Mental Health Awareness Month happens every May. While this is a reminder to pause and reflect on the importance of self care, mental health is a priority all year long. This series shines a spotlight on the issues that impact entrepreneurs every day—along with solutions and resources to help put your wellbeing first.
The day before I launched my first business, I caught myself awake at 3:30 a.m., still writing product descriptions. I couldn’t remember the last meal I ate. (Did I even drink water?) My eyes were strained, I had skipped yoga, and missed six texts from my sister.
I realized how easy it is, in the thick of nurturing a business, to forget to nurture yourself. Neglecting self care is common among entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business—working a day job and cramming the rest into that time once earmarked for rest, fun, or family.
Time and time again, studies link physical health to mental health and mental health to productivity and creative thinking. Self care, it seems, has a positive ripple effect. Entrepreneurs who hope to avoid burnout should strive for a sustainable work-life balance that prioritizes well-being. Here, we’ll explore nine self care tips that fit into busy lifestyles.
What is self care?
Self care is a term that traditionally has been used to describe self-initiated actions to stay healthy, prevent disease, and manage long-term illnesses. It encompasses basic needs like sleep, food, water, and human contact.
In the past decade or so, self care’s definition has expanded to include activities such as meditation, travel, and pampering, and to focus on emotional and relationship health—even achieving Instagrammable levels of opulence and indulgence. But at its core, self care isn’t mani-pedis and mimosas—it’s tapping into what your mind and body need most. (Sometimes that might be a mimosa.)
9 self care tips for busy entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship can be challenging. With everything on your plate, it’s easy to ignore your own needs. But beware: the cost of not taking care of yourself now is much greater in the long run. Even small acts of self care over time can set you up to be mentally, emotionally, and physically equipped to handle the demands of a small business.
Now, let's dive deeper into each of these self-care tips.
1. Don’t forget to breathe
Let’s start with an easy one. Breathing happens naturally, whether you’re thinking about it or not, right? But how are you breathing? Short panting puffs? Holding your breath subconsciously?
There are proven benefits to controlled and mindful breathing, including staving off stress. Where shallow breathing contributes to anxiety, full abdominal breaths help slow the heart and stabilize blood pressure. If you have trouble remembering to breathe deeply, practice yoga or other guided meditation or breathing exercises through an app or podcast until it comes naturally.
📚 Read more: How to Focus Better in the Era of Information Overload
2. Minimize stress through exercise
Regular aerobic exercise boosts the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning. You don’t need to spend tons of money on gym fees or hours on the treadmill, though, to reap the positive impacts of exercise on your stress levels.
According to the CDC, the average adult should get about 150 minutes of exercise per week (the amount you need may differ). It sounds like a lot when you’re already tapped out, but break it up into small 10- to 20-minute chunks throughout the week: take the dog for a walk, engage in some light desk yoga, or tackle some yard work.
📚 Read more: Rethinking Stress: How to Manage Pressure for a More Productive Life
3. Get better sleep
Sleep deprivation contributes to reduced decision making ability and stunts creativity. You might get more done by burning the midnight oil, but at what cost? Build a routine that includes better sleeping habits, and if you can’t seem to catch a solid eight hours, a good 10- to 30-minute power nap will pick up the slack.
Note: The true number of hours of sleep your body actually needs is up for debate, with the eight-hour rule undergoing some serious debunking. For you, it may be more or less than that. Try a sleep app to help you monitor and fine tune your sleeping habits.
📚 Read more: The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better)
4. Fuel up to increase energy
It’s confusing to navigate nutritional information that seemingly contradicts itself everywhere you look. It’s so overwhelming that when you’re busy, it may seem much easier to grab fast food—it saves time and fills the gap.
On the other end of the spectrum, toxic diet culture is rampant on platforms like Instagram, where it’s easy to get caught up in unrealistic expectations for body and health. Skipping meals or engaging in unsustainable dieting can be just as harmful.
Listen to what your body needs, eat when you’re hungry, and allow yourself to indulge in your favorites. Self care is as much about emotional well-being as it is about the physical.
5. Seek human interaction
In the early days of running your business, you may be a team of one. While working alone can have its perks, loneliness can take a psychological toll. While human interaction is baked into a lot of office jobs, entrepreneurs will need to take a proactive approach to meeting social needs.
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Build face time into your day by working from a coffee shop once a week, joining local entrepreneur meetup groups, or finding a running buddy. If you can't see people face to face—you're living off the grid or the world is on pandemic lockdown—a phone call or video chat with loved ones will do in a pinch.
📚 Read more: Feeling Lonely? 10 Ways to Cure the Entrepreneurship Blues
6. Engage in activities and hobbies outside of work
What’s the best part of working for yourself? You make the rules. And, if you’re running an ecommerce dropshipping business, for example, you can pretty much work from anywhere. Some entrepreneurs use this to their advantage, satisfying a love of travel through their flexible work.
For others, clear delineation between work and play is necessary to truly unwind. What do you do for fun? Whether it’s knitting or swimming, playing an instrument or playing strategy games, sign up for a class or join a group to hold yourself accountable to your hobby on a regular basis. This small act of self care can help you work out other parts of your brain so you can bring creativity back to your work.
📚 Read more: Why Working From the Road Is Good for Business (and How to Do It)
7. Create a workspace you love
Your workspace is a place where you’ll be spending the majority of your waking hours, especially while getting a business off the ground. Be mindful of how you design the space—it can impact your happiness and motivation.
Ask yourself: is there enough delineation between personal and work space? Is the furniture ergonomic and conducive to an efficient workflow? Is there adequate light and ventilation? Small acts of self care like a splash of paint or a few houseplants can actually have a positive impact on mood.
📚 Read more: Home Office Ideas: Brilliant Hacks to Maximize Productivity
8. Treat yourself—you deserve it
Self care for entrepreneurs is sometimes as simple as treating yourself to a little indulgence. Book a massage, order your favorite take out, binge Netflix, or plan drinks with your best friend. These seemingly small acts can motivate you through rough patches or reward you for your wins. Set goals, but don’t forget to celebrate yourself when you reach them.
📚 Read more: 10 Secrets to Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance
9. Check in with your mental health
Research suggests that entrepreneurs tend to have character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings, depression, and loss of motivation. Check in with your mental health often, maintain healthy relationships, and engage in self care practices like regular exercise and ample sleep. If you’re still struggling, talk to a professional.
Take care of yourself
If you neglect the needs of your mind and body, you’re not bringing your best self to the table—and your business could suffer. These self care tips are just a few ideas to get those endorphins pumping. As you grow your small business, be sure to couple it with personal growth and the regular habit of practicing self care. Annnnnd, *deep breath*!
Self care FAQ
Why is self care important?
What is basic self care?
What are 5 things you can do for self care daily?
What does good self care look like?
Note: The tips in this story are not intended to replace the advice of professionals nor address serious mental health issues. Please talk to your health care provider or seek mental health resources in your area.
Feature illustration by Loren Blackman