Anxiety And The Entrepreneur: How I Learned To Worry And Keep Working Anyway

2013 July 3

It usually starts with my stomach, which, owing to celiac, gets out of whack very easily anyway, making it difficult to identify I’ve eaten something bad from anxiety with a capital A. All those trips and vacations I thought I’d inadvertently ingested some gluten or all the times I felt gurgly and terrible sitting in my office at 2 PM? A good portion of those were anxiety-driven. Hindsight and all that jazz.

When you’re self-employed, you can’t afford to let the anxiety (or the flu or a migraine) win, I’ve figured out. Letting it have its way with you means that you aren’t doing work and not doing work means you’re letting down clients and you aren’t bringing in money and not bringing in money means you aren’t paying the bills and the whole thing just spirals until you imagine living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass, which makes you even more anxious. I’m in good company, though. Almost 50% of women, even those who are well-off, fear becoming bag ladies in their old age. In my case, I also get resentful – resentful about people who have the freedom to be anxious or flu-ridden or just plain under the weather without piling on paranoia about torpedoing their livelihood in the process. Yes, I made my own bed and now I’m kvetching because I don’t have the time to lie in it.

The last couple of days have been rough. I found myself thinking that one of my clients was going to fire me. Never mind that I had been turning in good work, meeting deadlines, assuming additional responsibilities, or that they had nothing but positive feedback for my efforts. Never mind that ordinarily I’m about as likely to doubt my innate awesomeness as I am to believe the world is flat.  Nope, the ol’ reptile brain roused itself awake long enough to hiss, “They think you suck. They’re going to tell you that you’re a disappointment and let you go.” The reptile brain knows that failure, letting others down and being rejected are red-button triggers for me, so it went ahead and pushed all of them at once. Of course I didn’t get fired, but by then I was too anxious to even feel relieved.

Sometimes, walks help. Sometimes, frozen yogurt or a brief teary interlude, but mostly I just try to remind myself that the best way to feel less anxious is to do something over which I have control. And guess what? Work happens to be that thing. So, I work through it because I don’t have a choice, but also because bringing some competence and order to bear on my world lowers my raging cortisol levels bit by bit. And I remind myself that everyone who chooses to tie their financial security directly and exclusively to the contents of their head and their ability to sell that to rest of the world day after day after day deals with the same thing.

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