In 2012, having spent 11 years developing my commercial business experience in the high pressure world of FTSE 100 regulated companies, during which time I’d become the youngest on record to complete a fast track management training programme, I decided to leave and set up my own business. My desire was to use my experience to help other businesses to grow and transform as a business adviser and mentor.
And I was right. I went on to help many business owners, won many awards and achieved over £2m in revenue in less than 5 years.
But by 2016, I had to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. Long hours on a daily basis, high stress levels as a result of running a successful business, and an unhealthy lifestyle had trapped me into a cycle of anxiety, emotional exhaustion and depression. I’d just about kept on top of it for a while, but an unexpected, significant personal tragedy made everything too much and pulled the rug out from under my feet.
The road to burnout recovery, rebuilding my life and approach to business and improving my mental fitness took nearly two years. Along the way, I learned a lot about mental health and how a work-life balance is the path to a happier life and increased business or career success. Now the focus of my business is on using my experience to support other entrepreneurs and business leaders in developing and improving their own mental fitness alongside productivity improvement as well as that of the people they work with.
Over the coming months, I’m going to share more on what I learned about mental fitness and productivity improvement to achieve a happier work-life balance and consequently greater career successes. I will begin now by highlighting some of my learnings for you.
Mental fitness begins with daily habits
Just as physical fitness requires regular attention, so does your mental fitness (hint: the two are inextricably interlinked).
I knew that, if I was to recover my mental health, I had to break the cycle of burnout, and nurture my mind and body as well as my business. So creating a balanced life-work routine was one of the first steps I took in recovering my well-being. I planned my week, allowing enough time for family life, loved ones, and personal activities as well as work. Life first. Work second as a means to support the life.
This plan included establishing positive daily habits of self-care, which nurtured my body as well as my mind. And they weren’t complicated. Here are some example’s:
- Begin each day with 500ml of fresh water. It hydrates you, fuels your brain, kick starts your metabolism, flushes out harmful toxins and more!
- Exercise daily. 15 mins’ running (or 1 hour’s walking) reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Variety is key, as is choosing exercise that you enjoy. Mix up light stretching or yoga with team sports or other intense exercise.
- Practice and master healthy breathing techniques and use them every day
- Establish a consistent sleep routine. The recommended amount of sleep for adults between 26 and 64 is 7-9 hours a night. That’s every night. Sleeping extra at the weekends doesn’t make up for lost sleep during the week.
Nurture the body, nurture the mind
There is increasing evidence to show that what we put into our bodies affects not just our physical fitness but our mental fitness as well.
Unfortunately, when we’re struggling mentally, it’s often tempting to skip proper meals, then reach for the unhealthy foods, use alcohol as a crutch…sound familiar?
Following basic healthy eating guidelines (get your 5 a day of fruit and veg, cut down on dairy and fatty meats, cut down on processed sugars in favour of the natural sugars found in fruit, eat no more than 6g salt a day) proved to be a good basis for my mental health journey. And a healthier diet helped increase my energy levels to fuel my daily exercise routine and improve my sleep as well.
Boundaries are important
If you’re going to make a plan, you need to know that you have the space to stick to it. Differentiating between work and family life can be a major challenge, especially when you’re running your own business. How often have you complained (or heard others complain) that you never really leave the workplace?
The key is set yourself, and those around you, some clear boundaries. This could be defining your working hours – so you, your family and your colleagues and clients are clear about your workday and working hours. So that means, outside working hours, no work-related emails or phone calls!
Pay attention to the important relationships in your life
What that means will depend on your circumstances. For me, it was scheduling regular date nights with my partner, visiting friends and family (rather than relying on ‘brief, time-saving’ messaging), and planning time for family activities.
These days, they’re my priority, and I treat them as positive activities – not things that get in the way of work!
And when it comes to the relationships you can choose – like the people you hire or do business with – you’ll find that looking after your life-work balance is much easier, and more satisfying, when you make the conscious decision to work only with like minds who share your ethics and values.
It is ok to find things tough – life, work or both!
You’re certainly not alone and even those perceived as the most successful need a helping hand.
It’s also important to recognise that even with the best laid plans we can still fall through the unexpected.
The symptoms of burnout can be different for everybody. You may find yourself having bad days on a regular basis, suffer from physical symptoms such as chest pains and tiredness, or find that you are having a workplace burnout triggered by your boss setting unrealistic deadlines consistently.
Wherever you find yourself now or in future, it helps to speak up. Don’t be afraid to admit struggle. Ask for help and accept the help when it presents itself. That’s why I created the Mental Fitness Challenge.
Greater life happiness and career/business success starts with your next action.