“I had my first anxiety attack at night, waking me up from my sleep. It was an incredibly all-consuming feeling and I felt a sudden lack of control in my body. My heart was racing against my chest, I was sweating and I couldn’t breathe properly. I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Very few friends and family were aware of what Tania was going through at the time. Outwardly, she was a young, successful entrepreneur running a fast-growing international dance festival. But within a year of setting up her business, she was experiencing signs of burnout and depression, which later developed into anxiety attacks.
“It was incredibly scary. To start with, I didn’t understand the symptoms because I hadn’t experienced anything like it before,” she says. “The second time it happened I was out during the day in central London in a very crowded spot – probably one of the worst places you can be when an attack comes on. I was having a lovely day with my fiancé and there was no reason to feel anxious. Yet, in the background, I had so many things running through my mind and mounting pressures in my business which felt incredibly challenging. I started to realise my worries were manifesting in physical and psychological ways, and starting to disrupt my daily life.”
“I put pressure on myself to do things ‘perfectly’ and wanted to look like I ‘had it all together’. As the leader of a business, you put yourself in quite a vulnerable position”
The attacks continued sporadically throughout the following year. As she opened up and talked about it more with close loved ones, she recognised the various symptoms of anxiety and learnt how to overcome these symptoms through having a support system, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) coaching and finding a healthy business–life balance. This system also inspired her to become a trained Business NLP Practitioner, so she could provide quality coaching for others. It has taken a great deal of effort and commitment for Tania to get to where she is now, a position where she feels in control of managing her mental health and wellbeing, while empowering others to achieve the same.
A PROBLEM SHARED
Tania is far from alone. The World Health Organization estimates that mental health disorders account for the equivalent of more than 50 million years of work lost annually around the world, and more than $1 trillion a year is lost to the global economy in productivity. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive calculates that during 2016/17 526,000 people suffered work-related stress, anxiety and depression (either new or long-standing) and the number of sick notes issued by GPs for stress-related conditions rose by 70,000 to 573,000 between 2015/16 and 2016/17. What led Tania to experience burnout? “I was working all the hours I could, which was incredibly unhealthy, and there was a strong lack of balance in my life. I didn’t create time and space to do other things I enjoy and to rest and recuperate,” she says.
“I put pressure on myself to do things ‘perfectly’ and wanted to look like I ‘had it all together’. As the leader of a business, you put yourself in quite a vulnerable position. I was so invested in every aspect of its development yet I wasn’t delegating effectively – therefore putting more pressure on my shoulders. My business was events-based, so I was organising and managing large teams of people, working with international artists and building new partnerships, as well as working with various suppliers. I think a lot of my personal struggles came down to my resilience and how I dealt with challenging situations. I’m sensitive to people’s feelings, which can be a real strength – but if you end up falling into a people-pleasing attitude in business, you can end up losing perspective and not protect your emotions enough. I learnt this the hard way, but at the same time, it taught me so much about myself and even highlighted other strengths that I didn’t know I had.”
“I don’t work 24/7 and I am much more productive and resourceful as a result”
BEHIND A BRAVE FACE
Friends and family were shocked to discover what she was going through as she tried to keep up the appearance that all was well. “I felt there was a stigma around mental health,” she says. “On some level I felt like I couldn’t admit to it, as I didn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t capable of running my own business, which now I know was just my own perception. Nowadays, there is a huge rise in awareness around mental health and the importance of looking after your wellbeing, which is so important. I believe the more we talk about what we’re really going through, the more normalised it will become – I believe both physical and mental health should be given equal consideration, but mental health is often overlooked. Some days you may feel great, other days not so great – it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what makes us human. I’m so pleased people are talking more about mental health, it’s a really positive step in the right direction.”
She credits the work of charities like Mind (for which she is now a mental health trainer), Mental Health First Aid, and the work of Princes William and Harry and the Heads Together campaign for encouraging more people to talk openly about mental health issues.
In Tania’s case, she learnt to overcome anxiety through seeking help, talking openly about her experience, learning to manage her feelings effectively and developing coping strategies. These days, she ensures she delegates effectively in her business, surrounds herself with like-minded people and has mentors to support her on her business journey.
She says: “I have found a balance that works for me – that took a long time. I make sure I take breaks, I don’t work 24/7 and I am much more productive and resourceful as a result. I make time for my personal life and look after myself as well as my workload. At the end of the day, we’re human beings, we’re not created to keep doing one thing repeatedly until we run out of fuel. We need time to reflect, recharge and reassess where we’re at and what we need in order to live a fulfilled, nurtured and productive life.”
These personal lessons did not go to waste. Realising just how prevalent the issue of mental health and wellbeing was, particularly among entrepreneurs, Tania found more clients coming to her for mentoring and opening up about having panic attacks and depression.
Tania says: “I noticed this was more common than I realised in the entrepreneur world, so I decided to do some more research. I conducted a survey for entrepreneurs in the UK and abroad to find out how business owners today were managing the demands of running a business. Of those who took part, the majority admitted to experiencing anxiety on their journey and felt overwhelmed; they also said they would like to seek support through events and programmes and they weren’t aware of another company dedicated to supporting the wellbeing of entrepreneurs. This is where I really saw a gap in the market to support and empower entrepreneurs to access their strengths and manage feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.”
This inspired Tania to form a new business, Calmer, a platform that supports entrepreneurs with managing their mental health and wellbeing while running a business. They offer mentoring programmes, workshops, and events in partnership with YADA Events, to encourage like-minded people to connect and build long-term supportive relationships. “We work with entrepreneurs and their teams to help them handle whatever comes their way with strength, knowledge and resilience, with their wellbeing at the heart of what they do. Reflecting on the three-step management model in my book, This Is Calmer, our training is centred on managing your wellbeing, your business and your relationships effectively, so you can thrive. To me, managing those three aspects have been crucial to my success today. I believe it’s about nurturing both your inner success and reaching personal milestones, as well as your outer success that everyone sees.”
It’s not just entrepreneurs who can find themselves overwhelmed by their work. Tania says many people in high-pressure roles, especially those that are target-driven, can find themselves struggling. For some, this pressure is only increased by the blurring of boundaries between work and home life. For those in the throes of work-related anxiety, Tania offers these simple suggestions: take a number of short breaks throughout the day, practise slow breathing exercises to help you connect to the moment and centre yourself, take time to do things you enjoy to lift your spirits and reach out to others when you need support.
“A key aspect of our training at Calmer is to normalise talking about any struggles you are going through. We help you navigate challenges you’re facing through exploring choice and different perspectives, empowering you to embrace your full potential,” says Tania.
HOW TO MANAGE WORK-RELATED STRESS
Here are Tania’s five steps to help you achieve a business–life balance and manage workplace stress.
1 NURTURE YOUR MINDSET
Take 10 to 15 minutes at the start of each day to motivate your mind and get into a proactive state – this helps you to set positive intentions for the day ahead. Whether it’s reading or watching an inspiring talk or doing a bit of exercise. At the end of each day, make a note of the positive progress you’ve made and reflect on how it makes you feel.
2 EMBRACE WHAT MAKES YOU YOU
Take time to understand yourself, your strengths and what makes you happy. This will help you to understand your triggers in challenging situations and what you need to do to balance things out. Write down all the strengths and characteristics that you believe make you unique, and embrace them all.
3 LET GO OF SELF-JUDGEMENT
If you’re worried about the future, feeling anxious or have an endless to-do list, understand that you are not alone on that journey and there are lots of people going through similar experiences. Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and remind yourself that things are temporary. What feels significant now will move on and can sometimes lead to a better path with new lessons learnt.
4 TAKE TIME TO REFLECT
It’s not about working 24/7; it’s important to take time to reflect. Pick a day each week to check in with yourself. Find a quiet space, grab a pen and paper or meditate by asking yourself the following: how do I feel in this moment? What has been working really well for me this week? What has been challenging and how can I go about making improvements – who could help me?
5 SEEK OUT MENTORS
The most successful people are very much open to learning from the experiences of others. You can learn valuable lessons from your peers and utilise them to enhance your own journey. Think about who you could approach to mentor you: who do you know that has the experience and credibility to help guide you on your journey of personal and professional development?
For more advice on coping with stress and panic attacks, visit mind.org.uk.