Self Care is not Selfish!
According to the Health and Safety Executive, 526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, and 12.5 million working days were lost as a result over that period. As a self-employed workforce, we aren’t immune to work-related stress, despite the fact that many people around us may see our roles as incredibly flexible and convenient (which it can be!), or as a ‘side hustle’ for pin money.
It takes a certain type of person to become a successful entrepreneur. Anyone can start a business, but growing that business and sustaining it is another matter entirely! Self-employment takes skill, determination, attention to detail and drive, and from my experience it is these characteristics that makes us particularly vulnerable to stress and burnout. Unlike our employed counterparts, many self-employed individuals have no sick pay or paid-leave to fall back on if we need a break from the physical and mental strains of work. As a result, we may work when we really shouldn’t if we are unwell, meaning that it takes longer for our bodies to physically recover from that illness. Many of us also impose incredibly high standards on our work, generating additional stress as we strive to ‘beat the targets’ we set for ourselves. There is also THE GUILT – a common psychological complaint that affects even the hardiest of freelancers; if we work around our families, we feel guilty about spending too much/too little time with our loved ones; if we work around our lifestyle and hobbies, we feel guilty about down-time when there are billable hours out there and ready to be worked! If we work around health conditions, we feel guilty about taking time out to focus on our own physical wellbeing – even if that is what we set the business up for!
The physiological, psychological and emotional impact of relentless stress (even if it is self-imposed!) on our bodies can soon build up and drive us to burnout – a condition described by the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease as ‘a state of vital exhaustion’. When this occurs, we often have no physical choice but to step back from work and embrace some TLC, despite the ‘down time’ and billable hours’ reduction that we experience. In many cases, it can take longer to recover from full burnout than it can from taking a day or two away from your desk to pre-emptively tackle the condition when you are experiencing some of the symptoms, which is why self-care is such a huge topic for me this year. Unfortunately, though it would be amazing for a Knight in shining armour to come in and rescue you from your stress, in the vast majority of cases this isn’t going to happen. If you want change, that change has to come from you. You are the boss in your business, you are the person living in your shoes – you need to recognise that the road you are on could lead to burnout and take steps to avoid that by investing enthusiastically in your own self-care as much as you would other aspects of business development. A few hours off here, an afternoon off there, a week away from your desk with a ‘digital detox’ – all of these things are possible to arrange and can significantly help your wellbeing, so don’t think of all the reasons why you can’t do them (I know the billable hours excuse is persistent!!), think of how and why you should do them. You are the captain of your ship and the master of your destiny – be an amazing boss and listen to the physical and emotional needs of your team (you!) and invest in them. It will do your business the world of good!