Anne George shares four simple steps that brought her back from the brink of business burnout.
Sick leave. Remember that lovely concept?
Best enjoyed pre-children, one would simply call the office (preferably from bed), roll over and go back to sleep.
Rising at about 11, it was easy to head to the couch with a blankie and a pack of tissues, flick on the TV and do the one thing doctors recommend as best for everyone when sick – even solopreneurs – ‘rest’.
You even got to do it for more than one day – what bliss!
Not so for the solo business owner and parent. These days, children must be delivered where they need to be (if your partner has already left for their busy and important job), before you stagger to the couch and open your laptop to send multiple ‘apologies for the delay’ emails and where necessary, make gravel-voiced phone calls. Then we will chug through the to-do list in between Netflix episodes as best we can until we are back to peak performance.
I recently lived through two months of constant illness for myself and my two children. (Somehow, my dear husband managed to escape the lot.) The kicker at the end for me was flu – the first time I’ve experienced ‘real’ flu for around 25 years. It was 18 days from diagnosis, when I nearly fainted in the waiting room, through to the day I finally felt like myself again.
After visiting the doctor for the third time in two weeks, literally howling that clearly I would NEVER get better, and enduring more helpful advice about fluids and rest and another offer of a sick note (“I work for MYSELF, remember?”) I realised I was looking at burnout unless I invested in some extreme self-care.
As soloists, we know we need self-care. But when we are working alone, unwell, trudging and trying our best to deliver, there is no one to haul us up and send us home to bed. And no one to help us look after ourselves. As with all other things soloist – it’s up to us to do something about it. We need to take charge of our own health.
So as I walked away from the doctor’s appointment that day, I formed a cunning plan. I had to keep working – I didn’t have a choice. But I could take better care of myself.
Here is my three-day, four-way soloist self-care plan, recommended for when you are trapped in the trenches and there seems to be no way out.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Fact is, laughter has been scientifically proven to improve mental health and lift our mood through a ‘rush’ of endorphins. My go-to laughter guy is Michael McIntyre, so I hit him up on YouTube and discovered ‘Send to All’ – ever wondered if Jamie Oliver secretly eats chicken nuggets?
Over the next three days, in between working I would regularly stop and ‘dose’ on laughter. It really works – but you need to be very strict and only watch one video at a time, before getting back to work. Try it!
2. Stop scrolling
When you are staring burnout in the face, feeling desperately unwell and miserable, a social media feed full of posts boasting ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-happy-and-thriving-and-winning-at-life’ is not just counter-productive, it’s damaging for our mental health.
STOP. Take charge. Turn off ALL notifications. Move your phone to another room and embrace the resulting calm. Repeat daily.
3. Extreme self-care
I asked myself this question. If I had a sick friend who was feeling miserable, what would I do to cheer her up? I realised I had to be that friend for myself. I headed straight to the supermarket and bought myself flowers, fruit, yoghurt, pure honey and ingredients for vegetable soup and chocolate pudding.
Over the next three days I made myself stop often and look at those gorgeous flowers. I set up a chair on the lawn and regularly went out and sat with my back to the sun for 15 minutes at a time. I had a super healthy breakfast every day, made my famous vegetable soup (I always say soup is like a warm hug) and the most disgustingly good chocolate self-saucing pudding. My family thought I was a legend and it was manna for the soul.
4. Making time is good for you
Sleep. Yes, we are stressed and worried and another half an hour on that project might help get us one step ahead. But getting into bed as soon as the children are in bed (if not before) is more valuable.
And before you go to sleep, read a book – a real one with pages – that will distract you. Nothing deep – find something fluffy and innocent. My personal favourite when I’m feeling a bit fragile is a children’s book. There’s nothing like a rollicking pony adventure to distract me from the real world.
To be honest, I’m still recovering, with an annoying cough that won’t go away. But my realisation that burnout was imminent and my self-styled, self-care program was a game-changer – and a reminder that as solopreneurs, we need to take responsibility for our own health.