Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Let me be honest: this past summer was a tough one.
Just when I thought I was settling into a solid routine in my professional life, some major shifts in two of my businesses totally blindsided me, and reminded me of how much some things are simply out of my control.
I have a better handle of things nowadays than I ever have, but this is the sort of personal experience that generally triggers anxiety in me. And I’m well aware of how easily anxiety can lead to depression. It’s simply exhausting, just being anxious all the time. Not eating enough because your stomach is knotted. Not getting the sleep you need because you’re too bogged down about what’s going wrong in your business. Not being able to relax and enjoy dinner with your family because your mind keeps drifting.
For many years now, keeping as far away from the edge of depression has been my number one priority. That’s a pit that’s no fun to climb out of, and much easier to just prevent than have to battle with over and over again. And this being said, the summer slump isn’t my first rodeo.
In cases of dealing with major anxiety or symptoms of early depression, I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't. Staying in action so I can do what needs to get done and keeping myself on track are both extremely important, so I have to put feeling good first.
Here are some of the things that have helped get me back on track in particularly rough times:
Allow yourself to feel the sad feelings. Resisting being sad or making it wrong only makes circumstances worse and stifles your energy. Strong emotions are part of the process.
In August, I really I needed a cathartic outlet, so I booked a therapy appointment, vented my feelings, cried and cleansed. I also talked to my (amazing and supportive) partner. Past me had always tried to soldier through, denying and hiding for fear of being judged or deemed a fraud. Clearing away all the pent up emotions was like shedding an old skin.
Talk about it. Share what you’re going through! You’ll be amazed not only at how much this can normalize your experience, but at how understanding your listeners will be. I shared my struggle with people in my business worlds: clients, employees, and others involved in my enterprises. I didn’t break down into a self-pitying mess. I shared calmly and authentically, to let people know what I was dealing with from an emotional and logistical vantage point.
I may not have always communicated perfectly and powerfully, but the important thing was that I communicated, rather than hiding out and leaving people to wonder what was going on. Sharing made me realize just what a wide and supportive network I have to tap into!
Identify the anxious thoughts for what they really are. Anxious thoughts are just that: anxious thoughts. Very rarely are they a reflection of reality. This summer, when worries would keep me awake at night, I’d work on catching and naming them: “Oh wait, that’s not what’s actually happening. That’s just my anxiety.”
Since I can only focus on one thought at a time, observing my anxiety and labeling it would take over the anxiety itself, and loosen its grip over my mind. Then I would switch to pleasant thoughts about my cozy bed, reminding myself that I’m in the present, in my bed, and that everything is okay right now.
Get physical. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but trust me on this one: in times like these, exercise should become your priority. At the height of my slump, I started by extending my morning dog walks. I'd put on 80s music and dance and sing in the kitchen as I prepped for the day. And then I worked my way up to cycling and yoga class. As soon as I began integrating these things into my regular routine, I immediately started to feel better. And when my mood improved, ideas started to flow, and springing into action became so much easier again.
But another part of “getting physical” should involve some much-deserved pampering. Nowadays, when I’m feeling down, I book a massage. I eat (not binge!) food I enjoy. I drink wine with my boyfriend, or share a joint while we laugh our asses off watching Dave Chappelle's Sticks and Stones. I'm careful to not overdo these latter habits, of course, but a little mini-vacation from worry and stress can be a very good thing.
Get inspired. Try turning your focus away from yourself and onto others. In tough times, I love watching documentaries about creative people, or reading their biographies. Over the course of my summer slump, I watched documentaries about Travis Scott, Elton John, and George Michael, and was reminded that great things come when people take risks, shake off concerns about what people think, and dedicate themselves to what they took on to build resilience. Sometimes, recognizing the bravery and perseverance of others is enough to make you want to leap off the coach and get busy!
Take basic care of yourself. Eat healthy foods. Slow down a little. Have a shower. Clean your room or your office. Do the dishes. Be loving and gentle to yourself.
Do the “inner” work. Re-connecting with your core self and values is so tremendously important and so often overlooked! I mentioned therapy as an emotional outlet. When times are tough I also read insightful self-help literature as an “emotional inlet” (I recently finished The Happiness Equation, and it was an awesome ready). I also meditate and do other kinds of energy work. I take seminars at Landmark and watch YouTube videos by Abraham Hicks, Eckart Tolle and others.
I’m infinitely fascinated by the human condition and why we do the things we do, how to overcome our primitive wiring and live more consciously, contentedly and creatively. Doing the inner work is what helps us get there!
(Here's a new meditation I just discovered on Insight Timer)
Deal with life moment by moment and day by day. When anxiety takes over, it feels like all time compresses into that moment. In that moment, it’s so easy to catastrophize your way into a downward spiral. I often imagine myself, 30 years from now: sick, old, disabled, living on canned food to survive. It sounds ridiculous, but in that emotional downward spiral, the image feels incredibly real; I become that old lady, living out all the stresses of a horrible outcome.
Working on being in the present moment and dealing with life, one day at a time, is a constant practice - and if you do practice it daily, boy, does it help keep you on track! Years ago, I remember standing in a washroom at a restaurant, dealing with business anxiety, and was suddenly hit by an amazing insight.
In business, what's really important is the outcome of the entire year. And any day is less than a third of a percent of a year. 0.0027% to be exact. So a bad day is just a tiny drop in the bucket of what the year can turn out to be. And even a bad year is part of the game of entrepreneurship (and life in general). We just don’t always get the outcome we expect; it’s how we deal with the outcome we do get that really matters.
A year is made up of many, many moments full of great, highly-anticipated outcomes and unexpected ones too, but in the end, it’s all a step forward in growth and learning.
Realize that you are not your situation. Because that's how you lose sight of the bigger picture. In my case, succeeding at business has always been tied up in my ego. I built a world in which failing at business meant failing at life. When I finally got to grips with the fact that I could lose everything and still be okay, I felt a sense of freedom and resilience. You can, too.
Create your “brave narrative.” I love this exercise. It’s a real positivity-booster. Imagine that you’re being interviewed by a big magazine about how incredible your life and business are, and how you got where you did. Tell the story of your journey: how hard it was, the amazing things that came out of it, what you learned. Imagine your goals as things you’ve already achieved. Let yourself get a sense of the level of accomplishment you would feel, and what new peaks you’d set your sights on. Feel how unstoppable and resilient you are. You can be that person.
When absolutely necessary, consider the help of a prescription drug. Sometimes, no matter what you do, your anxiety will just put everything else to a halt. I can’t tell you how often I found myself unable to eat or sleep at night, stricken with panic over some problem I couldn’t fix. One too many sleepless nights would lead me straight back into depression. So I asked my doctor for help and got a prescription for Ativan, which I occasionally take to help get me through exceptionally bad bouts of anxiety.
I’ll admit, I used to feel bad about relying on prescription drugs to take the edge off, but nowadays, I couldn’t care less. It helps me sleep when I’m exceptionally stressed. I also rely on glasses to see every day. I rely on coffee to wake myself up in the morning. I rely on pain medication when I get a headache. Mental distress is an unnecessary taboo, and I just don’t see the sense of depriving myself of much-needed relief in tough circumstances.
Remember that the toughest times lead to growth. Saved the best one for last! I have a quote on my office wall that says, “What you are going through is preparing you for what you asked for.” After all, there’s no other way to live a remarkable life, than through experience.
An Olympic athlete goes through incredibly hard training to win a gold medal. Entrepreneurship is a similar kind of privilege, and it comes with training of its own. Tough times provide that experience and carry you over obstacles. Looking back over the past 25 years of living this rollercoaster of a life called Being A Businesswoman, I know that each step of the way was in preparation for the next level. And that’s what this summer was about: preparing me what I asked for. Some next level shit!
Success really is found in the simple things: being lost in a moment, building meaningful relationships, feeling alive and in touch with your truth, creativity, and spirituality. That is something to always remind yourself of when you’re going through tough times.
When I’m climbing out of a slump and getting back to that good place with myself, I’m able to remember just what a fun, fearless, powerful creator I am. I treat my business as an art form. I have say in the matter. I get to choose how I spend my days. I made up this life and business, and it’s a wonderful thing.
So there you have it. That's my tried and true recipe for dealing with tough times. I know you'll encounter them, and I know that you, too, are a fun, fearless, powerful creator capable of getting what you want, including plowing your way through those tough times as productively as possible, and learning and growing every step of the way.
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