When I get too busy in my business, I wig out a bit. Do you?
For me it has a name … and it’s called ANXIETY! Self induced, environmental, hereditary … who cares really. It comes and goes from my life and it’s pretty bloody annoying I must say.
I have a very, VERY busy brain .. and it makes things complicated at times.
Hang on … aren’t I the girl who is constantly chatting live on social media, standing on the stage in front of hundreds of people hosting photography events around the country, always doing SOMETHING. Well yes, same girl. But don’t worry … you don’t have to look at me differently now. I’m not embarrassed. I’m not different now or defective. It’s just a thing I live with. Most days it’s a tiny little flutter in my stomach deep down where I barely notice it. Some days it’s a full body explosion that has me calling 000 in a panic. Thankfully, those days are pretty rare. But they might not be for you … which is why I’m here telling you my story. If I can make 1 person’s life easier, it’s worth it!
ANXIETY IN BUSINESS AINT NO JOKE
When I ran my photography business from 2010 – 2017, I was so busy so soon that taking photos of other people quickly became my worst nightmare. Some days I’d have trouble getting out of bed knowing that another client was about to knock on my door … because I knew how far behind I already was with my editing, social media, blogging, marketing, accounting and every other thing that photographers have to do that no one truly understands.
So much of it was self induced – I understand that. I don’t do things by halves.
My client experience was fantastic.
I made every client feel like they were my best friend.
I talked non stop in sessions and truly invested in the stories people were telling me.
I edited entire galleries and then let them choose.
I edited sneak peeks the day of the session.
I made slideshow videos and blogged every session religiously.
I made sure that the photos from every session were unique and I would spend hours designing new setups and props.
I wrote long, personal captions for every social media post.
I did not outsource a single thing.
And then and then and then …. it was perhaps a bit OTT in hindsight.
Oh and did I mention I also had 2 young children at the time? I was back shooting full-time after my second child was born at 7 weeks. He sat in a capsule in the corner of the room and happily slept while I worked. My husband and mum watched the kids a lot while I booked sessions all weekend. The iPad was also a fantastic babysitter. I had 2 children 18 months apart, one with undiagnosed Autism (the raging type). Things were next level messy!
But running a business has always been so important to me. I hate working for other people. I love the autonomy and the thrill of it all. I know you do too. So I felt mostly like it was worth it … even if I was making myself sick.
WHAT ANXIETY CAN LOOK AND FEEL LIKE
The sickness from my anxiety manifests mostly physically. Here’s a quick (haha) list of every single anxiety symptom I have ever felt. It’s scary until you learn more about what your body is doing. I most definitely thought I was dying on multiple occasions and have had more brain scans, X-rays and ER visits than you can imagine to try and diagnose something, anything. But without fail, every time, all tests came back fine. It was, anxiety.
Just to be clear, these don’t all happen at once. But wow, when I just work one out, along comes something new! The body sure is a clever (and sometimes cruel) creature.
Shallow breathing. Tight chest. Dizzy. Brain fog. Wobbly on my feet. Feeling of being slightly drunk (without the fun part). Lump in my throat. Migraines. Visual disturbances / auras. Ringing in my ears. A feeling of blocked ears as if I’m underwater. Tingling skin. Shakes – low level and intense. Easily scared and triggered – as if an electric shock has reached every tip of my body. Ice pick headaches. Whooshing blood through my head. High and low blood pressure. Feeling faint or as if I could have a seizure. TMJ / clicky jaw. Reflux. Tight shoulder muscles beyond belief! Teeth clenching in my sleep. Feeling like I could throw up. Pins and needles. Chest pains. Tight hips and general inflexibility. Busy brain. I’m sure there’s more so I’ll keep working on this list over time!
POSTNATAL ANXIETY GOT ME GOOD
To be fair on the business, it wasn’t the main contributor. Having children was (sorry little ones!). But my body had trouble readjusting hormonally after Jess and I quickly went down a postnatal anxiety spiral that went undiagnosed by anyone for 5 years or more. The day that random old GP said to me “Kate, I think you have anxiety.” was one of the happiest days of my life. Because the second that he said it, I knew he was right.
I didn’t use them myself because I didn’t know they existed at the time but I have since worked with PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia through our Yes Project not for profit. I’ve even spoken with them about our role as newborn photographers and how we could help the 1 in 7 mothers who visit our studios who are experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression. It’s a work in progress. But they are an incredible resource if you need it personally or know someone who does. Here’s the PANDA Website.
PERFECTIONISM AND ANXIETY
I could ramble on here for many paragraphs about it all. It definitely began as a child. I was a clever, high achieving, sporty and creative little critter and anything less than an A was a fail in my eyes. My earliest memory of my anxiety becoming problematic was in grade 3 – when I would routinely ‘forget’ my hat so that I didn’t have to play Friday afternoon sport. Why? Because competition triggered something in me that pinged all of my senses. I couldn’t handle team sports, even though I was naturally good at them. I’d make myself almost sick as Friday afternoon approached. When Miss Hurly finally cottoned onto it all she said, “If you forget your hat one more time, you’ll have to go to the principal’s office.” Well, that was definitely not an option for this goodie two shoes. So the hat returned. The anxiety always remained.
WHY AM I WRITING ALL OF THIS?
I felt compelled to write this blog post for a particular reason. Because I know that many photographers and other creatives live this life too. I only wish that I had read more stories from people who were living with anxiety and was given a list of helpful tips and resources to try when I was in the thick of it all.
I’m in the middle of teaching my 10 week social media for photographers course for photographers (Socially Set) with a group of around 30 fantastic women and some of them are about to get busy, REALLY busy. For many in New South Wales particularly, they are reopening their businesses after a lengthy COVID lockdown and from all reports, they won’t be coming up for air until Christmas. The reschedules from the last 4 months alone would be enough to keep them busy, let alone the huge number of new bookings many of them are receiving.
I’m nervous for them.
Because over the years, as I’ve spoke candidly about my mental health, a huge number of other women have talked to me about their struggles too. So I’m here today to write down some of the things that have helped me over the years. In case you need them too.
Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way. For me, it’s like a lightning bolt that reaches every nerve ending from the tip of my toes to the ends of my fingers. If my daughter jumps out and scares me, I almost electrocute myself haha. Adrenaline leaves me wobbly, like half drunk but not in a fun way, dizzy and with a serious case of brain fog. But for you it could be very different.
No matter what it looks like for you, many of the same therapies and techniques may work. So here’s a list of things that I do, books that I’ve read, shows that I’ve devoured and more. I hope that it helps you.
STUFF THAT HELPED ME WITH MY ANXIETY WHEN I WAS RUNNING A BUSY BUSINESS
1. Breath work. My #1 go-to strategy. The body wobbles and trembles are often easy to deal with after a few deep breaths. But they must be intentional! Deep tummy breathing. A long slow exhale. Guiding my breath down towards my legs. Deep diaphragmatic breathing helps quiet my sympathetic nervous system. Very handy and free.
2. This book. By Sarah Wilson. First We Make The Best Beautiful. It was the first time I’d ever really read anything that described some of what I was going through in a succinct and real way.
3. CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I didn’t need much. It might be different for you but learning a few of these techniques was all I needed to make some huge changes. Learning how to create new neural pathways in my own brain (fascinating!). How to create and strengthen new thought patterns and slowly unlearn old ones. How to deal with annoying, ruminating thoughts and move them quickly through my consciousness. It’s super practical and extremely powerful! Don’t forget that in Australia you can get a 10 session mental health plan from your GP! Some psychologists are free using the plan (few) but others you will still need to pay the gap – but hey, it’s a start!
4. Walking. Ohhhh the walking. Boy have I WALKED guys. I threw on a pair of half price Nikes from DFO in 2017 and walked for years. There are periods when I’m hardcore and others when it’s just a wander. But I’ve hiked more forests than I even knew existed in the last few years … and wore a hole through the sole of those purple shoes pounding the pavement in my local suburb. It usually takes me about an hour. It takes at least 30 minutes for my mind to clear, then another 15 to just chill and then by the time I hit the 45 minute mark it’s happy days. This is usually when I come up with my BEST business ideas too. Right near the random old dumpster on my usual suburban walk. Amazing what the brain can come up with when it’s clear! For a while there I even ran a small not-for-profit that took groups hiking here in Brisbane.
5. This book. By Clare Bowditch. Your Own Kind Of Girl. If you don’t mind an audiobook, I’d do that instead because she narrates it herself and her voice is so delightful to listen to! You’ll fall in love with her first and then fall in love with her practical and inspirational anxiety busting tips.
6. Meditation. By this, I literally just mean giving my poor overworked and exhausted brain a rest. Even just for 2 minutes. When things are hitting boiling point, it’s an attempt at just stopping the thoughts. Not every thought of course (or you’d be dead) … but just stopping the obsessive work thinking and focusing on the birds in the trees around me or my breathing. Counting the cars driving past. Noticing the small stuff. It doesn’t take long for the brain to reset and it always thanks me for it!
7. Nature. Sitting. Listening. Ohhhhh boy I find that hard. So hard! But I’ve made a conscious effort to get out of my own head and pay more attention to the beauty around me and it turns out, that bit is actually pretty easy when you live in Australia huh! Much of this happens for me when I head home to visit my mum on Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast Hinterland of Queensland. Pretty views and earthing myself helps a lot too – because I often feel dizzy or all up in my head, helping to remind my body that I am grounded is a good one too!
8. This show on SBS. The Truth About Anxiety with comedian Celia Pacquola. Oh this made me cry! What a beautiful, honest and funny look into anxiety. With the perfect amount of scientific research and woo woo. She talks to tradies, AFL players, men, women, the elderly. Fantastic! You can find it pretty easily on SBS On Demand at the moment.
9. Choosing a job and way of working that is best for me. Lots of things had to change there. I had to make the hard decision to close down my photography business (at the top of my game with 6 months of bookings ahead) and choose a way of working that was best for my mental health. The photography life was not for me. I needed slower, calmer mornings. Less in-person pressure (that was always of course made up by my own brain – my clients were in fact always incredibly lovely) and more space to work at my own pace. Which is usually like a bat out of hell but I need to be able to stop when I need do and check out for a bit.
10. Outsourcing. Oh yes … this was SO important. Working out what I loved to do and what I didn’t. Asking for help. Letting go of the perfectionism and letting other people give me a hand in my business. We cannot do all of this alone.
11. This book. Self Help For Your Nerves by Doctor Claire Weeks. Again, the audio book is a delight with Dr Weekes narration! It’s old skool and superbly simple in its delivery. It’s a fantastic reminder resource for when I’m feeling a bit off. She truly was a pioneer on the topic.
12. Medication. Well, truth be told, I have never been medicated for my anxiety. I’ve come close a few times and even dabbled in very low level beta blockers for a bit, but I’ve always been able to manage my flare ups with the 14 other tips on this page so I’ve just never gone there. Which certainly doesn’t mean that I never will. And I absolutely know many people whose lives have been transformed by anxiety meds. I’d suggest you consult your GP instead of a Kate on a blog for this part of your journey.
13. Al Anon – for families and friends of alcoholics. Well this one is perhaps a little left field, but I am a part of a 12 step program for family members and friends of alcoholics (it’s a sister type program to AA – Alcoholics Anonymous and was formed by the wives of the original AA founders). There’s a lot I could say here but if this speaks to you in any way, just message me and I’m always happy to chat to you about it! But things that I’ve learnt through this incredible program like acceptance, detachment with love, letting go and making sense of what truly matters has been LIFE CHANGING! Not only for my relationships with the alcoholics and addicts in my life but also with other challenging areas like my elderly mum with dementia, my daughter’s Autism and of course, my anxiety! Many addictions and anxiety are very closely related. Here’s the Al Anon Website.
14. Fun. Now this sounds like a silly one, but I’ve definitely been more interested in working in the business than going out and enjoying life over the years. And this only seems to lead to one thing … burn out or anxiety flare ups. So for me, it’s MUSIC! Throwing myself into mosh pits and dancing at gigs in the city until my feet are sore. Whatever it is for you, maybe try and do it a bit more?
15. The Simple Things. Cups of tea on the verandah with my partner Pete. Slowing it all down. Repetitive behaviours that force me to slow down and just relaxxxxxxxx. I do find this hard so something simple like a cup of tea every morning really helps!
Interestingly, my anxiety is worse when I rest. It’s like I can handle the stress well in the moment but the second I stop my body goes ENOUGH IS ENOUGH WOMAN! I’m still trying to work this bit out because as a result I avoid holidays and don’t like to ‘chill’ much. A constant state of busy-ness is best for me – but also probably not. If I work that bit out, I’ll let you know.
So that’s it I think for now.
Anxiety annoys me, for sure. I meet people who don’t seem to have any worries and I’m truly jealous. But I also know that my anxiety has fuelled so many of my successes in life and makes me who I am. So, I’m ok with it I guess.
I love teaching photographers how to market their businesses … but just know that every single day I am speaking to you with your wellbeing in mind as well. No photo shoot or business is worth risking your health. Learning how to work efficiently in your business is key! Doing things smarter and not harder. Outsourcing where you need to. It’s an important part of the balance of business – particularly if you do struggle with your mental health – so I’m here to help however I can.
Want to talk about this? I’m always willing to talk. DM me, email, call, comment on a social post, whatever works for you. If you need help, I’m definitely an open book.