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Dealing with social anxiety as a small business owner

4-minute read

Dealing with social anxiety when self-employed
Matthew Knight

Matthew Knight

23 May 2023

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With 56 per cent of small business owners reporting poor mental health in the past 12 months – and 59 per cent experiencing feelings of anxiety – you may need some advice on how to manage. Matthew Knight, the founder of Leapers, which supports the mental health of freelancers and the self-employed, gives his tips on dealing with anxiety.

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing.

Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our Mind Your Business initiative.

Why feelings of anxiety can be more challenging for small business owners

When you're self-employed, it can feel much more challenging to deal with mental health and emotional challenges at work – as you may have a less established support network or not know where to find resources tailored towards self-employment.

Leapers exists to support the mental health of the self-employed, making sure that anyone working for themselves can find support for the challenges of running your own business.

Anxiety can appear in many situations. Research from Leapers shows that 80 per cent of the self-employed say a lack of confidence has caused anxiety or stress.

When running a small business, there are lots of tasks which might be outside your area of confidence. One of the big "oh no" moments which can often lead to feelings of anxiety and dread is public speaking, pitching, and marketing yourself – despite being an essential part of growing a successful business. This can hold us back, as we’re missing out on opportunities to make new and valuable connections or not presenting our work in the best possible way.

There are no overnight hacks for building confidence – but here are a handful of tips for steadily improving how you feel when you need to step outside of your comfort zone.

8 tips for battling feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence

1. Facts not feelings

It's important to try and remember that feelings are not always facts. Try and think back to previous times you presented or spoke publicly. Did anything actually go wrong? Did you forget all your lines? Did the crowd boo and throw things at you? Probably not. So whenever possible, focus on the facts of the situation.

When you've been in situations previously – what actually happened? Write down the experiences and outcomes you've had each time you present. This helps you remember that you've done this before, you did it well, and you'll most likely do brilliantly this time too.

2. Practise, practise, practise

Find more opportunities where you can speak to others in a way that makes you feel a little more comfortable each time. Create opportunities to present to your clients face-to-face rather than online, and look for chances to speak at events and social meetups where you know the audience is friendly and supportive. Over time, you'll feel more at ease.

3. Get feedback

Ask for feedback on how your talk or presentation went. Feedback is useful because your reality of how things went can be quite different to what your audience experienced. You can try getting feedback on your content before you speak or present too. Call upon a friendly contact who you trust and would be willing to listen and give you pointers.

4. Buddy up

Buddy up with collaborators when presenting. Find a friend who can come along to key events with you and give you a little support and cheerleading as you go. If you can’t find a co-presenter, simply having a friendly face in the crowd when you're presenting can also be reassuring.

Before you head off to events, chat to others in your community and networks to share how you're feeling – you'll likely be flooded with positive comments and reassurance that often the anxiety is worse than the reality.

5. Keep it simple and passionate

If you're worried about fluffing your lines, messing up your message, or skipping critical information – keep things simple. Don't try to say too many things at once.

Reduce the key points of what you're trying to get across. It can often help to focus on the things that you're really passionate about – you’ll often lose all of your anxiety when you’re telling a story you truly care about.

6. Take a deep breath

Before you step out onto the stage, enter the room, or fire up the PowerPoint, take some deep breaths. Breathwork and simple meditations can massively help feelings of anxiety by reducing your heart rate and bringing you back to focusing on the moment.

Simple affirmations can help too: I know the topic I'm about to speak on. I’m well prepared. I’m going to enjoy this.

7. Manage your energy and take a break

It can feel exhausting and draining when you're out of your comfort zone, especially if you're experiencing feelings of anxiety. Make sure you're only putting yourself in the situation when you've got the energy to deliver. Be sure to take some time to rest and recharge afterwards too.

8. Congratulate yourself

If you've put yourself out there and found it challenging or uncomfortable, remember to take a moment to congratulate and celebrate yourself – no matter how well it went.

You did it. You stepped into the moment, despite feeling a lack of confidence or worrying about it, and you got it done. Tell your network how you got on, and maybe even schedule the next opportunity to do it again soon.

Sustainable work takes work

If anxiety is consistently causing you concern or significant challenges at work, preventing you from working, or causing you physical and mental health concerns, don’t ignore it and speak to a professional for support.

If you're experiencing significant anxiety on a regular basis, this can lead to lasting issues over time if unchecked.

It's also important to recognise that a lack of confidence at times is part of the human condition – not an illness, not a condition, not a syndrome, not a failure. It’s normal, natural, and part of our body’s way to keep us safe.

Being more actively aware of your emotions at work helps you to identify the causes of anxiety and stress so that you’re able to put things in place to support yourself to work well.

Visit Mental Health at Work's dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing.

About Matthew Knight

Matthew Knight is the founder of Leapers, the award winning project supporting the mental health of freelancers and the self-employed, and Chief Freelance Officer at The Independency Co, a consultancy helping businesses work well with freelancers. Founded in 2016, Leapers is the UK’s leading voice on mental health for the self-employed, having supported over 180,000 individuals through its peer-support community, resources, and partnerships.

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Matthew Knight

Written by

Matthew Knight

Matthew Knight is the founder of Leapers, the award winning project supporting the mental health of freelancers and the self-employed, and Chief Freelance Officer at The Independency Co, a consultancy helping businesses work well with freelancers. Founded in 2016, Leapers is the UK’s leading voice on mental health for the self-employed, having supported over 180,000 individuals through its peer-support community, resources, and partnerships.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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