Just Do Nothing: How Entrepreneurs Can Handle Anxiety

Just do nothing: how entrepreneurs can handle anxiety

Many entrepreneurs and business owners struggle with anxiety due to high pressure and the desire for perfection. In this interview, Joanna Hardis shares excellent insight and several practical tips that can help when feeling anxious or worried.

Joanna points out that we shouldn’t try to prevent anxiety. Instead, we can change how we respond when we’re anxious. Read on to see exactly how you can equip yourself to better handle anxiety whenever it flares up.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety is not the enemy, how we’re treating it is
  • The less you do with the stuff in your head, the better
  • We are in charge of our thinking, so we can choose not to ruminate, worry, and overthink
  • It’s common for entrepreneurs to wait too long to get professional help


Business Name: Joanna Hardis, LISW-S
Website URL: https://joannahardis.com/
Founder: Joanna Hardis
Business Location: Cleveland Heights, OH
Year Started: 2018

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’m Joanna Hardis, LISW-S, a cognitive behavioral therapist committed to using evidence-based treatments to help people get “unstuck.” Through my private practice and virtual workshops on distress, I show people how to respond to being uncomfortable by giving them the knowledge and tools they need to move forward.

I also write a regular column for Psychology Today. My first book, “Just Do Nothing: A Paradoxical Guide to Getting Out of Your Way,” which launched in 2023, received a five-star review from the Los Angeles Book Review.

Joanna Hardis holding her book Just Do Nothing
Photo courtesy of Joanna Hardis

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

When I started my practice in 2018, I had been working for other people for 22 years and in a job I hated for the last 13 years. Because of life stressors, I needed a stable income.

Once my life settled down, I knew I needed to make a change. By nature, I’m risk averse, so starting my own practice was terrifying AND one of the best decisions I ever made. I wanted to treat what interested me in a way that I could provide the highest possible service to my clients. 

Most entrepreneurs experience some level of anxiety or worry. What are the warning signs of a significant issue? 

I’m going to answer that and then step back. The warning signs would be that the anxiety or worry is interfering with your quality of life and/or functioning.  By the time it becomes a significant issue, however, the person has been struggling for some time, the behaviors are more entrenched, and they may have lost some hope that life can be different.

If someone’s been struggling with excessive anxiety for a while, they may also feel depressed, have a disordered relationship with substances/food/porn/sex/gambling/risk/exercise as a means to mitigate their anxiety. 

Other warning signs would be comments from friends or family expressing concern, if you’re avoiding things (especially the things that give you meaning or pleasure), and/or you’re living under more and more rules. Someone who looks “super disciplined” can be a front for someone who needs iron-clad structure in order to function. Good mental health is cognitive flexibility, not rigidity. 

How can entrepreneurs know when they need to seek professional help for anxiety?

In my experience, entrepreneurs wait way too long to seek professional help. My experience with entrepreneurs is that they lean toward perfectionists, high achievers, and people who are used to being in control and fixing things themselves. For some, admitting there’s an issue for which they may need help is a big deal and cannot be overstated.

In my experience, females and Gen Z/millennials are more open to seeking help. Sadly, many men (generally white heterosexual, in my experience) still experience shame around mental health challenges. 

But, to answer your question, I think certainly seeking help if you feel consumed or controlled by your anxiety or worry, if you feel like your actions are predicated on how you feel/may feel (e.g “I’ll go if I’m not too anxious” or “I’ll start that project when I’m less worried about it.”), and/or if you want to worry less.

People generally wait until there’s a crisis or they’ve “hit rock bottom” to ask for help. The best time to come is when you’re NOT in crisis. 

Many entrepreneurs feel pressure to constantly perform and succeed. How can this pressure impact their mental well-being, and what advice do you have for coping with these expectations?

I can’t speak to coping with the expectations. I suspect people who thrive under that kind of pressure are very distress tolerant. Distress tolerance is a personality construct where you believe you can handle negative internal states, and your behavior reflects that. Distress intolerance is a belief that you CANNOT handle negative feelings, so you avoid feeling them.

People who are distress intolerant are more vulnerable to mental illness and staying stuck because they don’t believe they can tolerate feeling uncomfortable. I don’t think anyone has researched entrepreneurs and distress tolerance, but it would make sense why some people thrive under that pressure, and some do not.

Regardless, there are always costs to having this mindset. There will certainly be costs to your relationships (because it’s so hard to invest in them) and to your well-being. This kind of pressure is not sustainable and can lead to burnout, illness, a host of mental health challenges, isolation and general life dissatisfaction. Everyone needs to recover. 

Joanna Hardis
Photo courtesy of Joanna Hardis

How can entrepreneurs fight against overthinking and perfectionism?

Like I said earlier, most entrepreneurs have perfectionist traits and are prone to overthinking. Doing something over and over, whether it’s thinking or rewriting an email, are ways to mitigate anxiety.

Whether you’re trying to get a perfect solution in your head or in an email, in both cases, certainty and perfection do not exist, which can feel intolerable. The more you think or rewrite it, however, the more uncertain you become and the more you feel compelled to continue until it feels right or perfect. Like Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

To work on both overthinking and perfectionistic behaviors, you have to change how you respond when you’re anxious. The instinct when we’re anxious or feel anything challenging is to do something to get rid of it. That, however, only makes it worse. We need to act paradoxically and do nothing with the feeling. Accept that you’re feeling anxious or uncertain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. 

Once you’ve done this, you can determine your next best move. This is where it can help to work with a trained therapist who can help you lay out behavioral targets. For perfectionist behaviors, it may be a case of doing something less or redirecting attention. Having accountability and a process for doing this can be very helpful. 

Entrepreneurial life can be isolating at times. How does social isolation contribute to feelings of anxiety, and what recommendations do you have for combating loneliness?

We’re social creatures, so it’s important to find ways to connect, even if it’s after hours. Get involved with friends, family, your community, volunteer, etc. If we’re alone, that’s more time to be in our heads which can create more opportunities for worry and anxiety. 

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs on setting boundaries with clients, employees, and even themselves to prevent burnout and reduce anxiety?

This is so important, and it needs to come from the top down within an organization. So often I hear, and have been part of startups, where boundaries and self-care are “core values” but not modeled by leadership.

More often, boundaries are aspirational behaviors that will start “as soon as” some other marker is met (and the markers never stop). If leadership doesn’t model it, it’s very hard for anyone else to. As you point out, this leads to burnout, more anxiety and lost time with friends, family and partners. 

An exercise I do with clients, especially entrepreneurs who are struggling to set boundaries, is to have them write their eulogy. It sounds morbid, I know, but I want them to think about how they want their friends, partner, and kids (pretend if they don’t have them yet) to remember them (as the dad who taught me what it means to be married to my job? Who was on the phone at every one of my games he actually made?) This brings home that actions (and inactions) have consequences and why boundaries are meaningful. 

Can you explain how you work with clients who struggle with anxiety? What’s your process?

I was trained as a Cognitive Behavior Therapist (CBT), so I believe that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. The way I work with clients is more from a metacognitive perspective. In order to change our relationship with anxiety,  we have to stop seeing it as the enemy. Anxiety is not the enemy, how we’re treating it is. When we:

  • Fear it
  • Hate it
  • Dread it
  • Avoid it
  • Escape it
  • Judge it
  • Dwell on it
  • Have to figure it out
  • Resist it
  • Freak out about it

Those reactions are the problem. If you want to feel better, you have to learn to be anxious. The way to treat it is to get better at living with it. The less attention we give to how we feel, the faster the feelings will pass so I teach people how to move through that discomfort as they do what they need or want to do. That’s the paradoxical nature of anxiety recovery. The less you do with the stuff in your head, the better.

Toward that end, we work a lot building mental skills like: training our attention to go where we want it to go, surfing unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings, and doing things while we feel anxious to build mastery and confidence. 

I also teach people how to relate differently to the thoughts in their head. How to feel more in charge of where you put your attention and what thoughts you engage in and get swept up in. Most people, when they start, don’t realize we are in charge of our thinking, so we can choose not to ruminate, worry, and overthink. 

What are some practical tips short-term tips for dealing with anxiety when it flares up?

I chose “Just Do Nothing” as the title for my book for a reason. The less we do when we’re anxious (and anxiety is a feeling), the better. Do nothing with the feelings (so they can pass) as you carry on with life. 

My article Get Better at Being Anxious? addresses this in more detail.

What are some practical tips that entrepreneurs can incorporate into their daily routines to help prevent anxiety and improve peace and balance?

In my work, we don’t work on trying to prevent anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling just like happiness and madness. Feelings are temporary internal states that we want to approach non-judgementally and descriptively. If the focus is on preventing anxiety, that’s focusing on the outcome which we cannot control. We want our attention on the process which is under our control.

A process lens looks at how we react when we get anxious. What feelings get triggered? What thoughts come up? How do we respond to them? How does our behavior change? We cannot control if we get anxious, but we can control how we respond to that anxiety. 

I think having daily practices to build mental fitness is essential. Just as we value and encourage physical fitness, working on mental fitness is equally important. Each person has to define what “peace and balance” means to them and then what activities would align with that. For me, it would include: meditation, exercising 5 days/week, capping my practice at X# of clients/week, playing pickleball 2 nights/week, stopping work at a certain time.

If you want that in your life, you have to align your actions toward them, even if you’re feeling anxious/worried/uncertain/unsettled. That can be tough for entrepreneurs who feel these feelings on the regular and may want to feel better before they let themselves do something “fun” or “frivolous.”

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