Managing anxiety is something we don’t talk about much. But it’s a reality for many of us and learning to manage it is vital for both a healthy mind AND a healthy business.
When I was a kid I worried about everything. Which is unsurprising given the environment of uncertainty I grew up in: the people in my life were constantly anxious, fearful and angry about stuff that seemed inevitable.
As I got older and started my business life, it therefore seemed perfectly natural to worry about everything to do with my business. And of course I had a lot of good reasons to worry.
I had no idea what I was doing and was making terrible mistakes in amongst working crazy hours, avoiding creditors (my bank manager would swing by most mornings and drop off a pile of cheques that I had bounced from the day before) and generally feeling out of control. Going broke seemed inevitable.
As you can imagine, it was a horrible way to live.
And of course, it made me sick. I developed anxiety and started to have panic attacks (not a good thing for a commercial diver.) I had no idea what was going on, but suddenly, and in the most inappropriate of places, waves of panic would wash over me resulting in a feeling of abject terror. Of course I assumed I was going insane, and that my life was pretty much over.
I decided to seek some professional help to help me with managing anxiety. My doctor gave me a referral to a psychologist and I clearly remember the moment she offered these stunning words of wisdom: “Andrew you just need to learn to relax and breathe”.
How’s that for a newsflash? I left feeling deflated and had panic attacks all the way home as I was stressing about how I needed to breathe.
But of course, she was right.
I did need to learn to breathe. And her words, when they finally sank in, changed my life. I learnt strategies for managing anxiety. I figured out how to take better care of myself and, most importantly, how to read the warning signs that I was back on the fast track to frequent panic attacks and far worse symptoms of major stress (like death).
Now, many years later, I still monitor myself daily. I know when I need to recharge, take a break, share my concerns with someone or breathe better.
Running a business is seriously stressful. We’re dependent on ourselves to make it work, to deliver what we promise, to get paid, to generate new work and to keep it all going. There is never enough time, money or help at hand – or at least that’s the way it feels.
It can be scary, but we rarely talk about this side of a business. Instead we forge ahead, fearful that if we show a sign of weakness, people will think less of us. We’re scared if we admit we’re worried about something, our clients will get wind of it and leave us in droves (thus fulfilling that internal fear of going broke.)
Personally I think it’s time for us to have far more honest conversations with ourselves, those close to us and those in our peer group.
Share your fears, your worries, and your concerns. If someone thinks less of you as a result of that, you don’t really want him or her in your life.
I’ve worked with many business owners over the years. I’ve watched many grown men and women having breakdowns in my office, threatening suicide, losing their families, making themselves sick – all because they simply didn’t feel that they could confide in someone and say “sometimes I get scared.”
Whilst we hear lots of great stories about success, and yes, I share plenty of them, I wanted this column to be for those people who struggle at times, who perhaps don’t feel as successful as they want to, who suffer in silence, feeling alone and worried.
I want you to know you’re not alone.
And it is OK to feel like this, you’re only human.
Have you been touched by anxiety? Do you have any tips for managing anxiety around the demands of running a business?
For more resources on the subject of small business mental health and to learn how many leading bodies and organisations are rallying to add their weight to this important topic, visit our information page on small business mental health.