Founding a business is rewarding, affirming and stimulating, yet in equal measure challenging, lonely, stressful and the mother-of-all-juggles. And that was before COVID-19. I know you get it, because you are in it. What’s more, these struggles are particularly felt by female founders.
Gallup Healthcare (2020) report that female small business owners experience more stress and worry than their male counterparts, with incidence almost doubling since COVID-19. 31% of female business owners report that their mental health has deteriorated since COVID-19, compared to 20% of male business owners.
These are concerning stats. As a founder, your mental fitness is a crucial asset – you cannot run your business without it – yet it’s often overlooked. Research shows entrepreneurs experience more stress, anxiety, depression and burnout than others in society. Entrepreneurship is a particularly intense, and often isolated path. You work all hours, rarely switch off from the job, and it becomes normal for your mental and physical health to slip to the bottom of the To-Do list, particularly if you’re also a mum. And again, that was before COVID-19.
As a female founder it’s vital to factor time into your schedule to strengthen your mental muscle. This is a necessity, not a luxury. It forms part of a stable, sustainable foundation for your business. The good news is you can start to do this with just 5 minutes a day.
Glow Your Mind supports frazzled women and mums to build and nurture their mental fitness, so they can be happier, calmer, more resilient and have overall improved mental health. The stronger your mental muscle, the more easily you can navigate the ups and downs of running a business and a family. The Glow Your Mind approach is based on consistent, regular practice of simple, science-based exercises that fit flexibly around your busy schedule. These draw on mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion and creativity.
Think of mental fitness the same way you think of physical fitness –something that keeps you fit and healthy when you dedicate a small amount of time to it each week. Committing 5-10 minutes to a practice 3 times a week will quickly get you on the road to a stronger mental muscle. With this come calmer and more joyful days, and greater agility to roll with the punches.
Often the hardest part of starting to build your mental fitness is adding the practice into your routine. It helps to diary your practice windows in advance – block it out in your calendar. Set yourself a reminder - a post-it note stuck to your mirror, or an alert on your phone, ideally both. At the beginning you’re more likely to maintain your new practice if you schedule it before or after something you already do habitually – stack it on top of an existing habit like brushing your teeth, or walking the dog.
The key to reaping the benefits of improved mental fitness is to have a regular, consistent practice. Welcome it into your day. Gift those 5 minutes to yourself. Allow it to become an integral part of your routine.
Here are 3 exercises to start using for your practice. Each one takes 5 minutes or less.
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Top tip - the Insight Timer app has meditation bell options as timer noises, much gentler than an alarm.
Settle yourself into your space. Sit or lie comfortably. Gently close your eyes.
Focus on what you can feel beneath you. What is supporting you?
Focus on what you can hear. What is around you?
Focus on your breath. Where you do feel it in your body?
Start counting your breaths, one on the inhale, two on the exhale, all the way up to 10. When you get to 10, start again at 1.
Keep going until you hear your timer.
It’s natural for your mind to wander. When you notice this has happened, come back to the count where you left off.
Write down 5-10 things you are grateful for. They can be tiny details of your day, right through to the big things in your life.
This is a simple, well-known practice, but don’t underestimate the power of being thankful. Gratitude helps to counter hedonic adaptation – our tendency to get used to things in our lives (a pay rise, a job, a relationship), such that the satisfaction and joy they initially bring us gradually wears off. Research shows regularly practising gratitude fosters significant improvements in mental and physical health and wellbeing.
In times of struggle and difficulty, one of the best mental fitness exercises is to be kind to yourself, to be in your own corner, rather than being hard on yourself. Yet this is often extremely difficult. That inner critic pipes up and starts talking shit to us, when what you need is your inner coach instead.
Being self-compassionate is proven to boost mental fitness, resilience, self-acceptance, and overall wellbeing.
To start cultivating self-compassion, write down all the micro-achievements you’ve had in the last 24 hours – no matter how tiny, write them all down. Think about all the good things you’ve done, and tell yourself well done.
Do your mental fitness practice imperfectly. Make it as easy to do as possible. Enjoy it. Be kind to yourself if you miss some practices. But do start. Your business and family will thank you for it.
Antonia Dingle helps frazzled women build their mental muscle, and develop the mental resources to manage the mother-of-all-juggles at Glow Your Mind. Sign up to her newsletter The Nudge to receive mental fitness inspiration and motivation.