How to look after your mental health whilst building your business

How to look after your mental health whilst building your business

I love that there is so much less stigma than there was around this subject than even just 10 years ago.

Of course there’s a long way to go but we are getting better and there are so many more resources out there.

One of the reasons I became self employed was because I genuinely believed it would be mentally healthier for me than my high pressure job. I wasn’t wrong, it has been one of the single best decisions I have ever made but it’s not without it’s own pitfalls.

Starting your own business, going freelance or simply branching out can come with a plethora of triggers that you *could* feel blindsided by.

Imposter Syndrome

Perfectionism

Unpleasant feedback

Self Doubt

Stress

Anxiety

The great news is that these are all things you can overcome. The bad news is that you should be prepared to do the work. These examples are my own and the improvements have been based on my own experience. I’m not a medical professional – I just know what works for me and wanted to share that with you.

Imposter Syndrome

This one is a right bastard. It creeps up on you when everything is going swimmingly and often I find it’s at it’s worst when I spend too much time coveting other peoples business success or lifestyles.

So first things first. Remember who you are. You are an expert in your own experience, in your own point of view and your own business dreams – ONLY YOU are an expert in this area!

It’s this self awareness of your own skill-set, knowledge and experience that has people coming to you. If you walk into a room with someone who is doing something different or someone who is much more experienced in your chosen arena that does not negate your own individual experience, you’re the right fit for people too, this is when you should consider it an incredible opportunity for you to learn, not for you to shrink.

I know, easier said than done. There are a few things I do to make this less of a thing (and we all get it from time to time)

  1. Reduce my mindless scrolling – yep I uninstall IG or take a couple days away from the socials. I always take little breaks during the day or week anyway – I don’t have notifications on because it pulls me in and whilst I’m working or with the family/friends I don’t even pick up my phone. It really does help.
  2. I keep a file with all of the positive feedback I get and look through it from time to time. Reminding myself of the good I’ve done really makes a difference (I actually have a thank you card on my desk from a client who sent me the most beautiful flowers. It really helps)
  3. Dedicate a bit of extra time to do the thing I’m really good at in my business – it always makes me feel good when I have been productive and creative.

Perfectionism

Even in my old school reports my teachers would say ‘Amy is her own worst enemy’. I have been known to put things off or cancel things because they aren’t exactly how I think I should have made them. My standards of myself are higher than any anyone else has ever placed on me and less than I would ever place on someone else. It’s a crippling belief and behaviour pattern that can really negatively affect my mental health.

I believe it’s linked to low self esteem and I think that the key to overcoming this is accepting that you wish to be perfect but that there really is no such thing.

Things I do to help:

  1. I give myself realistic deadlines and commit to them
  2. I have a phrase I live by when I am in this mental space and that is ‘done is better than none’
  3. I ask myself outloud in the mirror whether this is just my perfectionism talking. This makes me feel a bit silly and in effect creates a diversion

Unpleasant feedback

I wasn’t actually sure what to call this stage. It relates to other peoples opinions and how they affect us. I still remember to this day the boy that told me my teeth were orange and even now I hate smiling and showing teeth. For him it was a throwaway comment (I had just eaten a bag of wotsits) to me it was the gospel truth because it was someone elses belief and I therefore have orange teeth.

When I went self employed I was thrilled and then people started saying things like ‘I must be mad’ or ‘That’s a brave step since you’re probably not going to earn much for a while at least’ and I felt my fear kick in and motivation dwindle. This is so so hard. With the advent of social media and the onslaught of opening ourselves up to other peoples critisism it is really tough not to be brought down by it.

There was a client (a small tech start up) who I had been so excited to work with but ended up having to ‘fire’. As we progressed they wouldn’t share relevant information and made it clear that they thought I should be selling their business to my family (who are very successful in their own fields in silicon valley) when I said no – any pitches would have to go through the normal channels – they told me I wasn’t committed to their business. It hurt because I 100% was committed in the Virtual Assistant role I had but they were asking me to cross my own ethical and moral boundaries by leveraging a familial relationship for their business (they also consistently paid 60 days late!)

I ended our working relationship but I felt bad because they said I wasn’t committed enough. This plays on my mind even now at times because it’s how I’m built.

I certainly don’t have any real tricks to make this easier and I definitely still struggle with wearing the weight of other peoples opinions but I think the best way to overcome is to try to work on your self confidence everyday. That will partly mean taking action and being more decisive, staying authentic and living a life of integrity and to strive to continually grow and build our qualities and strengths. Here are a few things I try to remember when it feels too heavy a burden.

  1. In the words of the great Rachel Hollis, ‘Other peoples opinions of me are none of my business’
  2. The way people talk to or about you is a reflection of them not you.
  3. As long as I am doing right by myself, my son and my family then I am ok regardless of what they think.

Self Doubt

This leads on nicely from the last one because self doubt is part of all of us however can be easily combatted if you work on it. My top advice for working on yourself doubt are:

  1. Take action and be decisive (it doesn’t give you the time to slip into the ‘what if’, train of thought)
  2. Accept compliments and actually respond. When someone tells you you did something well say ‘thank you for noticing, I’m glad it was a positive experience for you’ or something along those lines reflective of their compliment WITHOUT justifying what you did or being self deprecating (it’s harder than you think if you’re like me!)
  3. Help other people. This is my go to, firstly it takes me out of my own head but mainly because helping other people is bloody awesome and that makes everyone feel great.

Stress

This is going to happen whether you live in meditation on the beach in fiji or whether you’re starting a business from scratch, have screaming triplets and need to milk your own cow.

It is a part of life.

Stress is our body and brains response to an external influencing factor for example, I have to get 50 orders packed tonight and I’m running out of time and the kids need me.

This one sees me ask myself some questions – if the answers don’t help I will call a friend and talk it through.

  1. Am I being honest with myself?
  2. What can I get away with not doing to better support what I MUST do?
  3. Is there anyone I can ask for help

Anxiety

This is much like stress however, it is generally triggered by internal feelings and doesn’t need an outside stresser to trigger it. This one I find hardest to manage of the two because it creeps up on me. But here are a few things I find help reduce my anxiety

  1. Changing my space. If I’m on the sofa watching TV or at my desk writing content and I begin to feel anxious I stop what I’m doing and go to make myself a cup of tea or walk the dog or hang the laundry. Sometimes that is enough of a disruption.
  2. Accept that I am feeling anxious and ask myself why this may be. Sometimes it’s trigger is a real thing and that may need addressing. Sometimes the trigger is just in my head and that may mean I need to change my internal talk and work extra hard on positive affirmations and my internal talk for a little while.
  3. Ask myself – Have I slept enough? Have I drank enough water? Have I spoken with my best friends lately? Normally if I make sure I do one or all of those things I can reduce the level of anxiety dramatically.

Don’t forget I am just at the end of an email amy@theamyjohnson.com and if you need more support then you can click NHS MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT and you’ll find a list of all sorts of UK based support services that can help.

Catch you later, Amy x

Register your interest for my mentoring package by clicking SIGN UP TODAY above. You will receive the latest news and availability and are under no obligation.
What I learned about business by leaving school at 14

What I learned about business by leaving school at 14

I have shared a little about this before but I wanted to talk to you about what it meant to me as a teenager (14 going on 15) to leave school and how that has affected my life so far.

When I was 14 we relocated, moved 150 miles away to a whole other county. My baby sister wasn’t quite 1 and my brother was in his first year of UNI. Everything was pretty great, new home, new school new friends. Only it really wasn’t.

Unfortunately, there was an issue with matching where I currently sat in the curriculum with the place they were currently teaching from. They didn’t match and I would have to pick up a year of work I was never going to get the opportunity to do in a guided classroom environment. On top of this my chosen subjects from my previous school weren’t even available in my new county so again, I had a whole year to catch up on in new subjects.

It was hard but doable though, in all honesty I didn’t think this at the time.

Unfortunately, I think when you added that pressure to my emotional wellbeing through several huge life changes all happening at once I just stopped. My anxiety went through the roof I could barely leave the house without a panic attack.

I had insomnia and was diagnosed with clinical depression at which point they put me on Prozac. I still had no idea how I was going to get the grades I needed to be able to do the next stage of my journey which I had planned would lead me to university to study English and become a journalist.

After many discussions between the school, local authority and my parents it was felt that it would be best if they deregistered me with a view to doing the ‘resits’ course at our local 6th form college, this never transpired and just months later my parents decided to move back to the town we had originally left.

I was devastated.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I was perfectly happy not having to go to school anymore considering I wasn’t learning anything that I needed to progress. But I still had my heart set on those plans and I was, believe it or not, thrilled to be living in the new town which I loved.

As I had started to get better mentally, I had also gotten myself a job at TK Maxx and I loved that too. Yet another upheaval

It was a pivotal moment in my life.

I discovered that sometimes, the world around you spins differently to your expectation and knocks you off your intended course. It’s had some real effects both positive and negative and I believe that it has been instrumental in where I find myself today.

The discoveries I talk about here can be applied to your freelance business, small business or pivot in your career. Here is what I learned.

Don’t limit yourself to just 1 type of education

It’s not necessary to follow the path traditionally laid out and well trodden by others all the time. You don’t have to stick to only knowing what you know or only learning what you’re innately talented at. Particularly now, the digital world has opened up a plethora of learning opportunities that mean you can diversify your knowledge and expand your joy at the click of a mouse. Learning is available for everyone in everything, you can and should explore different things.

It’s good practice to self reflect

Sometimes, like in my situation, there are circumstances beyond your control. It’s absolutely normal to get caught up in the frustrations of this whether it me a ‘big deal’ like my situation or lots of small day to day ones like most of us experience. It’s important to set some time aside and really think about who you are and who you want to be and when you do reflect, you’ll find you know exactly what you need to let go of in order to do so. It’s a way to recharge AND recalibrate.

Figure out what and who inspires you

When things are up and down like a wild wave it can be hard to see the safety of dry land. It’s this time when you most need to feel engaged and inspired. I hope that you all find things within yourself that inspire and motivate you and ignite your spark but undoubtedly there will be times when that’s too difficult. It’s important to have a medicine bag of things, places, people and activities that inspire you so that when you need it you have easy access to it.

Be open to unusual opportunities

When you have been pivoted of course in the way I was you really learn to open up to possibilities. It has been allowing myself to be open to doing something different that ultimately has led to some of the most amazing experiences of my life. So stay open, you never know what’s around the corner.

When in doubt, action it out

I’ve written about having a bias for action before but this is key. When you are pivoted for reasons beyond your control it can feed into your self esteem and raise the ugly head of self doubt. I find that always, this is lessened by simply doing something. The act of doing is the medication for self doubt.

I needed more help than I got when I was trying to find my way, and now in a much more digital world than even 24 years ago, there is so much white noise around everything you might have an inkling to do. I created this FREE epic guide to freelancing and small business. Sign up for your copy below.

Catch you later, Amy x

5 Tips For Staying on The Ball as You Build Your Business

5 Tips For Staying on The Ball as You Build Your Business

None of these tips will come as a surprise to you really. I think if you’ve been planning or are in the process of starting your business you’ve probably been following a fair amount of business minded people, either on their social media, listening to their podcasts or reading their books. Maybe you’ve done all of the above.

I don’t claim to be an expert, I just know what’s worked for me (and my clients) so here goes, my top 5 tips for staying on the ball as you build your business.

Staying on the ball doesn’t mean that life won’t sidetrack you like a mofo from time to time, what these things have meant for me though, is the ability to bounce back, regain focus and maintain my motivation.

Start your day right

I used to be one of ‘those’ people that woke up at 5am – this started as a side effect of having a child that never slept BUT when I first started my business it really served me well. Now though, my body clock is changing, Josh is a teenager and 5am isn’t so fun. Now I make sure I start my day with these 3 rules:

  1. Don’t go on my phone for at least 30 minutes
  2. Drink, drink, drink I usually go for a glass of water first then have a lazy cup of tea (if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I share my morning mugshot and bed hair most mornings.)
  3. I have a shower. This is such a simple powerful thing to do and I’m not judging you if you woke up today looking like somebody dug you up and haven’t yet had a wash. I just know that on the days where I shower first thing I feel better, and if I feel better, I do better.

Exercise

This is something we hear all the time for various reasons. I find it’s really good for my mental health. I take my son Josh to the gym twice a week where I just do a bit of cardio and a few weights and on a Sunday I try to go to a class. The rest of the days I still try to increase my heart rate for at least 20 minutes and I do this when I walk the dog – we get a proper power walk on for the last leg and it really helps my mind clear. Again, it just makes me feel good.

Surround yourself with the right people

This is another big one in the land of self development and business coaching but there is a reason for that. The people in your circle will either raise you up or they will drag you down. This is your choice and if you choose right you will feel AMAZING and you will really leap forward.

This isn’t all about business success either, when you have the right people around you you will find that your passion grows, your enthusiasm grows, your confidence grows and as a result you provide those growth areas right back to those people.

Focus on the quality of your work and commit to excellent customer service from the start

This is actually one of the tougher than you think ones. I have a great phrase that I use when I find myself being a bit of a perfectionist (Done is better than none) but when you are starting in business things can feel a bit thankless, it can be hard to keep the motivation and things *can* slide.

Do what you do really really really well. Be the best at it that you can be and you are already halfway there. Don’t forget, your clients/customers are the biggest asset in your business and exceptional customer service doesn’t take much effort from you but it will mean return customers, referrals and recommendations and we all know how we feel when we feel looked after by the people we buy from.

Be the one they remember for the right reasons.

Remember that marketing is social

This is something that I have to remind myself frequently. So much of our marketing is digital nowadays but the conversation is so often one sided. What keeps me on track is remembering that I don’t just want a random purchase, I want ongoing relationships with my clients. If I want a relationship I have to build it and that means being social.

So don’t forget to show yourself, who you are, what your values are, what the customer means to you and how much you value what they’re doing.

If you found these tips useful I think you’d get a real kick out of my EPIC new FREE guide to Setting Up For Success. Grab yours by signing up below.

Catch you later, Amy x

Self employed life? The confidence crusher that is ‘what to wear’

Self employed life? The confidence crusher that is ‘what to wear’


In 1993/4 I was 11/12. I was also just about to hit 6ft 2 with a mop of unruly curly hair and size 9 feet. I felt like Godzilla.

Buying clothes was tough, what I could get was extremely expensive and way too grown up for my tender age to feel comfortable in. I lived in mens clothes that were as baggy as possible and my Reebok classics. My school uniform consisted of a sweatshirt my nan knitted and black mens joggers. 

During my teens and particularly as I started working and flirting 😉 I began to hate going to clothes shops. I wore cropped trousers (full length regular) and nearly always tied a jumper around my waist to hide the gap in my midriff. I had no idea how to dress that would make me look the way other girls did. 

I either felt like a boy or like a frump. There was never an in-between.

Did I always feel that way? 

Around 15 I remember being told that I should dress for the job I want and so, off we went to Long Tall Sally. We bought a pair of black figure hugging bootleg trousers, a minty green button up blouse and a black blazer. It was my first experience of feeling professional, smart and womanly (I thought my bum looked pretty ok in those trousers).

I got the job I wanted and I remember having my ID photo taken wearing that very same mint green blouse. I was the epitome of dressed to impress in my eyes.

Whenever I wore that outfit I felt smart, professional and capable of anything. It was like putting on a costume or a suit of armour – wearing it filled me with confidence in my ability to do my job, just like wonder womans bracelets or Batmans suit.

I got older, life changed, I stayed in the offices and worked my way up to senior management. On my best days I felt good in my clothes, smart and like I was taken seriously. 

I wasn’t smarter because of my clothes, I was more confident because of the way I presented myself. My confidence meant that I was able to better manage whatever the day threw at me and better management made me more confident. It was a self-fulfilling circle.

Then and now

Since then I have traded boardrooms, call centres, building sites and corporate offices for a little home office that is just off of my bedroom. I am decidedly heavier and my tummy can be really sensitive what with being full of benign tumours and cysts. 

Whilst brainstorming my content earlier this week (video will feature quite substantially) as well as planning in some in person 1-1 sessions, a full day event and some other real life connections I realised that I feel like that schoolgirl again, the one with the knitted school jumper and mens jogging bottoms. 

My mind wanders relentlessly to the ‘how to dress myself saga’ that I have created in my mind. If I’m honest it’s not just been recently it’s been for a long long time.

It seems like such a small thing but expressing yourself with your appearance is exactly what we all do, whether it be our hairstyle, our sense of fashion or whether we wear make-up or not. For me, it’s about the outside reflecting my personality and professionalism in perfect synergy but since I work from home and rarely see other people in real life I’m not sure what that looks like anymore. 

If I take that old advice and I dress for the job I want then I would live in my pj’s because my business is exactly what I want and I work from home, mostly unseen. 

Taking action, almost any action, will help get you through a confidence issue or emotional barrier <Click to tweet!

I don’t plan on worrying about it for too long, like with anything the way to move through it is to take action. So I have a make up lesson to book (Thanks to a Christmas gift voucher) and I can sort through my clothes but I do ask myself how much of this is because of the way I want to present myself and how much of this is because I want other people to like the way I present myself?

Struggling with figuring out who you want to be in your business? If you want to chat about anything feel free to email me amy@theamyjohnson.com

Catch you later, Amy x

Burnout

Burnout

I was ready to quit my old job over 2 years before I actually did. This was the job before the one I quit to go self -employed. For me burnout reared it’s head in a number of ways and I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what burnout meant to me so here goes nothing!

Somewhere in the last decade I found myself in a job I thoroughly enjoyed and I was super proud of myself. I did however have an insane need to prove myself. As a single mum with massive inferiority complex and low self esteem I was overwhelmed with the need to prove my worth and my value. Little did I know what the cost would really be.

The job was fun, full on, interesting and supremely intense. It was a never ending merry go round where I was literally on the receiving end of everyones unhappiness. It was incredibly challenging at times but also incredibly satisfying and to start with I loved every second of it.

Burnout wasn’t even on my mind as a possibility when I started. Then the business changed. The goalposts and my hours increased from 37 to 45 to adjust to that, I wasn’t getting paid for that mind you, I was salaried and there was no such thing as overtime. As the goalposts continued to move and being head of the department, I didn’t want to let the side down. So, I started getting home late and then working some more. At this point I was still enjoying it though so it was fine.

That’s what I kept telling myself anyway.

Only it wasn’t, I was working more and more hours, late into the night once Josh was in bed and then I started to wake up multiple times in the night then finally when I did get up properly I was exhausted. I was becoming more and more disconnected from everything.

If I added it up, I would have learned I was actually working over 80 hours per week. But I was still adamant I was fine. Once I started to lose sleep, my appetite skyrocketed and I was starting to snack, needing sugar fixes and something just to make me feel better my health was definitely starting to suffer.

I started to hole up at home when I wasn’t physically at work, I quit my exercise class and drifted away from catching up with friends, I had a good excuse, I was working…all…the…time. I was getting more and more worn out and was getting less and less sleep. Then the headaches started. Permanent, vision blurring, slurred speech and my goodness the migraines – I can’t even explain what those did to me. I started to catch every cold and viral thing going around and my skin had become a bizarre shade of grey.

I thought I was managing but I was slowly killing myself.

The migraines got progressively worse, my body started poisoning itself and all the extra work it was trying to do because I simply wasn’t taking good enough care of it dislodged some gallstones which got stuck in my liver duct, so I wasn’t being figurative earlier, I was literally poisoning me.

I went to a GP who dosed me up on medication that simply wasn’t right for me because she looked at the symptoms rather than the causes. Understandable maybe but I didn’t really understand myself better.

I couldn’t continue this way and was referred to a neurologist. He said ‘imagine you were holding your arms up holding weights all day, what would that do to the muscles in your arms?’ I was sitting in the chair in his office, running a temperature as he angled the fan at my head and helped me tip a bottle of water over my hair to cool me down. I couldn’t even think straight. He continued ‘what you are doing to your mind is the same thing, your brain is tired, it needs to rest and recover but you’re not letting it, it’s time to consider what is more important to you’

I don’t think I really took notice at the time. Over the span of a couple of years I had become incredibly lonely as my sense of disconnect grew and my sense of being unwell got bigger and bigger. I got myself into a rubbish relationship which only made me sicker and all the while I was pushing that 80 hour week for a job that in hindsight, really gave me nothing but a salary which was at least 15k a year less than it should have been.

I started taking better care of myself, I got out of the relationship but it took me another 9 months to quit that job.

Burnout fundamentally changed something in me and when I finally realised (or should I say admitted) what was happening and made the necessary changes I discovered that I had lost myself somewhere in the despair of it all. The person I am now is not the same one before burnout hit.

That’s what burnout was to me, it was despair, it was exhaustion, it was feeling un-tethered, it was physical illness and it was shame.

To crawl my way out of that hole I had to make some changes. I spoke to my employer and asked for support, they gave what they could and when that wasn’t enough I took an alternative position that had been offered to me by another company.

I radically changed my hours and reached out to some friends who understood me. I started to take my dog on long walks and set boundaries up so that nothing encroached on my quality time with my son.

Eventually, I quit being an employee altogether and became self employed. My focus on building the best business I can whilst honouring my physical and emotional well being and family.

I am still learning how to recognise the signs. For me some of the obvious ones are:

  1. Poor Sleep
  2. Finding myself overwhelmed around people
  3. Easily distracted
  4. Withdrawing into myself
  5. Increased appetite

If you want to sign up for my mentorship package to help reduce the overwhelm, reduce the burnout and maintain forward motion then click the button below for more information.

Catch you later, Amy x