When you start your own business, it has a tendency to kinda take over your life.
As much as we’d like to say that entrepreneurship is an easy road to a better work-life balance, I think it actually gets harder, especially if you have any mental health struggles or neurodivergency.
Personally, my ADHD makes me a pretty terrible employee sometimes. Missed deadlines, procrastination, forgotten messages…
But it also means that when I get excited about something, I’ll hyper-focus on it until it’s done or until the dopamine runs out, whether that’s 2 hours or 12.
And in the middle of a global pandemic, in a town where I didn’t know anyone, it was fine for me to spend all day every day working on growing my business. In some ways, I’m grateful for that time.
Now, though, I don’t want “I have a business” or “I’m busy” to be my only personality traits. I am not my business, and I have so much more to offer myself and my people beyond the services I provide.
I can’t do any of it if I’m not taking care of myself, first.
One of the things I’ve discovered connecting with other business owners is that a surprising amount of us have some type of neurodivergence or mental health struggles, whether it’s ADHD, anxiety, ASD, whatever.
And although it’s being talked about more openly now, there’s always room for more transparency and openness about just how damn hard it can be sometimes.
That’s why I wanted to share with you the 5 non-business-related ways I manage my mental health as an online business owner (and one business-related thing because it’s just so good, k?)
(Here is also the part where I divulge the fact that I have a secret past alter-ego as a fanfiction writer, because the 5+1 writing structure came wayyyy too easily.)
5 Things I Do Outside of Business to Manage My Mental Health as an Online Business Owner
1. Follow a low dopamine morning routine
I’ve always known that you “shouldn’t” scroll on your phone in bed in the morning, but I never really heard a compelling reason beyond the stereotypical productivity/hustle-culture mindset.
Before I follow any “expert’s” advice, I always like to know why I’m doing something, and I watched a TikTok a year or so ago that made things finally click.
To paraphrase the video, when you start out your day scrolling through engaging, short-form video, that’s a really big hit of dopamine first thing in the morning. Your brain is going to be chasing that “high” for the rest of the day.
And if the rest of your day needs to be full of boring work tasks, it’s going to feel SO much harder to get things done.
Now, I don’t unlock my phone until I go downstairs to start making breakfast and feeding the cats, and I don’t open social media until I start work for the day and post on my Instagram stories.
I’ll listen to a news podcast while I eat and make coffee, but I try to keep things as low dopamine as possible. I genuinely think this has been a huge change for me. I’m less tempted by social media in the middle of the day and I don’t have to have constant noise in the form of podcasts or YouTube videos just to make doing work bearable.
P.S. One app that helped me break the habit is called Screen Zen. You can lock certain apps for different times of day and enable a waiting period before it unlocks so you can be really intentional and considerate about your decision.
2. Eat a full breakfast
This is another one of those things that I knew I “should” do but couldn’t find an explanation compelling enough to make me commit.
At my core, I really hate a long, extensive morning routine or anything that keeps me from jumping up and getting right into work, so I would often skip breakfast.
(Add in a heaping serving of being raised in American diet culture, too.)
Once again, though, I think I watched a TikTok that explained the physical function of different nutrients and I won’t try to explain further because biology was always my weakest subject.
Essentially, what I remember is that a protein-rich breakfast would be helpful for some sort of neurotransmitter/brain function. In my pre-medication days, I was ready to try anything to help my brain actually work a little better, so I said “say less” and started prioritizing a full, balanced breakfast.
Do I hit all the food groups perfectly every morning? Hell no. But it’s better than nothing.
Some of my favorite go-to’s are oatmeal, protein smoothies, and egg sandwiches.
3. Turn off all social media notifications and badges
Do you know how many times I would open an app just because it had a little red notification badge, despite not actually needing or wanting to open it???
Do you know how anxious I felt every time I’d get a notification of a new message or not-so-patiently waiting for likes to start rolling in whenever I posted a new IG post???
It’s not the vibe. I had trained my little lizard brain to “see notification, open phone,” which would inevitably lead to a too-long scroll down some kind of Internet rabbit hole.
Once I turned off all of my social media notifications, my days were so much more peaceful. It sounds silly, but honestly! No more buzzing notifications interrupting my precious flow states and no notifications for the lizard brain to respond to.
I will say that one downside of this decision is that I communicate with some friends and family on my personal Instagram and Facebook messenger, and I have missed some messages that way…
The trade-off is still worth it though.
4. Move my body every day
At the end of 2021, I was carrying unsustainable levels of anxiety and stress. Between moving, slow periods in business, adopting two rambunctious kittens, and my partner starting grad school, my whole life had been turned upside down and I never really put it back together.
Something had to change.
So starting in 2022, I held myself to keeping up with a consistent movement routine – a 4:00 p.m. walk every weekday. It helps that we have a beautiful walking trail in our neighborhood.
I can genuinely say this is one of the best things I’ve done and that it has changed my freaking life.
Part of the reason is because I didn’t overcommit to an extreme workout plan and I wasn’t doing it out of any sort of desire to change what my body looked like.
I knew that getting outside and getting active made my brain feel better. Endorphins are real, y’all. And you know what? It worked. Within a few months, I’d become so acclimated to my routine that if I skipped a day, I felt it hard.
Being active helps complete the stress cycle at the end of the day and gives me a clear break between work and rest, both of which are essential for online business owners working from home day in and day out.
5. Spend time cultivating hobbies and relationships outside of work
I am endlessly grateful for the friendships I’ve made online through my business, don’t get me wrong. But it can also be a bit of a bubble. Everyone’s going through the same things, talking about the same experiences, and it still activates that work part of my brain.
Plus, there’s that whole “I’m more than my business” thing I’m trying to go for, ya feel?
That’s what led me to join my local queer community sports league and reaching out to other new friends in my area. My whole life isn’t wrapped up and consumed by my business and the community there, and it’s honestly so nice.
Do I feel a little out of my league when all my friends are in the science and healthcare corporate fields? Yes. But it also makes me all the more grateful for the incredible flexibility and freedom my online business gives me.
Beyond the people, I also try to spend time on non-monetizable, offline hobbies. I’ve always been “a creative,” but I’m not always the best at remembering to practice that creativity.
Admittedly, this is something I’m still working on, but taking time for things like watercolor, scrapbooking, and playing the guitar that mostly collects dust in the corner of our living room is always rewarding.
The Neurodivergent Entrepreneur’s Best Business Tool
Now we’re getting to the “one business-related thing that helps me manage my mental health” part of this list. Eventually, I want to do a whole post about all my favorite tools and resources, but for now you can check out the ones I’ve linked on my resources page.
What I’ve realized is essential to my productivity and happiness as an online business owner is being able to keep moving quickly and not get bogged down by minor tasks or decisions.
If we go back to physics class (why is there so much science in this post?), I like to think of Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.
Once I can get in motion, I’m golden, so I need to structure my life to make it easy to get moving and hard to be interrupted.
My motion kryptonite is decisions. The more decisions I have to make, the harder they get (that’s called decision fatigue), and having to stop and make a decision is a sure way to break my out of a flow state.
Add that on top of the fact that I tend to be a little forgetful of minor details and tasks (or emails and inquiries that come in when I’m not checking my email), and you’ve got the perfect recipe for things slipping through the cracks.
I’m not proud to admit that this has happened more than once, but I’ll save that story for another time. Instead, let me introduce you to quite possibly my favorite business tool that I can’t believe I didn’t start using earlier:
Listen. I’m not an automations queen. My CRM & project management systems are rudimentary at best.
But I’ve set up a few crucial automations through Zapier that make sure those cracks that tasks fall through are a little smaller. The best one is an automation that creates and assigns a task in ClickUp whenever I get a new inquiry.
That way I have a deadline by which I need to respond and a reminder in my project management hub. It means I get to move that “New Inquiry” email from Honeybook outta my inbox instead of my previous system of just leaving it unread until I dealt with it or it got lost in the pages of emails…
While I guess this “one thing” is really two – Zapier and ClickUp, it’s really the automation that makes it so powerful.
It’s one (or several) less thing I have to remember to do, because I don’t even have to remember to set myself the reminder and I don’t have to decide when it’ll get done. Bless.
Being a good business owner starts with taking care of yourself
Not to get all superficial self-care on you, but you deserve to have a full and functional life. That starts with taking care of yourself, mind, body, and soul.
As online service providers, it’s easy to spend all of your energy taking care of your clients. As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s just these few years that you need to spend hustling and overworking so you can reap the rewards “later.”
I’m here to tell you that you cannot be an effective business owner, service provider, partner, friend, parent, human, if you don’t prioritize yourself.
I get that that’s super fluffy and ambiguous, but it’s true. Hopefully, some of these strategies I’ve shared resonate with you or inspire you to find your own ways to manage your mental health as an online business owner, because you deserve it!
If this sparked any ideas, or you have some of your own tips and tricks you’d like to share, slide into my DMs on Instagram! I’m always down for a chat!