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How Learning to Take Care of Myself Helps Me Take Care of My Business For entrepreneurs, particularly women, balancing the myriad responsibilities of business ownership can be all-consuming. You can't pour from an empty cup — here's how I started putting myself first and how it made my business more successful, too.

By Nellie Akalp

Key Takeaways

  • Self-care is not something you do one time; it's an ongoing journey of exploration and discovery about yourself and how to best take care of you.
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In the constant bustle of entrepreneurial life, the idea of self-care too often takes a back seat. That happened to me. However, I realized that self-care was crucial for my personal well-being and the success of my business.

I've now learned to embrace self-care because it calms, refreshes and energizes me, ultimately making me more focused and productive. Here are some tips that helped me.

Related: Self-Care Isn't Selfish — It's Essential for Sustaining High Performance. Here's How to Avoid Burning Out.

The consequences of self-neglect

Neglecting self-care can lead to burnout, a common issue among entrepreneurs. Many business owners don't like to admit having felt burnt out — but I will.

Our business was steadily growing when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. As it continued, my typically upbeat attitude began to erode. I felt so isolated being confined to home. I got sad when Covid-19 prevented my kids from having their regular high school graduation.

Many people experienced something similar. But entrepreneurs are used to being in control, and Covid-19 took that away from us. The impact was profound. Losing control made me feel even worse, and I started feeling burnt out and experiencing daily severe highs and lows.

Burnout can impact entrepreneurs even without a once-in-a-lifetime trigger like a global pandemic. The key is recognizing when you're burning out before your flame extinguishes. Do you know the signs? According to the Young Leaders Of The Americas Initiative (YLAI), here's what to look for:

  • Lack of creativity
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced productivity
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Negative attitudes toward employees or family
  • Difficulty sleeping

Are you stressed or anxious?

You cannot solve the problem unless you uncover the root cause. As our business started to suffer, it was crucial to stop the spiral. Like most of America, we were working from home. I finally realized that although my husband and I had run two successful companies together since college, we could not work in the same room.

I was beyond stressed — I felt anxious. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it's essential to know the difference between stress and anxiety.

Stress is "generally a response to an external cause, and goes away once the situation is resolved." Anxiety is a "persistent feeling of apprehension or dread that doesn't go away and interferes with how you live your life."

The symptoms of stress and anxiety mimic those of burnout. If you identify with the above signs, act now by taking back control of your life.

Related: 8 Self-Care Tips From Wildly Successful Entrepreneurs

Taking control with self-care

I realized I had to stop ceding my power and seize control of what I could. First, my husband and I started working in separate rooms in the house. That helped alleviate one source of my anxiety, but I turned to self-care to eliminate the rest.

Self-care is vital for all business owners, but especially for women who often juggle professional and personal responsibilities. Too often, we think of self-care as ignoring others. But self-care is not self-indulgence. Once you accept that it's about making a strategic investment in your success, you can start on the road to recovery.

I needed a plan and sprang into action. Food had become one of my coping mechanisms, so I created a daily exercise plan and committed myself to healthy living. I also needed to restore my balance and found meditation was the answer. I now meditate twice a day for about 30 minutes.

There are many misconceptions about meditation. Let me try to dispel them:

  • You can meditate whenever you have time. Even three minutes will work.
  • Sitting like a pretzel is not required. Just find a comfortable position.
  • You don't need a mantra or a goal. Just let your mind go.
  • You can use guided meditation or do it on your own.

Meditating worked to eliminate my anxiety, sharpen my focus, and boost my productivity. Meditation is so effective at stress reduction that we incorporated it into our workplace and added 10-minute meditation sessions to our team-building activities. This helps enhance collective focus and morale and fosters a culture of wellness.

There are other options for exploring self-care:

Rediscover the joy of playfulness: Return to a forgotten hobby, buy an adult coloring book, tackle a jigsaw puzzle or play with Legos. Reconnect with the simple pleasures that ignite your spirit.

The sounds of silence: This is particularly hard for entrepreneurs, but set aside time to unplug and disconnect from social media and technology. Savor the peace and clarity that silence can bring.

Challenge your comfort zone: Learn a new skill or language. Take dancing or cooking classes. Embracing the discomfort of learning something new can restore your confidence and expand your capabilities.

Practice random acts of kindness: Volunteer at a local charity. Get your staff involved. Become a SCORE mentor. Anonymously pay for someone's coffee. Helping others can get you out of your head.

Related: Worried That You Don't Have Time for Self-Care? Here's How to Fit It Into Any Schedule

You may also need to revisit your stressors. Are you overworked? Feeling isolated? Try:

  • Surrounding yourself with mentors, peers and friends who understand the entrepreneurial journey can offer perspective and alleviate your isolation.
  • Setting realistic goals for your business and personal life. Break larger goals into manageable steps.
  • Learning to say "no" is one of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to do. But turning down business when you're overwhelmed allows you to better serve existing customers.
  • Delegating gives you time to tackle crucial work tasks and invest in self-care.

While there's lots of advice for self-care all over the internet, remember you're an entrepreneur and should redefine it to fit your needs. Self-care is not a one-time activity, but an ongoing journey of exploration and discovery.

Nellie Akalp

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of CorpNet.com

Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur and mother of four. She is the CEO of CorpNet.com, the smartest way to start a business, register for payroll taxes and maintain business compliance across the United States. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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