins that I am, in fact, on the correct train. I’ve only heard the announcer say ‘London Euston’ at every stop so far, but why would I believe them?
*queue additional worries of the train toilet door doing that slow slide open and presenting me, tights down, to all travelling in Coach F on the 9:55 service from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston
If you too are riddled with anxiety, you’re probably thinking “sounds like a standard day out”. If you’re not, I’d like to climb inside of your brain for refuge, please.
The thing is, I’m a business owner. Sometimes I have to travel on my own. Sometimes I have to pitch my business to a panel of judges. Occasionally I’ll walk out of a bathroom with my skirt tucked into my knickers at an award’s ceremony (hello last month’s IPSE awards). So, how the hell do I do those things when on the inside, and apparently outside too, I’m an anxious mess?
I’m going to write a little bit about what helps me as a business owner with anxiety. Please remember that, despite my hundreds of hours researching (okay, Googling) all the medical conditions in existence, I am not a doctor. I can not and do not intend to give you medical advice. Please seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you are struggling with your mental health or anything else mentioned in this blog.
One last thing before I let you inside of my brain… Am I procrastinating writing this blog because it feels vulnerable? Possibly. I’d like to apologise in advance to Coach Holly, who I told I’d be writing some of the blogs we planned together on this journey. Sorry!! Although I’ll think she’ll be pleased with my ability to turn something stressing me out into something vaguely productive. Okay, here goes…
How to cope with anxiety as a business owner
1. I know what works for me
I’ve been anxious since before I knew what anxiety meant, and long before I became a business owner. I was a nervous baby! I know my parents could insert numerous anecdotes here of tears and meltdowns about not wanting to go to new places with new scary people.
In my twenty-six years and eight months of living, I have developed a very particular set of skills. Not quite Liam Neeson skills, but I have figured out how to cope best when I’m worried. I always prep the night before to minimise the number of things to stress over and I tidy as I go. Tidy space, tidy mind. Exercise and fresh air help me process, and so today I have opted to walk around London over the sweaty angst-inducing tube.
When I first moved to Manchester, I entered an unexpected phase where I found supermarkets completely overwhelming. I’d do anything to avoid nipping to the shops. After an inconvenient year, I accidentally discovered that putting headphones in with calming music completely changed the environment. My headphones now come with me everywhere I go. I bought a brand new pair of noise-cancelling bad boys for this trip and they’re working wonders. There’s something about swapping the chatter, beeps and buzzes for your favourite chill playlist that just brings your stress level right down.
I used to feel silly for not being able to go and get some milk without my music but a friend helped me reframe that thought. If you know your body and mind well enough to understand not only what causes you anxiety, but also what you can do to overcome it… That’s incredible.
2. Rest and downtime
In order to function well during situations that bring me anxiety as a business owner, I have to have had enough rest and downtime. Before and after the thing!
I’m an introvert. Spending time with anyone other than my dog requires my social battery to be 100% plus sufficient space for a serious recharge afterwards. I’m sure there’s some medical evidence out there demonstrating how constantly being in flight or fight mode wears you out, but I’m just going on my own experience. After an event or a day out, I feel exhausted. Especially after enduring a pandemic that has made leaving our safe spaces suddenly feel like much more of a ‘thing’ than it used to.
Knowing what your boundaries are and firmly putting them in place can be nothing short of life-changing.
3. Building a business and brand that gives me confidence
As a business owner, you want to be able to big yourself up to strangers and shout about what you do. As a business owner with anxiety, however, you probably want to avoid ever being in any kind of spotlight.
At my first ever networking event, years ago, I felt so awkward. Not your standard shy, awkward. I think I was 22 and by far the youngest in the room. Full to the brim with imposter syndrome. Everyone had, what I viewed as a ‘proper’ business and there was tiny me in the corner feeling like a child playing make-believe as ‘just a freelancer’.
It’s taken a lot to overcome that feeling, and I’m still not the whole way there, I’m probably not even halfway there, but I have built a business I am extremely proud of.
I am a freelancer and I collaborate with other talented freelancers. I am a freelancer and I’ve won awards for my work. I am a freelancer and I’ve helped many self-identifying women feel to feel confident in their own businesses.
To build a brand based on your dearest values and work with clients who share them is incredibly affirming. I’m not saying you should base your self-worth on the opinions of others, and certainly not award wins, but that doesn’t mean it’s not encouraging when it happens.
I’ve changed the way I think about myself from ‘just a freelancer’ to ‘business owner’. I create branding and websites I’m proud of, and I give my energy to things that I believe matter. I find it much easier to do the business-owner-thing and big myself up, be that in person in London, or on Instagram stories when I already feel good about what I do.
4. Do it anyway
Whenever I’m faced with something that makes me feel iffy, I ask myself “do I feel this way because it doesn’t align with my values and I genuinely don’t want to do it or am I simply outside of my comfort zone?”
If it’s a perfect fit all-around but it terrifies me, I feel the fear and I do it anyway. That’s not some “wow, I’m so amazing” ego boost, it’s just something I’ve promised myself I’ll do. I’m talking about doing a big shop and getting on a train here. Ask me to talk to a room full of people and we’ll see how well this one holds up…
But there’s no high like standing on the other side of something shit your pants scary and saying “I did that” – and next time it doesn’t feel so intimidating! If it’s good for you and good for your business, go for it.
If you need inspiration for saying yes to things, I recommend Year Of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Fellow Grey’s fans will get extra joy from this one (my go-to series to rewatch for comfort when I’m feeling wobbly, but it’s certainly not a necessary requirement).
I must add here that I am a huge advocate for NOT doing things that aren’t you. If it doesn’t align with your values or makes you feel weird for any other reason, as Coach Holly says, no is a complete sentence. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Ever.
The best bit. Once you’ve done the thing, celebrate yourself. Whether it’s a little thing or a big thing, I always try to give myself a pat on the back or a treat. If you made it to Aldi, buy yourself a treat from the fancy middle aisle. If you managed to get up on stage at the awards ceremony and talk to the presenter without puking, buy yourself some new headphones. That one’s specific to me, but you get the picture.
I don’t mean to trivialise our experiences… Life’s tough with anxiety and no one’s tougher on us than us. Give yourself a break and get your celebration on. You deserve it.
Coping with anxiety as a business owner summary
That’s it, that’s how I cope with anxiety as a business owner. I say yes, plan ahead, pay attention to the things that help and then celebrate. It’s not a cure, I still have many days like today, but it’s manageable and in the long run, through lots of ups, downs and round and rounds – I feel more confident.
Let me know if you’ve found my ramblings helpful, or if you have anything else that helps, in the comments. I’m all ears (or eyes?)
If you too are a fan of chill music, or fancy giving it a try, download my “Acoustic Chill – Get Sh*t Done Playlist” here. I created it for work (that’s mega long) but I can say from experience, it doubles well as calming music while out and about. Enjoy!