Managing your mental health as an entrepreneur

how manage your mental health

We’re back with another interview in the series where I talk to other experts who share their advice on how to redefine success and take that ONE STEP towards your goals. Here I talk to Tania Diggory, founder of Calmer, which provides support for people who are running their own business in the areas of wellbeing and in particular managing your mental health as an entrepreneur.

This is such an important topic and I’m grateful to have Tania sharing her insights with you. Mental health has been getting a lot more attention in the media here in the UK, and I really feel that the work that Tania is doing is much needed in the context of entrepreneurship. The irony for me lies in the fact that many of us leave our corporate nine-to-five jobs in large part because we want to break free from the burnout, long hours and unreasonable pressures of that world – only to recreate those pressures and struggles in our own businesses.

However good our intentions, I think there are a couple of things that tend to happen. First, as we first set out to build our business, the reality is that there is immense pressure to create something that works, that brings in money and that proves to ourselves and to others that this is a viable option. Second, if we’re doing it right, then our business is something that we’re incredibly passionate about, we have a strong sense of purpose and want to help people, and we love what we do – which can inevitably lead to ‘choosing’ to work long hours and not take proper breaks.

Tania and I talk about the dangers of social media here and the two extremes that we’re presented with. On the one hand, we have the Gary Vaynerchuks of the world saying that they don’t sleep, they hustle, hustle, hustle, and that’s what life as an entrepreneur is about. (This also correlates with our beliefs around freelancing and entrepreneurship being inherently precarious and really hard work.) On the other hand, we have Tim Ferriss proposing the ‘Four-Hour Work Week’, creating a passive income that allows you to work a couple of hours from the beach and then go off and live an extraordinary life. (The reality, of course, is that Tim Ferriss works incredibly hard.)

The area where I want to focus attention is on the ‘in between’ space. It’s where you’re not struggling to make ends meet but you’re also not making millions. You’re working hard but you’re also taking breaks. You love your work but you also love what you do when you’re not working.

This takes time and effort (although it certainly doesn’t take as long as working in a corporate job for 45 years and then taking a pension and doing what you actually want to do at 65+). It takes asking for help and getting the support that you need. And it takes focusing on building your dream business while also managing your health and wellbeing.

There’ll be much more on this in the coming weeks and months… and we’re kicking things off with Tania!

Watch the full interview on video or read on below to get Tania’s insights on managing your mental health as an entrepreneur.


Tania DiggoryWhat does success mean to you?

There’s a saying that I use in alignment with Calmer, and it’s part of my new book as well. I say, “Here’s to your inner and outer success.”

I believe success comes in these two different forms. It’s what people see on the outside – how you’re progressing in your business, your work, in what you’re passionate about – and it’s about what your inner success looks like to you as well, what you’re achieving personally. We all have our barriers that we face or potentially limiting beliefs, and overcoming some of those can feel like a massive victory. It might not be something that people see on the outside, but for you it’s something that you feel really proud of.

Another key word that I usually use in our workshops, and our marketing material, and so on, is ‘managing’. It’s not about arriving at a place, and then you feel confident 100% of the time – every day, you wake up, and say, “I’ve sorted it! I know exactly what I’m doing, where I’m at, how things are going to go from now on.” Obviously, you have a vision, and you plan for it, but it’s about your personal journey, as you grow your business, and as you build on what you’re passionate about.

I think outer success really follows from that, it really radiates from you. When you feel like you’ve overcome personal challenges and you’ve learnt more about yourself, and you’ve got that congruency in how you are with people, your messaging and your business, and how you deliver your services… people can recognise that authenticity. I think you can really see when someone has really worked on themselves and got to where they are through a lot of hard work.

Why do you think this is such an issue for entrepreneurs and business owners?

I think there are a number of reasons.

I think sometimes people do try to do everything themselves – and it’s not really designed in that way! It’s very powerful to be able to delegate tasks as you grow your business. Also, for the business to run effectively, you don’t personally have the time to be managing every role that is needed to grow a business. I think we can all relate to that early stage where you’re wearing lots of different business hats and getting things off the ground… That’s one thing, but even then, you at least need the support network of people who really nurture your ambitions and encourage you. That emotional support is really important, wherever you get it from. Eventually, though, you will also need people who can help grow and enable parts of the business.

There are also the expectations that we put on ourselves, and I think that we can be particularly hard on ourselves when we’ve got something we’re so passionate about. We can see what it can be like, we’ve got that vision, really clear in our minds – and if we don’t get there quickly, it can feel quite disheartening, as we question, “Why aren’t things moving more quickly?” I believe it’s like anything in nature: things need time to grow and to nourish. It doesn’t just happen overnight.

I think social media also doesn’t help here. There are a lot of businesses that are portrayed online as overnight successes: people living this glamorous lifestyle and working 20 minutes a day and earning millions! They’re not being honest about the journey that it took to get there. It’s fantastic if you get to that point but you need to be honest with the people who follow you and the people who aspire to achieve what you’ve achieved. Are you also sharing the struggles that you may have gone through? What the journey is really like, and all those ups and downs?

It’s like building and growing anything from scratch, there will be a lot of learning curves, there will be a lot that you learn about yourself that you weren’t necessarily aware of, and you’ll build your resilience. I think that transparency is really important.

What are some of the strategies that people can use to overcome these challenges?

I love being an entrepreneur, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, and I think that passion is so important: having a purpose and really believing in what you’re doing, what problem you’re solving for people. It’s so important to nail that early on, as it’s your biggest motivator in the long term.

It is ultimately about working smarter, but I think it does take a bit of a journey to get there and find out what smart working means for you. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’, and it depends on the kind of business you run, whether it’s service based or product based… It really depends on so many factors. It’s trial and error really, and figuring out what works for you.

Notice the pressure you’re putting on yourself, and ask if this really needs to get done today. It’s about potentially shifting the priorities a little bit. Sometimes it can be that simple: “What can you say no to? What can you put aside for now? And how can you potentially re-jig things?” I have a little task-based list that is completely agile, it moves around every day. There are a lot of great tools and techniques out there that you can try.

Make sure also that you’re taking time in your day for yourself, for self-reflection on your journey as well as the business. It’s quite common to get so caught up with everything and not take those little pockets of time. And, actually, there’s a lot of research around how long you can actually focus in one go anyway – it’s about 90 minutes, and then you get tired. So listen to your body and give yourself what it needs. Your body has an incredibly smart way of telling you what you need. You might need to take a break, to step back, do something else entirely and then come back more refreshed.

I personally think having mentors is really important: people who can coach you and support you on your journey, people who’ve been there in different ways. And having a support network of people who can really encourage you.

If you’re in a group or a community of like-minded people, that’s incredibly empowering. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who don’t encourage your dreams or ambitions, who challenge a lot of what you’re doing, or ask negative questions… that negativity is an incredibly powerful force that can easily bring you down. As the author Daniel Priestley says, “Environment dictates your performance.” If you’re around people who are on the entrepreneurial path, and they’re even further ahead, and you see them progressing at an impressive rate – that shows you what’s possible, because you’re actually surrounded by it. You’re not just thinking about it, but you’re with people who all have a big goal ahead of them that they’re working towards. That’s an incredibly nurturing environment.

How can we get comfortable with asking for help when we need it?

We all need support now and then, and it’s just about having a conversation with yourself. Taking a step back and trying to look at your situation objectively, look at things from the perspective of a third person. This is something I do in my coaching sessions with my clients.

You’re often thinking too much in your own head, relying just on your conscious mind, which is very logical, process driven, task orientated – it gets things done. If your emotional needs are different or you need some extra support and you’re denying yourself that, then that can be quite challenging. So take a step back to reflect, not be so much in the conscious mind of thinking, thinking, and instead observe the situation from a different perspective. Ask yourself, “What is it that I really need here? What kind of resources would be really helpful? What could take me to that next step?”

If it’s a question of pride, you can ask yourself, “Okay, how can I release that?” I’m sure we all go through that at some point, wanting to feel like you can do everything. There’s no shame in reaching out. In fact, I think it shows great strength, because you’re just being really honest and getting yourself what you need.

What’s the one step people can take today towards managing their mental health as an entrepreneur?

I would say it’s about disassociating yourself from a situation where you feel like things are bogging you down and you’ve got a bit of a crowded mind, and it’s quite difficult to think clearly. Take a deep breath, in and out, take a mental step back and look at yourself in that situation. This can be an incredibly powerful technique, just getting that third-person perspective. Assess the situation and explore what resources you have. Often, your conscious mind is so busy and loud that you don’t realise what strength you have in that situation, or how you can reach out to get support. So the one step is, literally, to take a step back and review the situation honestly with yourself.

If you’re struggling to find support, maybe do a little bit more research. We’re living in the most exciting age for entrepreneurship, for setting up your own business, and there are so many programs, so many events, and networks available. Know that there is support out there!

You can find out more about Tania’s company Calmer and get her free ‘Wayfinder to Well-being: How to create a business-life balance in 5 easy steps’ on her website. You can also get her little pocket guide to ‘Inspiration, support and encouragement for the entrepreneurial mind’ over on Amazon.


2 Responses

  1. Hi Anna, I have been doing a lot of work on this recently, and I’d say its highlighting to me that its increasingly one of the most imporatnt parts of getting anything sstarted and off the gorund, as its what will bring it all down as much as any outside forces. A strong mind-set and healthy mental state is your number one priority. Great read and look forward to seeing more of this. 🙂

    1. That’s great, Chris, it is such an important topic. There’ll be another blog post on recognising and avoiding burnout as an entrepreneur, and Tania will be back doing a guest live in the Facebook group next month so keep an eye out for that!

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