Anxiety is often the fear of the future, not of the present. It's linked to past thoughts, memories, or moments, but has no real grounding on what will or won't happen.
When I heard this statement when listening to Melyssa Griffin's podcast 'Pursuit With Purpose' it really struck a chord with me.
I realised only recently (within the last couple of years) that I might suffer to a degree with anxiety. I've never been to get a diagnosis because, to be honest, although it does affect me on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't stop me from doing anything.
That's probably a lot to do with my half stubborn, but half people pleaser personality. Those times when I need to do something for myself, I'm too stubborn to let it get the better of me, and those times when someone else is relying on me I hate to let them down.
The over-arching thought I have is that although this thing I need to do seems big and scary, if I don't do it I'll be so angry and disappointed with myself. And everyone knows, disappointment is the worst, whether it's from someone else or from yourself.
My first experiences of anxiety
It became very apparent that there was something slightly off when I passed my driving test two years ago (a late learner) and quit my 'in-house' graphic design job shortly after.
Previous to that I think I'd only ever felt anxious at the normal times that anyone else might, a job interview, first day nerves etc.
I experienced my first ever panic attack whilst driving, thankfully I was in the car with my husband and was able to pull over to calm down. I think that because I had left it so late to learn to drive I had framed 'driving' in my mind as unobtainable and something that was so scary and such a mammoth task to learn, and if you don't drive carefully enough there can obviously be massive consequences. I've always been an over-thinker, and found it really hard to get past these thoughts even once I'd learnt and could do it.
It's still hard to re-frame that thinking, if I've not driven somewhere before I'm so anxious about what might happen, there might be random road systems that I've not seen before, and I always think 'I just can't do it'. But I can. This process that my mind goes through is definitely linked to past thoughts, and once I understand that, I can at least try and re-frame my thinking.
Experiencing anxiety as a business owner
Becoming self-employed has really made anxiety rear it's ugly head for me. Starting off freelancing was difficult, you don't always work at the same place so it's like the first day of a new job every other week! I admire people who really don't find it difficult meeting new people and striking up conversations and just generally feeling comfortable around others.
I am not that person. It definitely takes me a while to feel comfortable in new surroundings with new people, so flitting about from place to place is not the optimal situation for me.
It did however give me a taste of working for myself. Although I can be anxious and shy, that doesn't mean I don't know my own mind and don't have opinions about the way things should be done.
When I was in employment I was always very aware that things could sometimes be done better, and I was always trying to make my job my own by suggesting new ideas and trying to implement new systems. It didn't always go down well, and in my final 'job' I clashed with certain people and really disagreed with the way things were run, and so I knew I had to make a clean break and do my own thing.
When I started working with my own clients it was a revelation...mostly. I could run my business the exact way I wanted to run it, write my own systems and processes, and treat people the way I would want to be treated myself.
And then I launched my logo and branding design services, with a much higher price-tag than anything else I'd sold before. This in itself was anxiety inducing, although I was charging what the services were worth, would anyone think I was good enough to pay it? How would I portray myself as an expert when although I was very good at logo and branding design, I had actually been doing it for a relatively short period of time.
That anxiety was multiplied when I was required to meet with clients to discuss projects. Being naturally on the introverted and shy side, I now needed to make sure my clients trusted me that I would deliver everything I promised. In the days running up to meetings I would obsess and wind myself up about all manner of things.
What if my mind goes blank and I don't know what to say?
What if they cancel the project after they meet me because they don't believe I'll deliver?
What if I can't answer the questions they ask?
All the things I was thinking were based on a fear of what might happen when I couldn't know for sure how the meeting would go. Anxiety is exhausting, and you almost wish there was some way to switch off your brain.
How I deal with my anxiety
What I've realised after the many client meetings I've now been to, is that I've already got things in common with the people/person I'm going to meet, so this makes it so much easier than meeting a stranger.
I think I naturally like to 'understand' people and always like to have meaningful conversations more than just generally chit-chatting. I'm better talking to a person one-on-one, but if I don't know that person well or haven't spent a lot of time with them, I obviously don't understand them well yet and so don't know what to say to strike up those meaningful conversations.
I'm a perfectionist, so over-thinking everything is just part of my personality, I wouldn't actually be my best self without it, because great work happens when you do things properly.
Once I realised these things about myself I was able to re-wire my thinking about client meetings. I work with other small business owners, so these people are like me, I know their struggles and desires, I understand them.
I always try my best to give the most perfect service possible, and so it's very unlikely that this person is going to be unhappy at the end of our working relationship, or when the project is finished.
If you're targeting and working with your ideal clients you're already relatively well matched, or you'll at least understand their needs and wants to a degree. But even if you're just getting started in business and you're networking or aren't sure of your ideal audience yet, just remember, you're getting together for a purpose. You're meeting or networking with a view to working or collaborating together, so there's already an opening conversation there, and there are so many things you can talk about.
Here are a few tips and strategies I've pulled together that help me to deal with anxiety on a day-to-day basis as well as when preparing for client meetings.
1 | Do the thing that makes you anxious MORE
This is not likely to be a popular point, but as with driving, I think the only way to overcome your anxiety about something is to do that thing more. The more new places I drive to, the less anxious I am next time.
Anxiety is like a muscle, the more you let it exercise, the stronger it will get. You need to keep doing the things that defy and dampen it, and soon enough you'll be much more relaxed about doing those things.
Also, every time you do something anxiety inducing, you'll feel a sense of triumph. Let that feeling be addictive <3
2 | Think about things you have in common with the person you're meeting
No matter what your business is or does, or who you're meeting and what for, you can think about what you're likely have in common which might help to get the conversation flowing again if there are any pauses.
Do you both have children?
Do you both have pets?
Are your businesses both local?
Do you offer similar services or services that compliment each other?
Do you both love handmade products?
Are you both on a life and business mission to be more eco-friendly?
It's definitely ok to look for that person on Instagram or Facebook beforehand. Following along on Instagram might give you a bit of background information on that person before you meet which is always helpful. It's not stalking, its research...!
3 | Don't over-prepare for the day
I find when I personally prepare too much I overthink things and my thoughts become too structured. This hinders the natural flow of the conversation and I find myself thinking back to the things I've written down rather than living in the moment.
Of course it's a good idea if it's a business meeting to be prepared enough to answer questions about your services, but visuals can help a lot with this; examples of previous work, examples of your products, flyers or product brochures. If you have tangible things to show this can direct the conversation well and it might prompt questions you might not have thought of otherwise and gives you both something else to talk about.
4 | Try reducing your coffee intake
I'm not here to tell you how or what to eat, I've just noticed on the days when my coffee intake is minimal - zero, I generally feel less anxious. Some think anxiety can also be made worse by sugar rich and processed food, so try eating a more fruit and veg for a balanced diet.
5 | Try to live in the moment
It's easier said than done, but I think the biggest way you should try and change your thinking is to stop looking into the future. You can't predict it and you can't change it. C'est la vie.
You're probably anxious about the thing because you care. You really do want to do it and you'll feel amazing once it's done. The only thing that's stopping you is you own thoughts, and they're usually based on something you dreamed up, or something that happened once but isn't necessarily going to happen again.
If it's a meeting with a person your anxious about remember that people are just people. We're all the same really, and if someone does treat you unfairly or is actually not a nice person, you don't have to work with them and you probably don't have to see them again if you don't want to.
Above all else, don't give up. Bad things happen, embarrassing things happen, but those things don't define you. Pick yourself back up and move on.