How do our businesses affect our mental health? That's what we're discussing in today's episode with design agency owner Amy Cox-Tennant.
When Amy went from her day job to being her own boss and suddenly found herself without order, systems, processes or anyone telling her what to do, she didn't find it liberating. She found it overwhelming.
Her struggles grew so difficult that one day, someone found her crying under her desk in her co-working space.
In this episode, Amy shares the vulnerable and honest story of her mental health crisis, the tools, mindset and practices that helped her overcome it, and how YOU can bring more inner calm to your life and online business.
We don’t need to talk about mental health more, we need to listen
Nesha: So we're here today to talk about a topic that I guess some people find really hard to talk about. But that's why I wanted us to talk about it, because I don't think that business owners talk openly enough about mental health and it's something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with at times and yet something that we are usually hesitant to discuss with each other. Do you think there's enough conversation about mental health in the business world?
Aime: The level of conversation about it is going up which is great. But I think what we need to have is a lot more listening, both from people who are hearing about mental health issues and those that are dealing with the challenges of mental health. Even though we're all talking about mental health more, we actually need to listen and take action what we're hearing as well.
Nesha: I was talking to somebody else about this the other day and they were saying how they feel like when they start to talk about about their mental health problems to someone, that person tends to interrupt and tries to offer solutions. When really sometimes you just need somebody to listen to you.
Aime: Yeah, I think it's about making sure that when someone is being vulnerable in that way and sharing their experiences… that you take the time to really take it on board and absorb it and if you have got relevant experiences and you've been there, then it's okay to sort of discuss what's worked for you. But the most important thing is to let that person have their moment to really get it off their chest.
Nesha: Sometimes you may feel like you don't want to talk about it because people have tried to offer lots of solutions to you and just try to make you feel better, but they're not listening enough to you. So while it’s important we talk about mental health more, we also need to listen better. How would you say freelancing has impacted your mental health?
The difference between dealing with depression as an employed person vs as an entrepreneur
Aime: I've been freelancing for about two and a half years now, and I totally fell into it accidentally. When I started my self-employed life, it was off the back of a really bad experience with the employers. So I think it was kind of a combination of those two factors, like having a really low moment and losing all my confidence from that experience and then also falling into the terrifying prospect that I had no idea how to run a business.
When I started as a freelancer I still was depressed following a 15-year spell of depression. It affected me differently as a freelancer compared to how it affected me as an employee.
For example, when you’re depressed it's really easy to sort of bury your head in a list and just work through commands and when I was depressed and employed, that was easy because somebody else made that list.
When I was in charge of my list, I found it so hard to stick to what I was telling myself because I was the only one who would have the ability to reprimand myself and I was already doing a pretty good job of telling myself that I was failing.
As a business owner, the challenge of depression is the same, the condition is the same, but it affects you differently to how it affects you when you’re employed.
Nesha: Yeah, you do go from somebody telling you what to do to suddenly being in charge of not just your work, but also you’re the inbox manager, the marketer etc. You’re in charge of everything to begin with when you first start your business and you take on all of those different roles and it can be really overwhelming.
Aime: Yes! Like I said, I have a history with depression but also with anxiety and both of those involve a lot of rumination over this “I can't do it” mentality and when you literally are running your own business for the first time (and there are things you literally cannot do because you haven't learned how to do them yet), it's really easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism and negativity.
Like I think you showed some notes on Instagram the other day about registering with HMRC and what business entity to pick and that probably took me like three weeks because I had no idea what to do. And instead of spending an afternoon Googling and phoning up friends and asking “am I a sole trader or a limited company?”, I would just ruminate over it and say to myself… “What am I supposed to do? I have no idea how to pick my legal entity.”
Nesha: All of these things can be so overwhelming to begin with and then of course as you grow your business, you still have a lot of questions, just about different things like. For instance, when you grow to a point where you can take on a team, for me, it was like this big fraudy feeling that just made me so anxious because I was like, well, who am I to have a team? I don't know how to run a team. I've never been a manager before, what if people don't like me? It can bring on a lot of anxiety. So I think that's such a valid point that you made.
Aime: It’s all about catastrophizing. I think having the mental health issues makes it hard to keep perspective on a lot of normal issues. So for me, for example tax returns, I kept thinking… “I can pay someone to do it. But if I make the wrong decision, am I going to end up in prison?” I would just go straight to the worst possible scenario and I think a lot of time it's really hard to get your brain out of thinking that it's either perfect or it's the worst it possibly can be.
Aime’s mental health crisis
Nesha: I mean, I know that you've mentioned to me before that you had a mental health crisis in February 2018. Would you mind sharing a bit about that? So people can understand more your story.
Aime: Yeah, so it actually if it came off the back of one of the best periods of business. I had one amazing client who is a jewelry designer and I love the work I was doing for them. And then I found this collective of women on Instagram who had just started out but were gaining followers like crazy and I was kind of keeping an eye on them like some tactical Instagram stalking. So I just sent them a message saying do you want to do some collaborative workshops because I want to start running workshops.
It seemed like a great decision and the workshops went really well.
So what I was doing as part of the community just kind of exploded but I hadn't set any of the processes that would allow me to cope with all of these clients and customers. And I was getting to the stage where I was not happy if my projects weren’t 100% perfect. It actually hurt, being on the cusp of something that finally makes sense and is brilliant and not having the mental capacity or the actual business systems to deal with it.
I only noticed it was pretty bad because, in my coworking space, one of my coworkers came in and found me under my desk crying and it wasn't until that moment that I realized… “oh, this is really bad.”
More From This Episode
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Aime Cox-Tennant is the founder of Studio Cotton, a little marketing agency in Bristol. Specialising in supporting small businesses and creative start-ups in Bristol & London, Aime and her team provide design services, websites and support to brand owners on a limited budget.
More From Nesha
Hey there! I’m Nesha, the host of The Simple Business Show. I teach solopreneurs how to organize and simplify their business so they can do less and earn more. When I’m not podcasting or helping my course students, you’ll find me sipping caramel lattes in Starbucks, binge-watching This Is Us or traveling the world with my backpack and my laptop!
Looking for more ways I can help you? Here they are:
Organize & Automate - Use my premium course to organize your entire service-based business in just two weeks (on the side of your regular routine!) so you can stop stressing and fall back in love with your business.
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