How’s that self-care going? If you recall, in the January issue of Retailing Insight, I shared with you some exercises in self-care to prep your mind for the next 12 months to help you get into the mindset you need for success. I challenged you to find your word for the year that defines how you want to feel. So, did you start doing things that help you feel the way you want to feel? Or have you — like most business owners — sometimes forgotten about the part of any business growth — the personal part that involves self-care of the mental health kind!
We are all aware that business owners are the last people to take care of their mental health. There are too many other things in mind that are urgent and seems to always require our attention. They feel more urgent than going for a walk, meditating or searching for other forms of therapy.
I am in the class of leadership with you where the self-care that involves my own mental health gets pushed far down the list at times and I start to resent anyone around me that really takes the time to care for themselves. When that happens, it’s a warning telling me that I am about to crash into burnout. Being the brain and heart of any business puts you smack dab in the place where you are mentally and emotionally competing with stories like Mark Zuckerberg or Sara Blakely.
Even if you are not competing with them in your mind, our society — including your well-meaning support system — is measuring you against those successful stories as you grow your own enterprise. The idolization of the Fortune 500 and the hustle it takes to get there is real, as is the “fake it till you make it” attitude that forces business owners to hide their vulnerabilities and look at mental health self-care as things only weak people need. This pressure may push entrepreneurs past limits and blocks, but is not sustainable as a lifestyle.
My first search for studies and information on mental health for business owners before I started writing this article was to focus on the mental health of employees and the importance of leaders and business owners to highlight their employee’s mental health. Instead, I found more proof of how business owners, like parents and caregivers, put their well-being last.
There is an assumption that if you got to the place of ownership and leadership, you have your act together. Don’t forget, this group of Type A personalities is again the perfect “fake it till you make it’ crowd and self-care is not often in focus for the growing busines owner. Yet, as the flight safety instruction says before a plane takes off, “place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” Have you ever wondered why that is? It’s to ensure you are not disoriented when helping others. When you care for all parts of yourself, including your body, your mind, your emotions, and your spirit, you are not making yourself the limiting factor that restricts your business growth.
What Are Self-Care and Mental Health?
Self-care and mental health are not buzz words. Yes, they seem to be co-opted in marketing from skincare to candles, but not everyone’s self-care looks the same, not everyone’s mental health is managed in the same way. Going back to the exercises published in January, it will tell the tale of how best to continue your own self-care and check in on your mental health. How to celebrate your wins, find your gratitude, admit your challenges and align with how you want to feel, and learn how to capture that in a word to inspire you for the year.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care is, “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical and mental health. Self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and boost your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily routine can have a big impact.” They go on to state that this looks different for everyone from exercise to sleep, eating healthy to staying connected to people. In the insightful world, we know it can also mean setting healthy boundaries, taking time to meditate, cleansing our energy regularly, and watching our reactions to mundane interactions.
Care for your mental health also means maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. When you are always giving to others and not taking time to refill your mind and spirit with things that bring you joy, exhaustion quickly follows. Burnout can be overlooked as chronic colds or flu, depression, insomnia, changes in eating habits, body aches, and even changes in alcohol or drug use. It sneaks up on you and can take a long time to recover from, especially when you can’t just quit and find a new job, ‘cos you own the joint!
Through working with my coaches and therapist I have found a few ways to continue to build a healthy relationship with myself, put self-care toward the top of the list and check in on my mental health on a regular basis. The more I value my own mental health, the more I can value and support it in others, clarify my boundaries, stop reactions before they are irreparable, and stay out of others’ drama.
Ditch the Story
There is a big difference between the facts of the moment and the story we create in gaps of what we don’t know. We naturally create a story when we are uncomfortable with the void of information, thinking “they probably meant this” or “I bet she thought that.” We want to make sense of the world around us so we can move on with certainty. But guess what? There is way more uncertainty than we realize, and it belongs to someone else. It is not ours to control and that can leave us feeling very uncomfortable.
When I am getting swept up in the emotional drama of what is happening, it’s time to check the facts and ditch the story. This is doubly important when you are already in an emotionally agitated state because you are probably just looking for something to keep you angry. The facts are what specifically happened, the story is what you assumed the motivations or thoughts of the other person were. The story is never about you and is always about the other person. For instance, noticing they walked loudly into the room is a fact. Thinking they stomped into the room is a story. Stomped implies motivation or thought from the other person. Ask questions before you create a story. Tell people how you are being affected by their actions and that it is creating a story in your head so they can share with you their facts.
Nothing is Wrong Here
Is there anything wrong? Seriously? Check in. Is there anything actually wrong? Sometimes a lot of stress, a lot of change, even a lot of success can make it feel like something is wrong or someone is doing you wrong. This question goes along with unraveling the story. Often, there is nothing wrong, it is just different. People are doing things differently than you would. They are reacting in an unexpected way. Maybe sales are not what you want them to be, yet nothing is wrong.
Those past two years were a test. Everything was different and we needed new solutions for every area of our business and lives, yet in most cases, nothing was wrong. The tool of de-caring that there is nothing wrong and checking in taps into your mind, emotions, and intuition. It also requires you to take a quiet moment to reflect on how you are feeling. Are you emotionally reacting, are you seeing something that is out of the norm, is your intuition telling you to pay attention? Eliminating the story of other people will help you tap into your intuition to see if really, there is something wrong, or something different.
Sit in the Suck
Sometimes we need to sit in the suck, understand it, understand how we got here, figure out the lesson, and then… stand up. Sit in it, then get out of it, both things are important. When you avoid the suck, the uncomfortable truth, you are bound to repeat it and the next time will be worse. Sitting the suck may seem counterintuitive to mental health self-care, but delusion is certainly not a healthy alternative.
I have made some pretty bad decisions in my time as a business owner. When I excuse them away, make them someone else’s fault, and stay in the story of “you just don’t understand,” I am being delusional. I end up repeating those mistakes in a more damaging way. When I make a bad decision and take a moment to sit in the suck, own that choice, and admit I was wrong, I am now free. I can now look at the circumstances that led up to the decision and learn from them. The circumstances didn’t change, but my perspective did.
Recess time is not only for kids, but also important for adults. It allows time for all the input or chatter in your brain to clear. Five minutes, five hours, five days, every one of us needs time to recharge our batteries, aka mental health. Cooking, painting, singing, walking, traveling, gardening, etc. Everyone has a variety of hobbies or interests that are their own personal recess to refill and recharge.
Business owners are often the last ones to take that vacation, but why? You can be so refreshed when you return. Your mind is clearer, and you are ready to tackle what is next. When I ask my entrepreneur colleagues, they are riddles with guilt for spending the money and time away from their business or they don’t trust their staff to keep the doors open while they are gone.
Find a way, an hour at a time, to start creating recess for yourself. Do something not associated with your business and explore a new side of yourself. Take a class on something you don’t have to be an expert at. Make a terrible vase in pottery class or lopsided cake in a cooking class. For a few years, I took a martial arts class and would not test for a belt. I stayed a white belt at the end of the line for as long as I could and it was a relief not to be in charge of one single thing.
Entrepreneurs move from one thing to the next and forget to celebrate the wins along the way. I guess you don’t need to be an entrepreneur or business owner to qualify for that statement. We are all on the hustle, “that’s done, what’s next?” It starts to feel like a never-ending grind and not worth the price we are paying. This week, think about one thing that you and your team accomplished and celebrate it. Put a goal on the board and when everyone achieves it, have a reward or a party. At the very least, get some poppers and whoop it up for a few moments.
Rewarding your staff for a job well-done is an excellent retention tool, rewarding yourself is equally important. It’s good for you as the boss to get the kudos too. That way, you are more likely to hand them out easier. If you don’t reward yourself or celebrate your own winning moments, you may become miserly with praise to others.
Time to Call in the Experts
After my company hit a major milestone that I was working towards for a decade, I fell apart. There was no “going to Disney World” now that I hit that goal. There was only a lot of anxiety and fear that I would lose everything I had gained. I had PTSD over past losses and was looking for the next betrayal in every team member. I needed help to figure out how to be a successful business owner instead of a struggling one. I knew how to survive. I didn’t know how to thrive. So I found a therapist and a business coach.
Yes, they were both expensive. Yes, I fit them into the non-existent budget. Miraculously, I was able to afford them because as I improved, my business improved. Imagine that. Often, we think we cannot afford this self-care because we need to fix something or create something that will have a more specific return on investment. At the end of the day though, you are the most important investment in your business. Your personal return on investment is immeasurable, yet it can also make a profound change to your bottom line. The National Institute of Mental Health advises us to reach out for support if we are experiencing any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks as they are a sign of burnout:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
- Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities.
As inspirational writer Alan Cohen says, “do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” Take care of yourself as the precious resource you are as there is only one of you and you are crucial to your business. After 30 years in business, I have discovered that there will always be another crisis, urgent phone call, upset customer, missing inventory, and the list can go on… but the bottom line is that it will never be an ideal time to step away from your business to take care of yourself, until you make it a priority.