Mental health and running a business – my journey and mental health tips
I feel like as I’ve been recording this I’ve got more into it and enjoyed it a lot more and felt lot more confident doing it, and I wanted episode 20 to just be a really special one and so I thought I’d do it around World mental health day, something that’s really important to me and I thought we chat you through what it’s like for me, my journey with mental health, and what it’s like for me as a business owner and why I chose to be a business owner. So grab your favourite drink and let’s get into it.
It’s world mental health day today, when this episode goes live, I’m recording this on the Friday before. I am thinking about my journey with mental health, my experiences of mental health, the people I love and care about who have had mental health issues and thinking about how important it is to share and how important it is to give experiences to other people who are struggling to help them to know they’re not alone, that lots of people struggle with this it’s really normal and that you can still carry on and do some things in life and it’s not the end, basically.
I think I remember when I first realised that I had issues with my mental health, I felt like it was a bit of a failing. I felt like it was something that was going to really define me and for some of my life I suppose it did, and that’s fine because that was how I was dealing with it and I just wanted to give a really honest and a really open account so that if anyone out there is struggling they can kind of listen to this and feel like they are not alone, basically. So I’ve had a lifelong struggle with mental health, I had quite bad depression in my early 20s and that lasted most of my 20s and it got less powerful as I got a bit older. I realised that a lot of the problems I was experiencing were to do with the way that my body was processing hormones on a monthly basis and that I was really struggling with different levels of my hormones and it was quite an eye-opening experience for me to read about other people who were struggling with mental health and their cycle then find a way to monitor it and to help it by the way that I look after my body, so diet, exercise and thinking about the way that some foods actually have a really positive impact on my mental health and some foods don’t and that really helped me.
That also kind of coincided with me stopping the weight loss/weight gain/weight loss diet, industry diet journey that had been on for most of my life that was just something that I realised wasn’t helping my mental health it was something that was actually making it a lot worse, so I walked away from that , as it wasn’t really serving me – it wasn’t helping me. I started eating more intuitively, I started thinking about my cycle and my hormones and eating things that really help with those things and I found it really made a big difference.
I also had severe anxiety when I was teaching, and that actually made me leave the profession which was so sad, because I love teaching – I found it so rewarding, I loved being around the students. It was always a different day, and it was just it was lovely it was the best and worst job is how I always describe it to people: the best job because you’re tough getting to know these amazing characters; you’re going to help them learn and you’re part that journey of their life, and it’s hard to monitor your mental health if you’re working in a profession that is like that. Some people do completely fine in it and they’re amazing and some people really struggle. I think it’s a really common thin, that people going to teaching because they love the idea of teaching people, they love the idea of sharing, they’re big-hearted and they really want to give to people but actually just it’s quite a draining profession. It’s a wonderful profession but it’s a difficult profession to be in.
The anxiety I had when I was teaching was quite surprising; I don’t think I recognised it as anxiety until I had actually left the profession and I went to the doctors because I was having chest pain and I genuinely thought it was a physical problem. It turned out to be anxiety and I think I’ve never really thought about anxiety before, I’d never really thought I had anxiety, or because I’d had mental health issues before and struggled with depression in my 20s I was quite surprised that that’s what it was, and again I found ways to cope with that through journaling, through yoga and getting to the root cause and trying to really work it through by enrolling in a good programme. That was really helpful at working through those difficulties that were causing anxiety.
So I became self employed and that for me was a real necessary thing. I felt like being able to manage my day, being able to take time out if I needed to meant that I could do what I love doing, so combining the teaching I loved and the marketing that I loved and helping people grow their businesses – combining all those things, but also doing it on my own schedule when I’m giving everything and can get everything is really powerful. I don’t think it’s easy to be self-employed and manage mental health and I’d say that currently I’m doing really well – really happy with our kind of ‘journey’ but then things can always change it never stays the same. You can have really great months, six months, years even and then something will happen and it could change and that is the thing when you live with mental health, or when anyone can have issues with mental health – it doesn’t discriminate, you know, anyone can experience these problems.
I think being self-employed has been a great decision for me, it felt like being able to take some power back, it’s felt like I can decide how I work, it’s felt like I can really get involved in the things I’m really passionate about and give them everything but not make it become something that will completely drain me or make me poorly really. If we’re talking about teaching in that really frank way that’s what happened, I became quite poorly. I think it’s been a really good journey for me, it’s really worked for me, it makes me really happy but it’s not for everyone. I think mental health is something that can occur at any point to anyone, I don’t think anyone’s really immune. I think everyone can have periods where they feel really low, everyone can have periods where they have depression, everyone can experience anxiety, you know I know lots of people who I care about and who I love have struggled with mental health – it’s a really common thing now. The more we talk about it the better: these conversations are so important because we need to normalise it. It needs to be as normal as physical health in our conversations: there is no stigma about having a mental health issue, or feeling low, or feeling anxiety, or feeling depression; or being depressed or being clinically depressed and having medication – none of those things are a problem. It feels like they are when you’re experiencing them obviously and I don’t want to diminish that; as someone who’s been through it it feels like everything when you when you’re going through the worst parts and even though some of the normal day to day feelings of small anxieties about a particular meeting you’re going to – all of those things feel really big when it happening to you, but when you look at it from outside when you’re in a better place which can happen and does happen, then it does feel better and you can see that that was your mental health and having that impact.
The things I do as a business owner to help my mental health…I have a clear morning routine now: it’s taken me ages to get to the point where I have done this. I read Atomic Habits by James Clear – if you’ve heard anything from me before you will know that I love that book, it’s amazing. It really helps me to understand how to build successful habits and my morning routine is based on ‘habit stacking’ so everything goes after each other so it all gets done, including making sure I have the right kind of foods that help me to feel better and make me feel clearer in the day and drink enough water and all those things that we know really help us but sometimes if you’re prone to neglect or mental health issues, you might not do them as a routines are adding that morning routine has really helped me to make sure that I get the things I need.
Yoga programmes: I found that one of the first things that goes when I’m having a tough time mentally, when I’m feeling drained or exhausted or when it’s a bit of a tougher mental health period is exercise. It’s one of the first things I kind of ditch, so it’s a really clear warning sign to me. I think that exercise actually really important when it comes to mental health, you know I think that being able to even something small has a really positive impact not only on the endorphins in your brain but also gives you a feeling of achievement, so I try and do yoga programmes so that there are 30 days and that missing a day feels a bit like it’s not the right thing to do – it gives me an incentive to keep going. Currently on day eight of a programme and you know sometimes I fall off about their 20 but that’s okay I then get back on and start again or start a new programme and I find that those things keep me focused, they keep me going, they keep me in a routine that makes me feel more positive gives me a good start.
I try and do them in the morning so I’ll do my morning routine and part of that is to do yoga and part of it is to get in the shower, because one of the things I found when I was really struggling with mental health is simple things like getting in the shower or brushing my teeth were really difficult, so those things are in my morning routine now so they’re not really negotiable.
The next thing I recommend is get involved in some kind of online community, obviously lots of people are working from home at the moment, if you’re self employed you probably previously worked from home like I have, but an online community is just a really nice place to feel involved. You don’t always have to be taking an active part in it: you can just be reading comments, replying to the odd thing, joining in some calls, you can be doing some workshops, so I’d really recommend that. I joined the Co-working club and it’s definitely one of the best things I’ve done for my business, but definitely for mental health. Feeling connected to people in similar situations is just such a lovely feeling and it’s one of the things that I think makes you feel more alone if you haven’t got that connection, that’s more likely to make you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, in my experience.
Breaks: I’m not great at taking breaks! I really like to keep working, and that’s a real problem, because mental exhaustion obviously leads to issues; it leads to all kinds of things that can happen, so it’s important to take breaks and to take restful breaks. I think that a break at your desk with your lunch is ok, but it’s not going to be as restful as if you take some time away from your desk or if you don’t look at your phone or don’t look at your laptop while you’re eating. I think actually, importantly, it’s important to see time off as a positive. We have kind of had this hustle culture running through the veins of working yourself or having a side hustle for a very long time now. I know some people are starting to rebel against that, and I fully respect that, because I think that notion that we should all be working all of the time and hustling hard is quite damaging for mental health. It makes you feel like you are not doing enough if you’re deciding not to do it. It can make you feel like you should be working more, and then guilty. It can cause all kinds of negative feelings inside.
I think that working all the time is going to send you into burnout: you’re going to end up completely exhausted and you’re going to end up needing to take a serious amount of time off in order to recover, so rest, breaks, really important, and I think that taking weekends off and not allowing work to slip into them is important. I mean, if you really enjoy your work and you want to do a bit at the weekend, completely, but it’s all about balance: it’s all about what feels right. If you feel like you have to work because you’re so behind and everything’s mounting up and everything sounds very stressful, I think that’s the time to take a bit of a reset and to think about what you’re trying to achieve by working at that pace, what you’re trying to achieve more generally and whether you think it’s sustainable working like that long term. I don’t think working like that is sustainable long term, I think you really need to be thinking about how you can streamline elements, maybe remove some elements, maybe get help from somebody like a VA, hiring someone to help you or trying to automate some things. You need to think about whether this is a lifestyle you can sustain in a year’s time, and if it isn’t then probably you need to think about making some changes.
I physically turn my phone off some evenings and weekends. I watched The Social Dilemma (like everybody, I think!) and although I knew these things were true I didn’t really respect that, because it’s part of my job: I grow my business, I help other people grow their business using social media, and other online tools, so for me it kind of felt like, well, I need to be on social media all the time, it needs to be something I’m doing while watching TV at 8 o’clock at night, and actually it doesn’t need to be something I’m doing in that way. It needs to be something I’m doing intentionally, and I’m thinking about, and I’m being involved in, and I’m giving my time to it, and I’m not half-distracted, writing comments that don’t make any sense, or replying to things and confusing people! It needs to be something that is purposeful and there, and you’re doing it but you’re also taking a break from it. So, for me, turning off my phone when I’m not using it is just a really good way to stop me from accidentally opening something and finding out what’s going on on social media, or going through my emails, or doing something else I really shouldn’t be doing if I’m having downtime. If I’m having a rest, if I’m having the night off, having the weekend off or having a break from working, then really all of those things should also stop.
It also helps if I keep a boundary in place, as I think that’s where things become a bit difficult mental health-wise, if the boundaries are unclear, so you’re needing to be on social media to do something with your work, but then it gets blurred and the next night is the same and it becomes a habit. It becomes a negative habit and something that makes you feel not as positive as you could be feeling.
Journaling: I’ve journaled on and off for quite a few years now, and I think I’ve used journaling more in the past when I’ve been in a really bad position, and I’ve used it to help me work through my thoughts and feelings. I did a group programme a few years ago, and journaling was massive – it was the biggest part of it, and gosh it was so helpful – really helpful. The things I wrote down I didn’t know I was even thinking or feeling, so journaling’s really powerful. I say I try and do it a couple of times a week; I’m not as good at doing it every day and I could and should get better. I do always do it when I’m having a bad day, so if I wake up in a bad frame of mind, or if I’m feeling negative, or self doubt, or any of those things that can really spiral and become an issue with mental health, then I’ll force myself to sit down and write about it. Sometimes it’s not very pleasant, but it needs to be thought out, and said, and reappraised as something different, and I do find that really really helpful.
The last thing I do is I listen to podcasts and listen to a lot of music. I find music is always a good way of finding out what kind of mood I’m in: what I chose and how I’m feeling is always related, so uplifting music if I’m feeling good. Sometimes I’ll listen to Max Richter when I’m working and, you know, sometimes when I’m not not in a great place with my mental health that won’t really be a good thing, but if I’m in a good place it’s really claiming to me, so I can really tell what mood I’m in by what I listen to. And podcasts, I went through a phase at the beginning of lockdown where I couldn’t really listen to podcasts, I felt like there was too much information already swimming in my head, there was too much in the news, too much going on, but I do listen to lots of business-y podcasts, lots of true crime podcasts, but I know what kind of mood I’m in by what I decide to listen to and sometimes the true crime ones are not…I’m like ooh, I can’t listen to that today, I’m feeling a bit too fragile, so that’s a really good way for me to see how I’m feeling on a daily basis.
So the takeaway this week: that it’s ok to talk about mental health, is I think the main takeaway (it took me a while to think about that)! But that’s the big takeaway, that we need to normalise talking about mental health, and I think World Mental Health Day, and Mental Health Awareness Month, and there are lots of charities out there doing amazing work, and it’s becoming something that is being talked about more. I think there’s still a lot of stigma attached to men talking about mental health, and I think they’re the kind of conversations that will naturally occur over time as we talk about it more frequently. I think there’s no shame in having mental health issues, you know, I definitely wouldn’t have recorded something like this a few years ago. I definitely wouldn’t have felt strong enough or confident enough or like I could share this, because I’d have been worried about what people would think, actually, I’d have been worried that people would think my business was not successful, or not as good, or was being run by someone with a mental health issue and all of that is…well it’s a bit silly, really, because that’s not the case – none of those things are true. But having mental health issues, those are the things that you think, so yeah, normalising mental health conversations, and if you’re struggling with mental health, talk to somebody – reach out to somebody – people are so kind, people want to be there for you. It might feel awkward, as we’ve still not yet normalised this conversation, but people care, people want to be there for you and I’ve only ever had wonderful things from people if I’ve said anything. And if you run a business or if you’re working from home at the moment or even if you’re not, think about how you can instill some routines and get yourself into some great places mentally before work, how can you make yourself feel positive, how can you help your mental health on a daily basis, what kind of actions can you take to just make yourself feel a bit better. I’m not suggesting in any way that being positive can heal mental health, because I can definitely say that is not the case, from my own experience, but I think that if you can get yourself into good habits, and if you can find yourself in a place where you can be positive or can try, then sometimes that really does help. If you are struggling, do think about seeking help, because there are so many amazing options out there: there are so many things you can do and so many charities you can help, your doctor will be very, very, very empathetic, because we’re talking about this more, and it’s important that people who are struggling get help. Life is to live, it’s not supposed to be so hard; it’s supposed to be a challenge, but it’s not supposed to be so hard.
Listen to the podcast episode here
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