9 Self-Care Strategies for Busy Entrepreneurs

Three women do a plank pose in a yoga studio

At Shopify, we decided we’d be better equipped to understand and help independent businesses if we could walk in your shoes. 

Along with my colleagues, I launched a store on Shopify. A few nights before I removed the password to unleash my business on the world, I caught myself awake at 3:30 AM, still writing product descriptions. I couldn’t remember the last meal I ate. (Did I even drink water today?) My back ached, my eyes were strained, and I had skipped yoga and missed six texts from my sister.

I realized how easy it is, in the thick of nurturing a business, to forget to nurture yourself.

It was an aha moment: this is really what it’s like to start your own business. This is the plight of nearly every entrepreneur in the early stages of their businesses, working a day job and cramming the rest into that time once earmarked for rest, fun, or family.

I realized how easy it is, in the thick of nurturing a business, to forget to nurture yourself.

I’ve been known to boast that I can “operate on little sleep”, and while it’s true—I do have secret super stores of energy—I know that merely operating and thriving are two very different things. Sleep-deprived, I am not offering my best self to my work. And it noticeably suffers.

Time and time again, studies link good physical health (healthy diet, exercise) to good mental health (decreased depression and stress), and good mental health to increased productivity and creative thinking.

What does that mean for you? You’re not doing you or your business any favors by not taking care of yourself.

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What is self-care?

Self-care is a term that has been traditionally used in health care to describe self-initiated actions to stay healthy, prevent disease, and manage long-term illnesses. It encompasses basic physical human needs like sleep, food, and water and emotional needs like social interaction.

In the past few years, self-care has become a buzz term as more and more studies have revealed the importance of “you doing you”, expanding the definition to activities such as meditation, travel, and pampering, and focusing on emotional and relationship health.

The term exploded in 2016, achieving Instagrammable levels of opulence and indulgence. But at its core, self-care isn’t mani-pedis and mimosas—it’s listening to your body and meeting its needs. (And, well, sometimes it might just need a mimosa.)

9 self-care strategies for busy entrepreneurs

We won’t lie: entrepreneurship can be hard. There’s a reason that along with our posts about analytics and email marketing, we also discuss topics like loneliness, stress, and sleep.

Self-care sets you up to be mentally, emotionally, and physically equipped to handle the demands of a small business. Before you argue that you have no time or money for self-care, let me stop you: this is my favorite excuse. I see you. The cost of not taking care of yourself is much greater in the long run.

Invest in future you, and ultimately your business, by practicing self-care. We’ve put together 9 quick tips, including additional resources for each:

  1. Take a breath
  2. Minimize stress through exercise
  3. Get quality sleep
  4. Eat well
  5. Seek human interaction
  6. Get outside
  7. Create a workspace you love
  8. Treat yourself
  9. Check in with your mental health

1. Breathe

Let’s start with an easy one. Breathing happens naturally whether you’re thinking about it or not, right? But how are you breathing? Short, panting puffs? Holding your breath, subconsciously?

There are proven benefits to controlled and mindful breathing including staving off stress.

There are proven benefits to controlled and mindful breathing including staving off stress. Where shallow breathing contributes to anxiety, full abdominal breaths help slow the heart and stabilize blood pressure. If you have trouble remembering to breathe deeply, practice yoga or other guided exercises that focus on breath, until it comes naturally.

📚 Recommended reading: How to Focus Better in the Era of Information Overload. “Since oxygen is fundamentally tied to our ability to focus, deep breathing exercises can help you quiet your mind and boost your focus.” Read more.

2. Minimize stress through exercise

“Exercise” is a scary word. But you don’t need to spend tons of money on gym fees, or hours on the treadmill to reap the benefits.

The average adult should get about 150 minutes of exercise per week. It sounds like a lot when you’re already tapped out, but break it up into small 10-20 minute chunks throughout your work week: take the dog for a walk, do a circuit of strength exercises using your own body weight, jog around the block, or even do lunges on your way to and from the bathroom.

Regular aerobic exercise boosts the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning.

📚 Recommended reading: Understanding Stress: How to Manage Pressure for a More Productive Life. “Exercise releases endorphins that act as your body's natural painkillers. They can relieve tension and improve the quality of your sleep, thus reducing your stress levels. Even 5 minutes of cardio can help achieve this effect. Making exercise a regular part of your lifestyle can change the way you react to stress.” Read more.

3. Sleep more (and better)

Sleep deprivation contributes to reduced decision making ability and stunts creativity. You might get more done by burning the midnight oil, but at what cost? Build a routine that includes better sleeping habits, and, if you can’t seem to catch a solid 8 hours, a good 10-30 minute power nap will pick up the slack.

📚 Recommended reading: The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better). “It’s recommended that most adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. But it’s also about the quality of the sleep and when you wake up—you can get a good 8 hours and still feel groggy in the morning.” Read more.

4. Eat the right stuff

What’s the right stuff? Well, it depends on who you ask. It’s confusing to navigate nutritional information that seemingly contradicts itself everywhere you look. It’s so overwhelming that when you’re busy, it seems much easier to grab fast food—it saves time and fills the gap. But not all food is created equal.

Your food choices have a direct impact on cognitive performance.

Your food choices have a direct impact on cognitive performance, so it’s important to choose wisely. High carb foods like pasta release glucose too quickly, making you peak before suddenly crashing. High-fat foods make our digestive systems work overtime, reducing oxygen in the brain and sapping our energy.

To avoid poor food choices, plan ahead. Prepare healthy snacks and meals for the week, portioned out in the fridge (ask me about my favorite slow-cooker recipes). When in doubt, go for greens—increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables actually impacts engagement and creativity at work.

And, don’t forget about water.

5. Seek human interaction

Loneliness can take a psychological toll, and even contribute to physical health problems.

Human interaction may not be automatically built into your day the way it was at your salary job. You may never see your customers or vendors face-to-face, and your social life may have suffered from your 24/7 business responsibilities.

A man and a woman speak on a video call using a computer

Take a proactive approach to getting face time with other humans: work from a coffee shop once a week, join local entrepreneur meetup groups, or kill two birds by finding a running buddy. If you can't see people face to face—you're living off the grid or the world is on lockdown due to an outbreak—a phone call, FaceTime, or video conference with friends will do in a pinch.

📚 Recommended reading: Feeling Lonely? 5 Ways to Cure the Entrepreneurship BluesEntrepreneurship’s “dark side” is the psychological toll that can put business owners at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.” Read more.

6. Get outside

What’s the best part of working for yourself? You make the rules. And, if you’re running an ecommerce dropshipping business, for example, you can pretty much work from anywhere.

Since too much stale air can actually decrease productivity, take in some sunshine and vitamin D by working from your balcony or patio. If you’re operating your business from a windowless warehouse, it’s all the more reason to make time for fresh air. Start your day with a brisk walk around the block.

📚 Recommended reading: Why Working From the Road Is Good for Business (and How to Do It). “Studies have uncovered that subjects perform 50% better on problem-solving tasks after three days of active wilderness exposure. And, according to Eva M. Selhub, Harvard professor and author, nature ‘turns off the stress response which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved immune response.’ In short: get outside!” Read more.

7. Love your space

Your workspace is a place where you’ll be spending the majority of your waking hours, especially while getting a business off the ground. Be mindful of how you design the space—it can impact your happiness and make you feel motivated.

Ask yourself: is there enough delineation between personal and work space? Is the furniture ergonomic and conducive to an efficient workflow? Is there adequate light and ventilation? Small improvements like a splash of paint or a few houseplants can actually have a positive impact on mood.

📚 Recommended reading: Home Office Ideas: Brilliant Hacks to Maximize Productivity. “Tech startups are famous for investing heavily in swanky office spaces for their employees. While it might feel like money-burning, there’s plenty of research to support that thoughtfully designed spaces can increase productivity and happiness. And happy workers do good work – the ROI is obvious.” Read more.

8. Treat yourself

Allow yourself to be rewarded for your hard work, whether it’s a face mask or your favorite take-out. There may be no one else around to celebrate your small victories, like launching your store or getting your first sale.

It’s a principle that works for large companies who pamper employees to improve motivation and retention. The same can work to self-motivate you through rough patches. Set goals, but don’t forget to reward yourself when you reach them.

📚 Recommended reading: 10 Secrets to Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance. “Before you know it, you don’t even know what the date is. Your life becomes one long work session. Holidays break up the day-in, day-out grind.” Read more.

9. Check in with your mental health

Researchers suggest that entrepreneurs tend to have character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings, depression, and loss of motivation.

Check in with yourself often, maintain healthy relationships, and engage in good self-care practices like regular exercise and ample sleep. If you’re still struggling, talk to a professional.

How do you stay healthy and happy as a busy entrepreneur? Share your self-care tips in the comments below.

Feature image by Burst