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15 May 2018

Wellbeing in small business: Dealing with Generalised Anxiety Disorder as a Small Business Owner

Blog written by FSB member, Zean Maskell

Zean Maskell

I was first diagnosed with anxiety whilst studying in my third year at university. I was away from home, under a lot of pressure and some of my friends had moved home having finished their degree a year before me. I thought once I finished my degree, that would be the end of my anxiety. Little did I realise that it is a condition that I will probably live with for the rest of my life. 

Working with anxiety is extremely difficult, especially when you work for someone else. Mental health is still not talked about or understood as much as it needs to be and whilst smoking breaks are deemed acceptable, a 5 minute mental brake is slacking (one of the many reasons I continued to smoke for so long). Eventually the stress and pressure of working for someone else got to me and I quit my position at a small publishing firm with no real back up plan, just an extremely supportive and understanding partner.

My husband (partner at the time), although he really enjoyed his job and enjoyed working with his colleagues, had itchy feet and wanted to move and try something new. We came up with the idea of setting up East County Classics together as I was experienced in marketing and admin and my husband has worked with classic cars all his life, even as an apprentice. I didn’t mention it to my husband at the time, but I was worried about how I would cope with the pressure of running a business, as a lot of people (kindly!) informed me it would be hard work and worse than working for someone else for my mental health, and assumed I wouldn’t be able to cope.

I am glad I didn’t listen to them and can happily say it is one of the best things I have ever done - and hopefully my husband can say the same! I would agree that running your own business is a lot more stressful and there are a lot more things to worry about and keep on top of, however my anxiety has been relieved by working for myself. I have no pressure from anyone apart from myself and if I need a five minute mental break, I will take one (note, I have also given up smoking!). If we were ever to employ people, we would like to be an employer who is as understanding of mental health as we would be a broken leg. I strongly feel, due to my experiences, that a happy workforce that feels supported and appreciated will mean a better working environment and higher productivity. That is the case for me anyway!

I also use a variety of techniques to help me deal with my anxiety when I do have a panic attack as even though I feel less anxiety, it is still present in my life and I don’t think it will ever truly disappear. As stated above, when I feel like I am getting in a cycle where it will eventually mean a full-blown panic attack, I take some time to practice mindfulness and work on my breathing. This only takes me five to ten minutes but means I can then face the day again and continue working. I also practice yoga, which reinforces breathing, being in the moment and also is a means of exercise which also helps anxiety. I once had a panic attack at our opening event, which was hard to deal with. I drank a lot of chamomile tea and with the support of my husband and family, and using the breathing techniques I learnt in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I managed to get through the day without it being noticeable to our customers.

To anyone thinking of starting their own business who suffers from anxiety, or to anyone who runs a small business and is struggling to cope with their anxiety, I would recommend visiting your doctor and asking for CBT. It is extremely helpful and gives you a sort of mental tool kit to enable yourself to see your anxiety through and continue with your day. I would also say to be kind to yourself, give yourself your five-minute break if you need it and to make sure you manage your time effectively so you can do so. Running a small business with anxiety is difficult at times, but with the right tools, right mindset and a supportive network of people around you, it can be a joy and can (in my case) be preferable to working for someone else.