What’s it like to own a business + look after your mental health
Where to start! I think this is such a nuanced topic and one that is very individual, but here are my experiences.
Wellbeing meets productivity
You spend a lot of time wrestling with the beliefs that are ingrained in you from your previous jobs. It takes some serious work to undo the 9-6 mindset; being stuck in the assumption that this is the only way to work. You really have to ask yourself, how many of these habits are helping me, and how many are hindering? In a corporate setting, employers create a workplace culture that is often more focussed on productivity and financial goals, losing sight of how the mental wellbeing of their employees directly affects this. I am the poster girl for this. I would take 10 days a year off work for my mental health. That’s 80 lost hours, and I was just one employee.
The freedom of being your own boss
Since starting my own businesses, I’ve realised just how incredible freedom can be for your mental health. Even the simple fact of not having to appear professional 24/7 has allowed me to let go of a lot of stress – I’m sure a lot of people have noticed the same after working from home for over a year. If I’m having a bad day, I can work from bed, or juggle tasks around so that I’m using my energy in a way that works for me. A few years back, I explained to my therapist that I felt like I had to wear a mask, and could only take it off and be ‘the real me’ when I got home at night. That’s a lot of time spent faking it in order to appear like I had my life together.
In the same breath, it’s a real struggle to take time off when you’re self-employed. I really thought it was going to be the best thing about going it alone; but the truth is, you can’t escape the feeling that you should be doing work. It feels like a constant tug of war. I do a lot of work with my client on creating your own definition of success, and that’s because I’ve had to get really up close and personal with my own version of this. Being able to take a guilt-free day off is a marker of success for me.
Beating burnout with boundaries
In our modern world, hustle mentality is rampant. You’ve got to have really resilient mental health to work long and late hours, and it will be incredibly hard to keep it going long term. Hustling gets a big no from me. I love to work hard and get in the flow, but if it’s at the expense of having a healthy lifestyle, it’s not for me. I’ve learnt the importance of working smart and making business decisions that give me balance. The better you feel and the happier you are, the more valuable an asset you are to your business. I am my business, so looking after myself has to be a priority. This rule is true for employees too.
In the wellness world, boundaries have become universally recognised as a way to empower yourself and protect wellbeing, and I am all in. I only take on clients and projects that fit within my boundaries and that feels glorious. Only you know what works best for you, so you have to articulate this in order to feel healthier and happier in both your professional and personal life. Having been close to burnout before, I know just how important work-life balance is, and also how this differentiates person to person. You might be happy to work 12 hour days, but I stick to eight hours, as that’s how I stay bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
Finding ways to switch off
One thing I know we’ll all have discovered this year, is how difficult it is to separate work and home life, when your work and home life is all happening in the same place. For people running their businesses at home, this is a constant battle. It’s hard to put your phone and laptop down at the end of the day. To stop thinking about work when you’re meant to be in ‘home mode’. Switching off seems simple enough, but in reality it takes strength and perseverance to prioritise your wellbeing. I’ve had to come up with ways to take my mind off of it; to build in some separation. Cooking was always my therapy when I got home from work, and it still is. I like how it takes me out of my head and into my hands, and that I can listen to music or a podcast whilst I do it.
Getting into the flow
A big question I had about working for myself before I made the leap, was how stressful is it to be in charge of your annual income? This felt like the only sticking point for me, with lots of ‘what if’s’ hanging around. What if I don’t make enough money? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I hate having to find work rather than it being handed to me?
It turns out that none of those things outweigh the positives of running your own business, and effectively, running your own life. Just over a year in, I rarely get stressed about where my money is coming from. New clients and projects seem to pop into my inbox just when I need them to. I put a lot of this natural flow of work down to connection and building a good network of people around me, which also helps me combat loneliness as a solopreneur – so it’s a win win! You do miss having colleagues, and I’m really looking forward to Covid restrictions continuing to ease so that I get the chance to get out and meet people.
Running your own business puts you in charge of a lot of things, including your mental health. That gives you a big opportunity. An opportunity to look after yourself, or an opportunity to self-destruct. Choose freedom and flow, and you'll be rewarded time and time again.