Self-Employment and PTSD
Rather than listing all the negatives that come with owning a business, and how they interface with PTSD,
let’s look at the positives and ways you can make it work for you.
Entrepreneurs have something that employees usually don’t have. Freedom. Owing your own business means the ability to set your own hours, no limits on your income potential, and nobody to tell you what to do.
One of the things the self-employed particularly like is the freedom to choose who to work with. As an employee you’re forced to work with the ratfink backstabber in the next cubicle, the incompetent founder’s son, or the addled know it all senior who is hitting on everyone. Goodbye to that.
No more corporate games. If you don’t like someone, don’t buy from them, don’t hire them, and don’t contract with them. There are plenty of inane players in the small business world, but they tend to get quietly eliminated over time because nobody wants to do business with them.
You could well retire in a tropical paradise working 20 hours a week and living on just under $2000 per month. This is the beauty of entrepreneurship and the times we live in.
There is a price to pay for this freedom. Stress, competition and the anxiety that comes from not getting a regular paycheck. But that need not stop you. You can handle it.
Head Off Stress in Advance
Owning a business can be ridiculously stressful. And the best way to handle stress is to prepare for it in advance. How do you do that? Exercise.
The Mayo Clinic has a long list of what exercise can do for you (https://tinyurl.com/y92bc24f)
“Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management. Discover the connection between exercise and stress relief — and why exercise should be part of your stress management plan.”
Emphasis on the word plan.
Mayo Clinic notes that exercise releases endorphins is meditation in motion, and improves your mood. It also helps you bounce back when inevitably something adverse shows up.
Now that you own your own business, the “I’m too busy” excuse doesn’t work anymore.
Keep a Stash of Cash
There’s nothing more comforting than having an account with fall back funds. It’s not a good idea to spend down to your last dollar. It may not have to be much. Just keep it there as a fail-safe to CYA if needed. It’s amazing how much comfort you can receive from knowing your landing might not be that hard. The worst thing for an entrepreneur to do is to look hungry, so don’t project that vibe by running out of cash.
You’re the Boss
Running a business is a rollercoaster ride for anyone, with or without PTSD. The pressures of running a small business can pile up during the good times and the bad. When things are up, the stress of working long hours can be overwhelming. When things are down, you worry about making ends meet. That’s common to entrepreneurship. It’s your response to that which makes the difference.
Through the ups and downs, it’s essential to keep your mindset in check. Perhaps you can feel depression coming on. If so, nip it in the bud if you can and apply the brakes. When you start to feel down about your business, make a list of what’s going right.
How you decide to handle adversity is entirely in your own hands when you’re the boss. If you have employees, your ability to keep a stable shop is very important. If you have clients, your mental health is critical.
Technology to The Rescue
There is a wonderful little app called Headspace (https://www.headspace.com/) that you can keep on your iPhone or computer. “Think of it as a gym membership for the mind,” they say in the intro. “A personal meditation guide, right in your pocket.” It’s fun to use and there’s a free “Take Ten” to try out before you subscribe.
Headspace gives you choices on what you want to meditate about: Health, Performance, and Relationships. Or, you can dip in and out for one-off sessions and SOS sessions in case of meltdowns. You can buddy up with friends, see your stats, and get rewarded with gifts when you’re consistent.
Headspace and meditation, in general, can be part of proactively taking care of your own mental health.
Talk it Out
Having a friend or mentor who is also an entrepreneur can be indispensable. Talking it out with someone who understands can help, give you advice, and keep you out of your own head. Even if it’s a phone buddy it helps.
Depression grows in isolation, so get up and get out. Consider joining a coworking space and you’ll be surrounded by the friendly faces and support of other entrepreneurs and freelancers. Connect with networking organizations where you get community and peer support from other business owners.
Managing depression and PTSD is a challenge, and as a business owner, your challenges are a little different. Getting the support from others who have been in your shoes, and making sure you have the right resources, is key to staying on top of these challenges. Just remember that you aren’t in this alone, so long as you reach out and grab hold of these resources for help.
Don’t Talk About It
It’s fine to talk about your business experiences and concerns with other entrepreneurs, maybe to get a reality check or just bitch.
On the other hand, it isn’t a great idea to talk about your PTSD with your business contacts and community.
Some people who might not understand an entrepreneur’s “mental illness” are investors, employees, or fellow founders. After all, when so much value is placed upon an entrepreneur’s reputation it causes great pressure to not appear “weak”.
Media headlines sometimes imply that service members and veterans with PTSD are dangerous, or damaged, misinformation since most who suffer from the condition are not veterans.
Don’t Neglect Yourself
Learning to set a limit on business hours…making time for your family and your own needs, is necessary to maintain good mental health as a business owner. Focus on basic self-care, including nutrition, sleep, massage, and exercise, so that you feel your best, have more energy to run your business, and are better able to handle stress.
Remember, the Turtle Always Wins
Neither failure nor success is permanent.
Focus on the journey, not the destination. You don’t have to be “on” and chase dollars 24/7. Don’t make your business about reaching 6 figures or more. Instead, pay attention and be mindful in each step along the way.
There’s no question entrepreneurship is a challenging high wire endeavor. Entrepreneurs, who are risk takers, are at higher risk for depression and other mental health concerns. Ultimately, your mental health and well-being is up to you. Create a strong support system. Know your triggers. Use your tools. Always remember you’re not alone.
Yes, there are challenges to self-employment. But, when you build it, they can’t fire you. It’s your triumph. Business ownership is the backbone of America.
It’s not just industry that makes our economy tick. It’s small business. Look around you. On every corner in every town small enterprises are working away making things better, and sometimes creating great new things, putting kids through college and retiring in the Bahamas. And, bunches of them are veterans with PTSD.
Vicki Garcia is the Co-Founder of Operation Vetrepreneur & President of Marketing Impressions, a 33+ -year- old marketing consulting firm.
Apply NOW to join her Operation Vetrepreneur’s FREE Brainstorming Groups for veteran entrepreneurs at www.veteransinbiz.com and visit https://www.nvtsi.org/ov/ for more info. If you want support for starting up a business, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.