Is anxiety in business inevitable?

By Rob Twells 2 years ago . 7 minute read

As a business owner, you battle uncertainty daily. Will you make enough money? Will you lose clients? Are my team happy? Whilst I’ve always felt stress can almost be fuel for success, however the stress involved with running a business can be detrimental to your mental health and the success of a business.

It’s not surprising entrepreneurs are more prone to anxiety. Entrepreneurship requires a level of bravery. It’s certainly not a career path suited to most people. As a business owner, you’re in charge of every decision when it comes to growing your company. There are often large sums of money involved, months of planning, years of hard work, and long stretches of time where success can seem a distant hope. It’s stressful at the best of times and utterly terrifying at worst. When it’s good, it’s great but when it’s bad, it evokes fear – even when there’s nothing to be fearful of. Being fearful is natural, but it’s when this fear turns into anxiety, that things become dangerous and self-defeating.

Like many business owners, I tried to do everything myself (alongside my business partner) in the first few years of my startup and experienced burnout. This cost me months of running on empty, both physically and psychologically. Something that still creeps up on me to this day.

We’ve always succeeded as a business and always feel excited and proud when we achieve something we set out to do. Yet in the background, I still struggle – wondering what I’ve put on the line to be an ‘achiever’.

But what causes anxiety in business owners

“The more you have, the harder it will fall”

Over the years, as we’ve done better as a business, the team has grown, the overheads have grown and my standard of living has slowly got better. It ‘feels’ like there is more to lose.

“What happens if?”

Business is all I know, all I’ve ever known and probably all I can ever do. I’d be a terrible employee and I know I just wouldn’t be happy. So what happens if that ever has to become a reality?

“Will my luck run out?”

Sometimes in business, it’s hard to actually piece together the formula of what got the business to where it is now. A lot of it ends up feeling like ‘luck’. Surely luck can run out at some point?

“Am I a fraud?”

When you do well, you naturally get more praise. Awards, people talk and quite frankly blow a lot of smoke up your arse. “But, apart from working around the clock to my own detriment, I don’t really think I’ve done much”. You can often feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud – like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through luck. Going to look pretty stupid when they all find out aren’t I?

“So much to do, so little time”

It’s not uncommon to find yourself with 10 problems in the business, 5 clients trying to phone you, 120 emails in your inbox and a dog crying because he wants attention (well, in my case). “I NEED to sort out this problem with sales otherwise we won’t get any new business. BUT I need to get a proposal out by the end of the day or we’ve got literally zero chance of gaining that person’s business”. That kind of scenarios often happen and you constantly find yourself in a catch-22.

Putting a pin in it

Over the years, all of the above has become easier to manage. Don’t get me wrong, I have my wobbles but it’s much better than it has been. Here’s some of the things I’ve learnt to do…

You ain’t perfect, stop trying to be

We don’t have to get things right the first time and it’s okay to fail. The most important thing is to keep moving forward and learning from any mistakes or missteps along the way. If we’ve got an idea for a new business we shouldn’t agonise over creating the perfect plan. Our instinct should be to share this imperfect idea with as many people as possible. We need to listen to their feedback, integrate what we hear and work out how we can make our idea even better. We need to detach our self-worth from our ideas in order to be able to share them freely without fear of being judged.

I am not the business

I have allowed myself to be defined by my business’s performance – its revenue, profit, client happiness, and employee satisfaction. The problem here is that every failure (and there are always failures) was a blow to my self-worth. When you see each little mistake as hurting your value as a human being, decisions become scarier and scarier to make – to the point where simple things become downright agonizing.

I’ve since built a balanced life that embraces all the other parts of my identity – values, family, friends, hobbies, side projects, and other interests. It’s important to know that you matter outside of work. Your self worth should never be defined by your business’ worth (or your net worth, for that matter). I still have weeks where it’s bad, but nowhere near where it was!

Taking care of myself, physically

Being in business can often lead to a lack of time, which can ultimately mean not making the gym, or eating enough. I put a huge priority on exercise. To the point where I block it out in my diary now. It’s the one hour of the day where my phones off, it’s just me and I can relax a little whilst knowing I’m doing something that will impact performance positively. My team probably think it’s odd that I swan off at 3pm to head to the gym, however, it’s important for me. After the overload of decisions and problems from the previous 7 hours of my working day, that hour out is a game-changer.

Work less

As I write this, I’ve come off the back of 2 weeks working none stop. I mean 7am until 10pm (which I understand may seem small fry to some). I’ve struggled to do so much as watch an episode of Peaky Blinders with my Mrs! I’m going on holiday in approximately one hour, I don’t even know what time my flights are yet – I’m lucky that my partner is so organised! That aside, for the last year or so, I’ve definitely worked less. I try to put a hard stop to my working at around 7pm to relax, unwind and prepare for the following day. Did it have an impact? Nope – the business arguably did better, I was more energised and overall performed better.

To conclude

Whilst I don’t feel that running a small business will give any kind of consistency with how much you can and can’t work or how much you can and can’t go to the gym – but there are certainly times you just need to accept that you can’t do everything in 24 hours, and that’s ok. I’ve learnt to get better, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

About Rob Twells

Managing Director, Frogspark Ltd

In 2012, I set up Frogspark whilst studying full time at University. Since going full time over two years ago, Frogspark has formed a fantastic team, worked with some great clients and is fast becoming one of the most widely known agencies in the local area.

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