9 Self-Care Strategies for Busy Entrepreneurs

self-care strategies

Last week, I launched my first Shopify store. 🎉

It was, coincidentally, also my four year Shopify anniversary. Better late than never, right? As a group, we decided we’d be better equipped to understand and help Shopify merchants if we could walk in your shoes. And boy, did we ever.

A few nights before I removed the password and unleashed my store on the world, I caught myself still awake at 3:30 AM, still writing product descriptions. I couldn’t remember the last meal I ate. (Did I even drink water today?) My back ached, my eyes were strained, and I had skipped yoga and missed six texts from my sister.

It was an aha moment: this is really what it’s like to start your own business. This is the plight of nearly every entrepreneur in the early stages of their businesses, working a day job and cramming the rest into that time once earmarked for rest, fun, or family.

I realized how easy it is, in the thick of nurturing a business, to forget to nurture yourself.

I’ve been known to boast that I can “operate on little sleep”, and while it’s true—I do have secret super stores of energy—I know that merely operating and thriving are two very different things. Sleep-deprived, I am not offering my best self to my work. And it noticeably suffers.

I realized how easy it is, in the thick of nurturing a business, to forget to nurture yourself.

Time and time again, studies link good physical health (healthy diet, exercise) to good mental health (decreased depression and stress), and good mental health to increased productivity and creative thinking.

What does that mean for you? You’re not doing you or your business any favors by not taking care of yourself.

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What is self-care?

Self-care is a term that has been traditionally used in health care to describe self-initiated actions to stay healthy, prevent disease, and manage long-term illnesses. It encompasses basic physical human needs like sleep, food, and water and emotional needs like social interaction.

In the past few years, self-care has become a buzz term as more and more studies have revealed the importance of “you doing you”, expanding the definition to activities such as meditation, travel, and pampering, and focusing on emotional and relationship health.

The term exploded in 2016, achieving Instagrammable levels of opulence and indulgence. But at its core, self-care isn’t mani-pedis and mimosas—it’s listening to your body and meeting its needs. (And, well, sometimes it might just need a mimosa.)

Self-care strategies for busy entrepreneurs

We won’t lie: entrepreneurship can be hard. There’s a reason that along with our posts about analytics and email marketing, we also discuss topics like loneliness, stress, and sleep.

Self-care sets you up to be mentally, emotionally, and physically equipped to handle the demands of a small business. Before you argue that you have no time or money for self-care, let me stop you: this is my favorite excuse. I see you. The cost of not taking care of yourself is much greater in the long run.

Invest in future you, and ultimately your business, by practicing self-care. We’ve put together 9 quick tips, including additional resources for each:

1. 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 exercises that focus on breath, until it comes naturally.

📚 Recommended reading: How to Focus Better in the Era of Information Overload

“Since oxygen is fundamentally tied to our ability to focus, deep breathing exercises can help you quiet your mind and boost your focus.” (read more)

There are proven benefits to controlled and mindful breathing including staving off stress

2. Minimize stress through exercise

“Exercise” is a scary word. But you don’t need to spend tons of money on gym fees, or hours on the treadmill to reap the benefits.

The average adult should get about 150 minutes of exercise per week. It sounds like a lot when you’re already tapped out, but break it up into small 10-20 minute chunks throughout your work week: take the dog for a walk, do a circuit of strength exercises using your own body weight, jog around the block, or even do lunges on your way to and from the bathroom.

Regular aerobic exercise boosts the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning.

📚 Recommended reading: Understanding Stress: How to Manage Pressure for a More Productive Life

“Exercise releases endorphins that act as your body's natural painkillers. They can relieve tension and improve the quality of your sleep, thus reducing your stress levels. Even 5 minutes of cardio can help achieve this effect. Making exercise a regular part of your lifestyle can change the way you react to stress.” (read more)

3. Sleep more (and better)

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 8 hours, a good 10-30 minute power nap will pick up the slack.

You might get more done by burning the midnight oil, but at what cost?

📚 Recommended reading: The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better)

“It’s recommended that most adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. But it’s also about the quality of the sleep and when you wake up—you can get a good 8 hours and still feel groggy in the morning.” (read more)

4. Eat the right stuff

What’s the right stuff? Well, it depends on who you ask. It’s confusing to navigate nutritional information that seemingly contradicts itself everywhere you look. It’s so overwhelming that when you’re busy, it seems much easier to grab fast food—it saves time and fills the gap. But not all food is created equal.

Your food choices have a direct impact on cognitive performance, so it’s important to choose wisely. High carb foods like pasta release glucose too quickly, making you peak before suddenly crashing. High-fat foods make our digestive systems work overtime, reducing oxygen in the brain and sapping our energy.

Your food choices have a direct impact on cognitive performance.

To avoid poor food choices, plan ahead. Prepare healthy snacks and meals for the week, portioned out in the fridge (ask me about my favorite slow-cooker recipes). When in doubt, go for greens—increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables actually impacts engagement and creativity at work.

And, don’t forget about water.

🎥 Recommended viewing: Meet a Maker, Episode 1: Ruth Tal of Fresh Restaurants talks juicing and entrepreneurship

5. Seek human interaction

Loneliness can take a psychological toll, and even contribute to physical health problems.

Human interaction may not be automatically built into your day the way it was at your salary job. You may never see your customers or vendors face-to-face, and your social life may have suffered from your 24/7 business responsibilities.

Take a proactive approach to getting facetime with other humans: work from a coffee shop once a week, join local entrepreneur meetup groups, or kill two birds by finding a running buddy.

Work from a coffee shop, join local entrepreneur meetup groups, or find a running buddy.

📚 Recommended reading: Feeling Lonely? 5 Ways to Cure the Entrepreneurship Blues

“Loneliness has recently been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and poor social networks can contribute to a number of other health concerns like obesity. Cabin fever, it seems, is a more worrisome diagnosis than I thought. And, it’s an epidemic: the rate of loneliness has doubled in the past 30 years, with 40% of Americans reporting feeling lonely. Entrepreneurship’s “dark side” is the psychological toll that can put business owners at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.” (read more)

6. Get outside

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.

Since too much stale air can actually decrease productivity, take in some sunshine and vitamin D by working from your balcony or the patio of a local café.

If you’re operating your business from a windowless warehouse, it’s all the more reason to make time for fresh air. Start your day with a trip to the coffee shop, or take a brisk mid-day walk.

📚 Recommended reading: Why Working From the Road Is Good for Business (and How to Do It)

“Studies have uncovered that subjects perform 50% better on problem-solving tasks after three days of active wilderness exposure. And, according to Eva M. Selhub, Harvard professor and author, nature ‘turns off the stress response which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved immune response.’ In short: get outside!” (read more)

7. Love your space

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 make you feel motivated.

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 improvements like a splash of paint or a few houseplants can actually have a positive impact on mood.

📚 Recommended reading: Home Office Ideas: Brilliant Hacks to Maximize Productivity

“Dark, cramped, and unappealing spaces could actually be doing harm to your business, not to mention your psyche. Tech startups are famous for investing heavily in swanky office spaces for their employees. While it might feel like money-burning, there’s plenty of research to support that thoughtfully designed spaces can increase productivity and happiness. And happy workers do good work – the ROI is obvious.” (read more)

Dark, cramped, and unappealing spaces could actually be doing harm to your business, not to mention your psyche.

8. Treat yourself

Allow yourself to be rewarded for your hard work, whether it’s a weekend away, or something as simple as your favorite take-out. There may be no one else around to celebrate your small victories, like launching your store or getting your first sale.

It’s a principle that works for large companies who pamper employees to improve motivation and retention. The same can work to self-motivate you through rough patches. Set goals, but don’t forget to reward yourself when you reach them.

📚 Recommended reading: 10 Secrets to Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance

“Don’t just take vacations, but celebrate each and every little holiday. Many entrepreneurs see holidays as extra hours they can use to “get ahead”. However, holidays, beyond what they are supposed to stand for, break up and separate your year. Without them, mornings blend into days, blend into nights, blend into weeks, blend into months. Before you know it, you don’t even know what the date is. Your life becomes one long work session. Holidays break up the day-in, day-out grind.” (read more)

9. Check in with mental health

Researchers suggest that entrepreneurs tend to have character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings, depression, and loss of motivation.

Check in with yourself often, maintain healthy relationships, and engage in good self-care practices like regular exercise and ample sleep. If you’re still struggling, talk to a professional.

“A recent survey found that maintaining a small business causes twice as much stress as maintaining a healthy relationship, nearly three times as much stress as raising children, and more than four times the stress of managing their personal finances.” (read more)

Entrepreneurs tend to have character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings, depression, and loss of motivation.

How do you stay healthy and happy as a busy entrepreneur? Share your self-care tips in the comments below.

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