You know that feeling: Your thoughts are flying at 90 miles per hour. It’s new business ideas, it’s deliverables, it’s remember-to-text-your-friend-tomorrow-it’s-her-birthday. It’s mental hyperventilation.
The thoughts are going so fast you can barely complete one before the next comes zooming along.
When you’re an entrepreneur, the professional is very personal. You’re pouring everything you have into your business. Work-life balance? Please. It’s not as though your life is here, and your business is over there. When you’re a one-woman shop, you wear all the hats. And with those hats come many responsibilities.
You knew it would be hard, but…
When you started your business, did everyone and their uncle tell you it was going to be hard? That advice can be frustrating because it’s not actionable.
No one told me what exactly to do when the going got tough. I don’t mean to imply that we have the corner on tough professions: a lot of jobs are challenging. But there is something unique about being solely responsible for all the moving parts. And since it is impossible to be good at everything, it’s inevitable that some of our responsibilities are hard for us.
That can feel pretty devastating when you are all you’ve got.
This professional stress is often compounded by a lack of structure that traditional jobs can provide. There is no boss holding you accountable, no annual review, no regular paycheck. You have to make those things happen. When I started my business, I became a lot more anxious about money, my value, being respected, imposter syndrome, spending “enough” time with friends and family, having non-work-related hobbies, and taking care of myself. These worries add a mother load of pressure to our work responsibilities.
Sometimes our thoughts are so relentless it feels like we’re trapped. Get me out of my head! you want to scream. It’s a like a tea kettle: After enough heat, the whistle starts shrieking, signaling that something’s got to give. So what happens? An epic meltdown. Tears, screaming, wanting to punch things, panic attacks, and more.
It might take a while, but afterwards, we feel better! The release brings clarity and can prompt good change.
Cycles of pressure and release are inevitable, and help us learn and grow. The problem occurs when we avoid these releases until they are explosions. Periodic meltdowns are natural, but epic meltdowns are painful, and they needn’t be so debilitating. What can we do to mitigate these epic meltdowns? Embrace -- and complete -- the cycle.
Let yourself complete the cycle
Let’s talk evolutionary biology: When we feel threatened, our mind wants to fight, flee, or freeze, accompanied by a huge dose of adrenaline. And if we freeze, that adrenaline has nowhere to go. Like a tea kettle, it eventually explodes out of us in tears, screaming, or punching.
When the “threat” we perceive comes from frequent, low-to-medium level anxiety (as opposed to, say, being attacked by a lion), fight and flight don’t make sense. So we freeze, but the pressure is still there. We go along, ignoring the anxiety or staving it off with coffee, wine, and sweets. Unless we create a “valve” to release the pressure and complete the cycle, it builds until we melt down.*
So how do we release the pressure before it explodes out of us? What follows are a list of “valves” you can build into your days to complete the cycle regularly and prevent epic meltdowns. Your task? Figure out which are the best ways for you to release the pressure you feel.
The entrepreneurial meltdown toolkit:
1. Exercise: Go for a run, pick up boxing, chop wood, get your sweat on with YouTube videos in your living room. Hard physical work lets your body process the pressure “naturally,” the way it would if it were to fight or flee.
2. Hug: Oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonding and tempers anxiety, is released with physical contact. A long hug or cuddle will boost your oxytocin levels and make you feel more connected and confident, thus releasing pressure.
3. Meditate: Regular meditation helps relieve anxious thoughts and reminds you of other parts of your life besides the whirring of your mind: physical sensations, sounds, breathing. I found meditation difficult (for many of these reasons!) until I discovered guided meditations through the app Insight Timer. Now, regular meditation helps me release the pressure that builds up while I’m entrepreneuring. A favorite meditation is Mindfulness for Releasing Anxiety, by Glenn Harrold and Russ Davey.
4. Practice self care: Taking care of ourselves focuses our attention on our bodies and, unlike much of what we do in business, isn’t for anybody else: It’s just for us. Regular self care is in healthy contrast to the pressure we feel when running businesses. As my entrepreneur friend Lauren explained in an email, “Here's what I do when I want to relax -- I take care of myself. I put on a face mask and have some wine, or a bath, or I paint my nails, or I do a hair treatment. It's completely removed from work and my computer, and yet I still feel a sense of accomplishment because afterward my skin is nicer.”
5. Talk: When pressure is rising in your mind, tell someone about it. Saying your thoughts out loud changes them; they sound different than they feel in our minds. It may help to have designated people to talk to about this, such as a best friend, partner, or fellow entrepreneur. You can help each other release pressure by questioning whether you agree with your thoughts or brainstorming solutions for whatever brings you anxiety.
6. Write: If confiding in another person isn’t your thing, try writing. Get the thoughts out of your head and onto something physical. If you keep track of thoughts on paper, your brain doesn’t have to try so hard to remember them and hold you accountable. When I’m feeling particularly fearful, I write down what I’m afraid of, and then brainstorm actions I could take that would mitigate my fear. I don’t have to act, but it gives me confidence to know there are steps to take that will improve the situation.
7. Tears: Sometimes all there is to do is cry. The physical release (tears) lets us process and symbolically release thoughts and feelings we keep inside. Recently I felt anxious and vulnerable about the future of my business. Instead of ignoring it, I went for a walk, sat by a creek, and cried. It wasn’t fun, but I felt much better after I let myself cry, rather than trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.
We solopreneurs are self-reliant, brave, and driven people. We want to do all.the.things, and with ambition comes pressure. As the pressure accumulates, it has to come out. We can ignore what we feel, but it will release -- epically. We do ourselves and our businesses the best service by letting the cycle complete. I urge us all to release the pressure regularly, and avoid the shrieking of that tea kettle.
What do you do to release pressure? How do you manage and/or avoid meltdowns? Please share in the comments!
P.S. Trying out a few of the options above to avoid explosions will help you in identifying your “non-negotiables” -- what One Woman Shop calls the essentials of Solopreneur Sanity. Find more about it in their free, 5-day email course below.
*Author’s note: The concept of completing the cycle was introduced to me in chapter four of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, an excellent book on women’s sexuality. Many of my suggestions for completing the cycle are adapted from that book.
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Wow, this is a FANTASTIC article that I can really identify with! As a solopreneur it is so hard to wear the hats (especially finance and bookkeeping for me!) so it’s nice to have someone acknowledge this is AND give actionable ideas on how to stay sane.
One trick I do most week nights is simply leave my phone in my purse or turn it off and be present while watching TV, which for me is “me time” to zone out and just chill. By eliminating the distraction of work and the countless apps and games that call my name to waste time, I’m able to fully relax and “turn off” for the rest of the evening.
Another thing I’m very firm on is setting boundaries with clients. So if I get an email off-hours and I am working (I’m not a morning person so my working hours are usually 10am-6pm), I’ll respond if I feel like it, but schedule the email out for the next morning so the expectation of communication remains within business hours. I use Right Inbox and I know Boomerang is also good.
Finally, some days when I’m really stressed I just don’t do anymore work. I simply take a day off to catch up on the countless errands or household work I’ve neglected so I feel more accomplished. I’ll also clean up my house and work space to prep it for productivity the next day. I’ll make a to-do list of the crucial work tasks I have to get done, leave it on my laptop, and then go read or watch a movie.
Hope these are helpful tips, not for everyone, but it keeps me from going cray cray! 🙂
Rachel – these are great tips! Setting boundaries is SO important, and I love the idea of using productivity in other realms (like household) to keep up a sense of accomplishment while getting a break from work. But, that TV time (for me, it’s reading fiction) is also critical. Our brains need to zone out and enjoy it!
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