Four Tips for Running a Service Business with Low Level Anxiety
If I’ve learned anything in the last couple of years, it’s this:
Basically everyone I know is dealing with anxiety on some level, and half of us are recovering people pleasers.
Everyone. Including myself. And especially (it seems) my fellow entrepreneurial women.
I didn’t even realize what I felt was actually anxiety until recently. I just thought everybody did a mental “who’s mad at me?” check at the end of the day.
Then I started being more open about how I was feeling, on social media and chatting with friends. That’s when I realized how common this feeling really is.
I didn’t think mine ‘counted’ because it wasn’t bad enough. To me, that nagging worry about never getting another client or being somehow discovered as a fraud was just my brain determining potential outcomes and figuring out how to deal with them. Constantly.
I’d hear about how anxiety manifested in other people and think to myself that I was lucky not to have those kinds of problems.
Then I’d eventually burnout from the constant underlying worry. Wash, rinse, repeat.
As my business grew, anxiety started becoming a bigger part of my week. Where before I might have a few bad days a month, I started finding myself needing calming breaths to get through a fairly mundane Tuesday without a knot in my chest.
The problem with having low level anxiety and running a business, especially in a service industry, is pretty obvious.
You have to be able to run a consistent, trustworthy business, when you’d really rather curl up in a ball and watch Gilmore Girls with one of those fake fur blankets and a sippy cup of coffee.
So how do you that? How do you become a queen of consistency when you can’t guarantee you’ll feel like it tomorrow?
I’m by no means perfect at this, but it’s something I’m working on tweaking all the time. Here’s what has worked for me so far.
Step away for a few minutes or even a whole day
This is a hard one for me. I love my work, and I feel guilty taking time off. I’ve got pretty firm boundaries around working nights and weekends (now), but the rest of my time is mostly spent in my office.
What I’ve learned though is that some days are going to suck. They aren’t going to be productive. I’m going to be sad, or tired, or inexplicably moody. I’m going to spend the whole day fighting off a feeling of impending doom or spinning in circles trying to find creativity in the middle of pea soup brain fog.
These days aren’t all the time, but they happen to all of us occasionally. And if you’re anything like me, you spend the whole day trying to force it instead of letting it flow.
Try stepping away instead. Take the afternoon off, or a whole day if you can swing it. Go out and hike. Sit on the couch with a blankie and binge Queer Eye. Do whatever fills you up.
If you can’t step completely away, take five minutes and a few deep breaths. Feel your feet on the floor and your butt in your seat. Listen to the room around you and remember you’ve made it through hard days before. They can’t eat you, and this will pass.
Stepping away gives your brain time to connect the dots in whatever problem you’re working on. It also gives your nervous system time to realize you aren’t actually being chased by a lion. Win/win.
On more than one occasion I’ve been able to knock something out in five minutes that I thought was impossible the day before, just because I had fresh eyes.
Use your bad day toolkit
You can’t avoid ever having a bad day again. But you can build a mental toolkit of things to pull yourself back out when it happens.
Brainstorm all the things you can do if you’re having a bad day. Think meditating, walking outside for a few minutes, searching “yoga for anxiety” on YouTube, calling a friend who can talk you down, finding a good therapist (do this one before you have the bad day).
Or whatever feels right for you… this isn’t a Buzzfeed list, it’s what actually helps you cope. Maybe it’s death metal and chocolate cake. That’s fine too.
I would so recommend looking into a few things that might be outside your comfort zone by the way. I use things like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping), positive affirmations (“I’m so good at XYZ!”), and positive aforemations (“Why am I so good at XYZ?”) on a regular basis to keep my thoughts in check. Google can tell you a ton of info on those.
Another thing I do every day is meditate. We use the Calm app and do a ten minute timed meditation every weekday morning, before breakfast. I love doing a longer 20-30 minute meditation on weekend mornings. There have been days I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were until they finally relaxed 9 minutes in.
Keep your list near your desk, or in your purse, or in Evernote. Or don’t. I have a list, but rarely look at it. The important part is to have a plan for what to do when you feel yourself spiraling into useless worry.
Automate your boundaries
This. Is. So. Important.
I’ve found that a lot of times my anxiety comes from letting my boundaries slip, either with a client or in my personal life. This can manifest in the form of late payments from clients, saying yes to events I’d rather say no to, or spending too much time working on something that isn’t in my zone of genius or even enjoyment.
A GREAT trick I’ve learned is to automate as many of my boundaries as I can.
Do you struggle with following up on late invoices? Most invoicing software gives you the option to send automatic reminders at certain intervals if an invoice isn’t paid. Use them.
Do you tend to cave and book appointments during hours you don’t really want to work? Set up an online scheduling calendar (I use Acuity) with your office hours and have people schedule time with you that way. It feels more professional than emailing back and forth, and most people won’t question whether you have Friday night at 9pm open.
Sit down and write out your policies and FAQs, plus anything else you want someone to know before they work with you. Put them in a lovely PDF and send them automatically to prospective clients using MailChimp or ConvertKit.
Take advantage of your phone’s Do Not Disturb mode. I love being able to talk to my friends during the day… that freedom is one of the things I like most about being an entrepreneur. But I have to put a limit on the amount of time I spend talking, or I'd never get anything done. It's much easier to use DND mode for specific blocks of time (just like I would in an office setting btw), than to ignore calls from people I care about.
Wherever you can set an automatic boundary and take yourself out of the equation - do it. You'll save the mental energy you would have used to make that decision and reduce the chances of letting your boundaries slide and causing more anxiety.
Last but definitely not least, take action anyway
Anxiety starts to suffocate when you take action. Even small action. Even if it ends up not being the right action.
The act of just doing something is sometimes enough to break the worry loop.
If you’re worried about taking the wrong action, pick the next small right thing you can do. It’s not about taking massive action, it’s about doing something to get the ball rolling.
It’s so much easier to build momentum when you’re already moving. Stuck on how to start a blog post? Write the middle and work backwards. Or choose to do one small thing to put yourself in front of a potential client.