The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the world draw to a complete halt. Resulting in numerous threats to our mental health, which will continue even after we are in the clear, and life slowly gets back to normal. Amidst all of this, we must take care and put forward well thought out actions to support small business owners who have experienced significant changes to their way of life. Alison McDowall, mental health advocate and co-founder of The Positive Planner answers a few questions around mental health worries for small business owners.
Why do small business owners often ignore their mental health?
It’s hard when we are so passionate about our work to draw out boundaries. We are compelled to work hard for the things we believe in. But sometimes this comes at a cost. Burnout is a very real issue amongst small business owners, working long hours with little breaks and late nights. It can feel like an upward hill to climb and therefore our mental healths fall by the wayside. It’s great to hold your business at the top of the to-do list but sometimes in order to be at our best for our work we must also take into account our emotional wellbeing too.
Has the current COVID-19 crisis just placed more pressure on the mental health of small business owners?
Everyone is very unclear of what the business world will look like at the end of all of this. This in itself is anxiety inducing. It is an uncertain time to be a business owner, many people are working long irregular hours to try and accommodate other factors of life that have collided with our work. This pressure of the unknown is a very real factor in our mental health, that coupled with some owners taking on roles of others in their team that they have had to furlough means the workload has grown significantly along with the amount of stress. Mental and emotional wellbeing tends to be affected quite a lot in times of worry and intense working hours, that’s why we suggest implementing healthy ‘mental fitness’ activities to help you be more resilient in your home life and your business.
As many small business owners work alone, how can this environment potentially lead to mental health issues?
Accountability is a key part of business. Not having people to bounce ideas off is hard enough. Many small business owners are used to working in environments like bustling cafes or co-working spaces, or at least going out for the odd meeting! So this lack of human contact can be very lonely. Often it has been said that being alone in your thoughts can add to anxiety, we can be locked in our own thought processes and without others to share these with means these feelings are hard to shake.
What is your key advice to small business owner/managers to look after their mental health?
Try and have a positive ritual that helps you make space for you before you arrive at your laptop. A simple journaling exercise or Tea meditation can create time for you to process everything you need to do that day. Taking this time can be an important way of preparing for a day of video calls or a lot of intense screen time.
Having a space to work can help mark out some boundaries for you. Making a dedicated space means that you can ‘sit down’ to work, rather than feeling as though your work is all over your home. That way you can choose to step away if you need.
Also if you set up a daily routine and try and stick to it you are more likely to feel less guilt. If you are the sort of person that never feels accomplished why not try an app like ‘harvest’ or Toggl’ that helps keep a track of time. Time can go very quickly when working from home and you can sometimes blink and the day is gone. Set your intentions and list your to-do’s at the beginning of the day as there is definitely a sense of satisfaction when ticking them all off at the end of the working day.
All business owners have a level of anxiety. How important is it to realise when anxiety is becoming a potentially chronic mental health issue?
Watch out for how the anxiety is affecting you physically, how is your appetite? How are you sleeping? How is your motivation? Do you feel low when you wake up? It’s important to keep a log of your moods if you feel that things are spiralling. Our minds often feel overwhelmed, that is natural when juggling everything. But usually we are dynamic and able to bounce back from days like this, when stress and anxiety becomes too much you will start noticing your tolerance is lowered, you may become much more irritated, resentful and unable to keep focus. You may also feel paralysed to make decisions and find it hard to muster the energy for your business. We have had really positive experiences both with classic Mental health talking therapies and also life coaching to get you back on track. Having someone to discuss these things with can make all the difference.
Are there any tools that small business owners can use to keep an eye on their mental health?
Self care can be seen as selfish or time consuming, but it’s actually an act of generosity to yourself and your business. Different things bring different people joy. Plan in these moments of joy to help you reset your mind. You will be more productive in the long run if you allow yourself this time. Mindfulness definitely has a place in your working day, even 3 mindful breaths can help you get into the right state. Find an app or online meditation you can do once at your desk to help you find these moments of calm. When we feel in fight or flight mode all the time we can make knee jerk business decisions and not work at our optimum performance which is no good for anyone.
Negative mindsets can so easily become a way of life if you let them, we always say to try and notice what the narrative in your head is saying to you. Is it true? Is there a way that you can re-frame these notions to be more positive? In order to move forwards we find that positive affirmations can help move you past blockages and limiting beliefs holding you back from your true potential.
Any other comments you would like to make?
Maintaining good mental health among small business owners is really important, with so many hats to wear we can feel like we are in a spin a lot of the time. Be mindful with your time, schedule your day hour by hour to help you feel in control. This can really help with managing ‘the fog’ which can descend on us when we aren’t sure which job takes priority. Making lists can be a fantastic way to feel like you can do all the things that need to be done. However, often these lists feel endless, why not set yourself more detailed goals. Try and make them S.M.A.R.T goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. By getting really detailed you are able to see your progress and keep yourself accountable.
Setting yourself boundaries with what is OK and not OK for you is also really important. Taking time at the weekend for example to step back from your business, not answering emails after a certain time or simple actions like taking a lunch break at the same time everyday can make such a difference to our mental wellbeing.