Many years ago, I found myself in a very bad place mentally. I’d been running and building Swish Design for four or so years and was stressed out of my mind.
- The business was barely breaking even.
- My staff weren’t being paid what they were worth.
- The pressure of client expectations was crushing.
- We had too much work but never enough money.
- The office wasn’t a fun place to be because I (and thus everyone else) was on edge all the time.
But this is par for the course, right?
Everyone knows extreme stress goes hand-in-hand with owning a business.
And right there is the one big lie we business owners believe when it comes to our poor mental health.
We think it’s normal and there’s not much we can do beyond ‘sucking it up’.
Well, I’m here to tell you, extreme-stress doesn’t need to be ‘normal’.
Once we stop accepting it as so, we can start doing things to shift the amount of it we have in our lives.
So … make the shift … and then start doing some of the below.
Each one will help reduce your stress load and once you experience the benefits, you won’t be going back in a hurry!
1. Prioritise sleep
When we’re under the pump, and things are super-busy, sleep is one of the very first things we sacrifice. Especially if we have families. We tell ourselves we’re doing both them and ourselves a favour by working when the rest of the house is asleep. We get to work interrupted, and we’re not stealing family time from our loved ones.
Sacrificing sleep is a negative cycle in the long-term, however. The less sleep you get, the less you’re able to concentrate on your tasks. It takes you longer to do everything, which is frustrating and affects your mood. Because your mood is crappy, you upset people more and have to spend time you don’t have putting out fires. Which puts you further behind in your work. Which you then stay up late to catch up on.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the busier you are, the more sleep you need to get. While it’s ok to do one late night here and there, if you’re jumping on the laptop every evening, it’s time to stop.
Nothing smashes mental health more than sleep deprivation.
2. Set firmer boundaries
In this post, I mentioned how my point of difference used to be my uber-responsiveness to clients. If they emailed me, I’d respond to them within the hour. It didn’t matter if it was a weekend. It didn’t matter if it was outside working hours.
I had no boundaries in this regard, and while I knew it was unsustainable, I couldn’t stop doing it. Surely my clients would hate me if I only responded to them during work hours or took longer than an hour to reply?
Well, guess what? When I had a complete breakdown, I couldn’t respond to anyone at all. I’m pretty sure my clients would have preferred I set firmer boundaries than disappear for three months.
3. Get away from your desk at lunch
This is such a simple thing, but so few people actually do it. We tend to eat our lunch with one hand holding a sandwich and the other tapping away on the keyboard. We think we’re ‘too busy’ to step away for even a second.
Removing yourself from your desk and eating lunch without a screen or even (gasp) a newspaper, introduces mindfulness into your day. Even five minutes provides a mental reset that refreshes your brain. It will also make you more productive in the afternoon.
4. Make time for exercise
This is one of the cheapest and effective ways to manage stress, anxiety and depression. I’m not saying exercise removes these things from our lives, but it certainly reduces their impact.
The key is to find a form of exercise that works for you. Walking, swimming, surfing, running, paddling, yoga, CrossFit, cycling … anything that allows you to move your body in a meaningful way and get blood flowing around your body will do the job.
If you’re really strapped for time, why not park your car a 5-10 minute walk away from the office? Or get off the bus one stop early? Apply the ‘something is always better than nothing’ rule here.
5. Get help managing your cash flow
There is nothing more stressful in business than getting a huge bill and finding you have no money in the bank to pay it.
If your brain isn’t geared towards numbers, it can be hard to muster up the enthusiasm to run cash flows for yourself. Since my brain prefers words to figures, the best money we spend in our business is paying someone to keep an eye on our cash flow. They give us a heads up about when things might get tight. We usually get a solid month or two warning, and this is all we need to double-down on marketing for a few weeks to generate the income we need to eliminate the cash flow hole before it even happens.
6. Do a 15-minute free-write
Worries are always better outside than in. The most effective way to get worries out of your head is to do a brain dump. Sit down with a pen and paper and free-write for 15 minutes using the prompt, ‘Things that are bothering me right now.’
You’ll find that once things are committed to paper, they never seem as bad as they were in your head.
7. Take a day
If you’re completely under the pump and stressed out of your brain, the thought of taking a whole day off work might seem like the worst thing you could do to yourself. But, it’s probably the best. Imagine you got gastro and had to stay home for a day of running back and forth from couch to toilet. Would you catch up from that day? Yep, you would. Would clients understand you were sick that day? Yep, they would.
Here’s the difference between an unexpected ‘sick day’ and a planned ‘mental health’ day. The mental health day is restorative. Yes, you’re ‘losing’ a whole day of work. But you’re giving your mind a break that will allow you to operate at a much higher (and happier) level once you’re back.
8. Set firm working hours
This is another boundary-setting type thing. Even the most efficient of us would be stunned to find out how much time we spend stuffing around during the working day. We can get away with that stuffing around when we don’t have firm boundaries around our work hours because we can always stay back and work late.
You know who doesn’t stuff around at work? The parent who has to drop their kids at school and pick them up in the afternoon. Those people get as much done in five hours in the office as most people do in eight hours. If you remove the option to stay back and work late every day, you’ll be stunned at how much better you focus during work hours. An effect that gets doubled by the mental break you’re cutting yourself by leaving work on time every day and actually getting to chill out in the afternoons/evenings.