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3 Ways I Manage My Anxiety as a Business Owner

I am often asked how I manage my mental health as an entrepreneur. Beyond the social and physical distancing that accompanied the global COVID-19 pandemic, I also had to prepare for the uncertainty of how the virus would impact my business.

I run a career coaching company serving senior managers and executives in Silicon Valley and high tech. I had no idea how the economic downturn would impact the career coaching industry. While Mr. Peanut (my anxiety) wanted to use the pandemic as an excuse to pester me, I have been successful in managing my multiple mental health challenges (generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder) through the pandemic.

Here are three ways I cope with anxiety as an entrepreneur:

1. Set realistic expectations as a business owner.

The to-do lists can quickly pile up when you are an entrepreneur. This is especially true if you run a one-person show like myself. Over the years, I have learned creating mile-long to-do lists is a recipe for anxiety and panic attacks.

Now, I keep all of my projects on a virtual calendar. Each evening, I write out a list of the top items I plan to achieve the next day. I keep the list short to ensure there is ample time throughout the day for client emergencies, last-minute interview coaching or career coaching calls and, of course, a coffee run.

The key as a business owner is to set realistic expectations. This is especially important for those of us living with mental health challenges. As an entrepreneur, I am in control. This means I do not have to work long days. Instead, I can work a half-dozen hours, then wrap up my career coaching sessions by the time my partner gets home from the office.

2. Create an anxiety savings account.

Money used to be a major anxiety trigger in my business and my life. Despite a successful career coaching business with a waiting list that extended months, I constantly worried about generating business. Mr. Peanut would yell, “What if you never close another sale?” My anxiety and OCD often neglected the fact I have never gone more than a few weeks without a sale.

Shortly before the pandemic, I set up a savings account. I named it my “anxiety savings account” to quiet Mr. Peanut when he worried about money. It worked.

When the pandemic first hit, the savings account quieted my anxiety. I had zero sales the first 10 days of the pandemic as job seekers adjusted to our new normal. Each time Mr. Peanut stressed about sales, I simply pointed at my savings account. While I have never had to tap into my savings, it calms my anxiety to know I can go months without needing a new coaching client.

3. Regularly attend therapy sessions.

Therapy has been critical to my anxiety reduction and stress management. Weekly meetings with my therapist provide a space to process the joys and stresses of running a small business.

Between meetings, I keep a list of successes and anxiety triggers to review with my therapist. It is soothing to know I have a dedicated hour each week to process the unique challenges I face as an entrepreneur and as someone living with mental health challenges.

Outside of therapy, I attempt to be diligent in applying the techniques I learn in my sessions. I also celebrate how far I have come in managing my anxiety as an entrepreneur.

If you are struggling to cope with stress and anxiety as a business owner, consider implementing a few of these strategies. You’ve got this!

Original photo by author