Business stress caused me to have a panic attack

It is only four days into the new year, and I already have three friends talking to me about wanting to start on a new path for their career.  I wrote a blog post previously covering considerations for anyone looking to leave their job to start a new career in entrepreneurship, link to that is here.

In this post I want to talk about my own personal challenges that I’ve faced in making my journey to entrepreneurship.  I’m always one to encourage people to embrace being an entrepreneur, but I also want to be real about what this actually means.  Owning your own business means that you are accountable for everything that happens, and somehow you have to find a way to deal with that.  In early 2018, I was so consumed with the stresses of starting a business that it was starting to take a toll on my health.

I was dealing with a brand new team that did not seem to be coming together and needed my constant support, a very difficult client that treated our service like a round-the-clock personal finance team, and some potential legal risks among other things.  My phone was ringing off the hook most days and my designated inexperienced assistant was not helping.  I slept after midnight, and sometimes woke up in a panic at 5am.

One day I woke up and had a panic attack.  I was panting, my heart was beating really quickly and my head and body felt I was going through some kind of extreme hangover.  I called my friend who told me to slow down and take the day off.  Here’s a photo of me doing a cardiology test.  I didn’t take the day off, but the panic attack was a big signal to me that I had to do something to change.  Over the next few months, I slowly started making changes.

Stop the barrage of communication

I realize that the constant barrage of communications was annoying and stressful.  I turned off phone notifications for almost every single app.  Rather than having my team message me about non-urgent items at all hours of the day, I had designated office hours.  Eventually, I’ve come to a point where I don’t answer phone calls unless they are scheduled, or I know who is calling and for what purpose.  As a listed business number, there are so many solicitation calls that come in throughout the day.  It simply isn’t possible to be productive if you’re constantly being interrupted.

Letting people go their own way

I knew I needed a team, but there was a serious problem with my team.  I eventually made the decision to let go my only full-time employee.  I realize that I had made the wrong choice with the hire and it was an uphill battle to train someone who was not motivated.  I also let go of my interns who were not looking for a long-term position in the field.  My entire approach to internships has changed, and that will be a separate blog post.

The client that was giving us a hard time?  I was at first reluctant since they came in as a referral from a friend.  As I thought about it more, I don’t think that any true friend would want me to suffer and so I also let go of this client.

Being able to let go of my full-time employee and realizing that I should let go of unnecessarily troublesome clients were two tough decisions that I attribute to my company finally being able to get back on track.

Prioritizing events

If I was invited to an event that could potentially benefit my business and I was free that evening, I would plan to go.  While networking can be insightful and can bring some new sales opportunities, most events don’t result in anything tangible.  Going to every single start-up event in town is a good way to waste time and not be focused on the real goal.  I’m now much more selective about which events I go to, and most events I go to nowadays are due to the social aspects and not business.  If an organic business connection happens from these events, then that’s a bonus.

Paying money to alleviate stress

In some cases, money can alleviate stress.  The obvious case is me paying my masseuse for a massage.  I also paid a lawyer to help with my business’ legal exposures and it made it easier for me to sleep at night.  It wasn’t cheap, but some things (such as professional services) are worth paying for.  I think of it also as an investment in my own mental health and so that I can spend more time focused on growing my business.

Being in control

Taking control of the stressful situation and then minimizing the stress factor is key.  The way that I handled my stressful situation and took control of it is more important than the specific actions taken.  My message for those wanting to go down this path is that each business idea will come with its own execution challenges.  Facing challenges should not come as a surprise when embracing entrepreneurship.  Remember to take a step back for the clarity to deal with these challenges and take control of the situation.