How Entrepreneurs Can Deal With Crippling Anxiety

October 1, 2015

On the outside, most people see me as a confident go-getter who isn't remotely camera shy and takes on everything that comes her way. I constantly have people asking me how I'm able to be so confident, put myself out there and look fear in the face as a build an online brand.

What many people don't know, probably because it's not something I've admitted publicly, is behind closed doors I suffer from anxiety. I'm not talking mild stress here and there either; I'm talking the crippling kind of anxiety where you're dry heaving and you feel like your heart is going to pop out of your chest.

I want to be clear about something; despite popular belief entrepreneurship did not cause my anxiety. I've always had it. My last semester of college was spent battling panic attacks and taking medication. My anxiety is always there, lying just underneath the surface waiting for something to set it off.

However, I would be lying if I didn't say the very nature of entrepreneurship can exacerbate it. I chose a career path with very high highs and very low lows - not exactly easy for someone who can already naturally feel this way during any given period of time

Seeing as how I, and several other entrepreneurs who suffer from crippling anxiety, aren't doing the 9 to 5 thing anytime soon, it's important that we learn how to manage this before it manages us. The truth is we can run successful businesses, even if we're dealing with some emotional chaos.

Accept Your Anxiety

I was having a conversation with a colleague about my anxiety. I was asking him how he was always so calm, cool and collected whereas I always felt on edge. He responded by saying, "It's just my nature."

That's it. It's just the way he is.

This may seem counterintuitive, but anyone who suffers from anxiety can tell you that the more you resist it the worse it gets. I once had a doctor tell me that the worst thing I could do during a panic attack is to get even more worked up trying to fight it.

Even worse, I've often times felt ashamed about my anxiety. I always kept it hidden from my public life - until now.

For those of us who struggle with anxiety day after day, we just need to accept this about ourselves. For some reason, it's just how we are and there's no shame in that. If we can accept it, instead of always trying to fight it, then we can take the necessary precautions when the monster rears its ugly head.

Stick to Your Routine

One thing I have found incredibly helpful in managing anxiety as I build a business is to stick to my routine. More specifically, I stick to what Marie Forleo dubs non-negotiable time. It's those two or three things that center you and keep you from losing your marbles.

For me, the non-negotiables include exercise, meditation, reading a book before bed and sleep. I know that if I'm not getting these things on a daily basis that my emotions will take me for a ride, so I make sure to prioritize these activities above anything else.

Practice Essentialism

It's no secret that the current state of work lends itself to people believing they need to be available all the time. If a friend sends us a message on Facebook we need to drop what we're doing. If a client emails, we think we need to respond right away.

Quite frankly, it's exhausting. And for someone who suffers from anxiety it can cause your chest to tighten every time you have a new phone notification.

The solution is to guard your time and start saying no.

The book Essentialism: The Pursuit of Less, walks readers through the idea of removing anything from our lives that isn't essential. That means saying no to pointless meetings, saying no to things you don't actually want to do and setting boundaries.

It takes practice and it's very uncomfortable at first, but it can make all the difference between breathing easy and feeling your heart rate starting to speed up.

Become a High Performer

Sometimes entrepreneurship requires you to put out some fires and think on your feet. It's also said that an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.

While these are great skills to have when the stuff hits the fan, we have to learn that not every situation requires it.

In the popular LinkedIn article, High Performers vs. Workaholics: 7 Subtle Differences, the author notes how a workaholic thinks everything that lands on their desk is a fire that needs to be put out. Meanwhile, high performers know how to say no, complete the goals they had in mind first and prioritize. In other words, high performers are not reactive to what's going on outside of themselves.

This is very subtle indeed, but once you understand how a high performer operates you can use it to help keep your anxiety triggers at bay.

Final Thoughts

Your anxiety doesn't need to keep you from building your business, putting yourself out there or taking risks. You just need to make sure to put the proper mechanisms in place to help you manage your emotions. For those of us who are naturally anxious, we may just need to put in a little extra effort than others.

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