Self-care for the self-employed

Health tips to avoid burnout

Don't neglect self-care while running your business

Are you running yourself into the ground?

Recently, I got an email from one of my clients at 2.30 am. (Don’t worry, I have notifications turned off overnight and she’s not some diva expecting responses 24/7!) When I responded the next day, I made a comment along the lines of “I hope you didn’t get up at stupid o’clock just to email me.” She revealed that insomnia is a long-term ongoing problem. And it struck me that self-care is a big issue for the self-employed.

We need to talk about sleep

Frankly, this situation with getting by only two or three hours of sleep worries me. This client is just like me – a self-employed mum trying to create a successful and sustainable business. But a sustainable business is not going to happen to anyone who is facing burnout. Adequate sleep and rest is vital and a culture of bragging about how little we sleep we survive on is nothing to be proud of. Surviving is not the same as living, and it’s certainly not healthy.

Arianna Huffington believes this so strongly that as a follow up to her book Thrive, she wrote a book dedicated to the importance of sleep and has now left her role at The Huffington Post to focus on her new start-up Thrive Global. Seriously, check out her TED talk on how more sleep can help you to succeed:

Nourishing nosh

The other comment I regularly hear from my self-employed clients is about just grabbing something to eat on the go. You can bet your bottom dollar that that’s not a Granny Smith apple and a handful of almonds…

But good nutrition is one of the fundamental building blocks of health. If you put crap in, you’re going to get crap out. I truly believe that. Eating well really isn’t rocket science. Michael Pollan puts it pretty succinctly and I think it would be hard to argue with his advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A lot of what we can buy in packets is what Pollan calls “edible food-like substances” – so avoid those. Eat lots of veggies. Be mindful about your choices.

Trust me, this makes a difference. I’ve recently shifted to eating a lot more vegetables and I feel so much better for it. By eating veggies at every meal – yes, that includes breakfast – I set myself up to make better food choices throughout the day. I highly recommend ditching the packaged breakfast cereal and seeing how much more alive you feel once you start the day with some sautéed vegetables and an egg. Real food baby, it’s the answer to the perennial question of “What should I eat?”

I like to move it, move it

Yep, you knew it was coming. Self-care means you need to make time to exercise. Stop making excuses. Get up a little bit earlier and go for a swim. Take a proper break at lunch time, eat some real food, and then take a 15 to 30 minute stroll around the block. Make a habit of an after dinner walk with the dog and your family after dinner. It doesn’t really matter what you do – just commit and make it happen.

For me, I’m naturally lazy, so I get why you might be making excuses not to exercise. What works for me is paying someone to boss me about. I’ve worked with trainers in a small group environment for six years now and it’s the only thing I’ve ever stuck with. For you, it might be joining a team sport, or enlisting a friend as a walking buddy. But, without a doubt, some form of accountability definitely helps when the weather’s rubbish or life is getting chaotic or deadlines are mounting.

Trust me, you’ll never regret getting up off your bottom and going. I promise.

Mind your mind

Finally, it’s vital to look after your emotional health as well as your physical health. After years of false starts, I am a recent convert to meditation thanks to the Headspace app. Headspace describes itself as meditation made simple and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Starting with just 10 minutes a day, I’ve found that a daily (well, almost daily!) meditation practice helps me to stay calmer in the face of competing deadlines and life juggles. Highly recommend checking it out – it’s really not airy-fairy woo-woo stuff.

Over to you

How do you prioritise taking care of yourself as well as your family and business? Remember, the old adage about putting on your own oxygen mask first is well worth heeding.