At the start of October, two things happened to me for the very first time. I launched a new business, Thea, and had an anxiety attack, all within about 48 hours of each other. Coincidence? I think not.
The attack lasted almost a whole day and the ripple effect even longer. I’ve never really struggled with my mental health, so I was shocked at the physical impact it had and frightened at how close to the edge I had come. Usually, I have no problem understanding my emotions and am always able to ask for help when I need it. But this was different – I didn’t know I needed a lifeboat until I was drowning.
In the days that followed, I wrote an Instagram post detailing my experience. But what I didn’t talk about was the emotional cocktail (the strength of a Long Island Iced Tea) that comes with launching a business.
After a few weeks of introspection – and some great chats with my incredible coach Tommy Ludgate – I now have a better understanding of what these emotions were and how they combined to create my truly awful anxiety attack cocktail.
Tommy also helped me understand ways I could change my mindset to reduce the chances of ending up in this scary place again. I wanted to share my experience – and Tommy’s Tips – with the F&F Community in the hope that if anyone finds themselves in a similar situation they feel less alone and more empowered to navigate the, sometimes rocky, road to business launch.
Coni’s Anxiety Attack Cocktail
2 Parts Exhaustion
It would be easy to write off what happened to me as classic burn out. Whilst it was definitely more complex and nuanced than that, exhaustion certainly played a big role in my depleted emotional resilience. In the weeks leading up to Thea’s launch, I was averaging about 5 hours of sleep a night – working compulsively into the early hours and then bolting straight out of bed at 6am, being pulled back to my computer by some sort of magnetic force. It was a totally unsustainable way of working, but the adrenaline I was experiencing was a stronger stimulant than any George Clooney endorsed Nespresso pod.
As anyone who has launched a business knows, the adrenaline pumping through your veins can be your biggest ally and worst enemy. It’s the thing that helps you push harder, create more – but it’s also the culprit of all of those nights spent staring at a dark ceiling, just willing yourself to switch off. Not only was I struggling to sleep. but between working on the business and meeting the needs of my current clients, my self-care and wellness routine had fallen completely by the wayside, My body was in constant fight or flight mode – so it’s unsurprising that eventually my mind pulled the ejector seat.
Tommy’s Tips –
- Set time aside for you. Whether this is a self-care practice that builds your energy, or a regular time each week in your work schedule to recalibrate.
- Morning/bedtime routine. Decide on some morning and bedtime rituals that help kick start your day, and wind it down.
1 Part Self-Doubt
My inner critic is not a new guest to the party in my head. I’m a perfectionist and a realist, so I’m always hard on myself and often don’t allow myself to dream too big.
Whilst I working quietly on my business behind the scenes, my critical inner soundtrack was an (annoying, but manageable) low hum. However, once Thea launched it was like it got plugged into a supersonic speaker. Suddenly my inner critic was having a Hacienda-Esque rave with it’s best mates Self-Doubt, Imposter Syndrome and Fear of Failure. They danced around to all the big hits ‘Who Do You Think You Are Launching A Business?’ ‘You Can’t Handle The Pressure Of Being A Founder’ and my personal favourite ‘No One Is Going To Want To Work With You feat. This Is Going To Fail’. They were having a great time! I, on the other hand, was not.
Looking back, it’s no wonder my mind was so clouded with negativity, that I lost sight of the sun for a moment. I wanted to bask in my achievement, feel proud about how far I had come and get excited about the future. But every time I let myself enjoy a slice of positive pie, my self-doubt would creep in, fan the flames of my anxiety and remind me of all the things that could go wrong.
Tommy’s Tips –
- Question root of negativity. Can you connect back to a situation or experience that has fed into your self-doubt?
- Challenge the narrative. Challenge the critical thoughts you are having. Are they true? Do you have any evidence to say that they are true? Are they from a reliable source?
A Squeeze of Overwhelm
When I reflect back on all the emotions I was feeling in the lead up to my anxiety attack, what strikes me is that they weren’t all negative. I am probably in the happiest phase of my life (global pandemic aside). I have a wonderful relationship, a much-longed-for puppy, meaningful friendships and, finally, the career I have always dreamed of. But sometimes the weight of carrying such precious cargo can take its toll. Watching your dreams materialise in front of your eyes can be a bit blinding.
I’ve heard people describe life as juggling with a mixed set of glass and plastic balls. The glass balls are the aspects you need to keep in the air constantly, so they don’t shatter. The plastic ones are less important, the ones you can afford to drop now and again. They won’t break – they might just roll to the back of the sofa, and hang out there until you have time to find them and get juggling again. Right now, everything feels like a glass ball and that can be pretty overwhelming.
When you launch a business, it is all consuming I have never cared so much about the work that I do or the clients that I support, and whilst that is exactly the kind of purpose and passion I have been chasing my whole career, it’s also a lot of mental and emotional pressure.
Tommy’s Tips –
- Take a grounding breath. Breathe in through your nose for 7 counts, and out through your mouth for 11 counts. Repeat a few times.
- Journaling. When you are feeling wobbly, take some time to write your thoughts down. Putting them on the page means they’re not putting a heavy pressure on your mind.
A Dash of Guilt
Juggling glass balls can feel overwhelming – but it also comes with a whole bunch of guilt. Whenever I took a moment to look up from my work, I was confronted with all the things I had let slide whilst dedicating myself to Thea. The 20 unread Whatsapp messages from friends I had been ignoring, the damp load of clothes in the washing machine I had completely forgotten about, the acne outbreak that only rears its head when I’m not looking after myself properly.
I felt guilty that I had been letting myself and others down in the pursuit of a professional goal. But it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying, or being selfish. I was stretching myself as far as I could, but glass balls were getting dropped and broken left, right and centre. My inner critic piped up again – “Not only are you going to fail at business – you’re already failing at everything else.”
My anxiety reached fever pitch not when I was on a work call or on a deadline, but when I was late to meet friends for lunch because I had been stuck at my desk. It was the guilt that pushed me over the edge – my failure to be founder, friend and fiance all at the same time. 2020 has merged our work and personal lives like never before, but for founders this delicate balancing act is even harder – and more crucial – to manage.
Tommy’s Tips –
- Reframe the narrative. Try the same exercises above relating to challenging the narrative, but for your personal life.
- Set some boundaries. Consider what you truly want to be doing with your time and emotional supply. Be sure to hold yourself accountable to keeping your personal time sacred. Notice where you are using up your emotional supply and whether you need support from loved ones to keep this topped up.
Whilst I hope you never have to stomach your own anxiety cocktail, the fact is that many of us will encounter some, if not all of these emotions on the journey of being a founder – and there’s no shame in that. Keep Tommy’s tips in mind, keep being kind to yourself and remember – even though it can feel lonely in the eye of the storm, there are fellow founders everywhere that know exactly what you’re going through. You’re never alone.
About your author
Coni is a freelance writer and content creator, specialising in femtech, women’s health and sustainability. She is also the Founder of Thea, where they bring together experts in brand strategy, copywriting, content and graphic & webs design to help progressive businesses affect positive change.
You can find out more about Coni and her business here:
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
After a stressful time, nothing feels better than kicking off your flip flops and lying down on a sun lounger somewhere warm and sunny.
It’s no secret that we’re all feeling the pinch more than usual at the moment. The cost of living crisis, Brexit, geopolitical upheaval and the pandemic mean that as far as our wallets are concerned, things are (unsurprisingly) tough.