Following several high-profile entrepreneurs’ suicides within the last decade, discussing the mental health of business owners has only recently lost its taboo status. In fact, a 2014 Inc. article, “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” won an award for bringing the topic of anxiety, stress and depression among founders to light. While business ownership is a celebrated option, especially in America, focusing only on the good parts is a disservice to business owners who understand all too well the tough sides of business ownership—especially during pandemic-related shutdowns.
A Canadian mental health study found that 62% of business owners felt depressed at least once a week, and 54% said that stress impacted their level of concentration at work. When asked about his response to these findings, Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery, said he wasn’t surprised.
“Based on what I see with my clients, I expect that this rate is even higher in the United States,” he says. “Business owners are so busy taking care of their employees that they forget to take care of themselves.” Because most business owners feel responsible for not only their own livelihoods, but also those of their employees, they’re more likely to experience stress, have a poor work-life balance and suffer from anxiety. So, along with the financial insecurity, health concerns and feelings of isolation that nearly everyone is experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners feel all those worries, on top of taking care of their employees.
Psychological studies have shown that social isolation, especially during quarantines, can negatively affect people’s mental health, including effects such as insomnia, fear, stress, depressive symptoms, irritability and emotional exhaustion. With all this in mind, it’s never been more important for small business owners to look after their own mental health.
7 Ways Small Business Owners Can Take Care of Their Mental Health
However your business is faring during the pandemic, now is a good time to re-evaluate your personal and work habits to stay mentally healthy, both during and after the coronavirus outbreak. David Howell, a 20-year micro business owner, says it well: “Paying attention to your mental health is just as vital as finding your next customer or client.”
1. Create and abide by work-life boundaries. Doing so is essential to avoid burnout, especially during this time where so many of us are working from home and potentially finding it more difficult to achieve balance. Choose a specific range of hours in which you commit to work, When that time is done, turn off your work phone or email notifications, switch off whatever communication channels you use for business. This time should be yours, so use it in whatever ways help you decompress.
2. Exercise in a way you enjoy every day. You will not only be taking care of your physical health, but also your mental health. Whether jogging, practicing yoga or playing pickleball, nearly any form of exercise helps relieve stress. Why? Mayo Clinic notes that it boosts your endorphin levels. And right now, you need your “brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters” to kick into gear. Doing so will also help you reduce tension and improve your mood.
3. Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings, even just for five minutes a day, can help you become more mindful of your emotions. This will help you look for patterns related to how you react to various situations. Those who struggle with anxiety, stress or depression can especially benefit from this practice. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, keeping a journal improves your mental health by helping you understand and gain control of your emotions.
4. If you look for a sense of community in online networks, resist the temptation to “compare and despair,” as Penny Power, founder of one of the earliest online business communities, puts it. “In a study [that] I carried out on Facebook, 83% of self-employed people said they were lonely despite using social media throughout their day,” she explains. “They looked online at the lives of their peers and felt desperate about their own.” Keep in mind that most people’s social media presence is a curated highlight reel, not their full reality.
5. Take a walk in a natural setting. While we’ve already discussed exercise, we haven’t covered the benefits specific to enjoying the natural world. Anecdotal evidence and small studies suggest that spending time in natural settings, even urban parks, can lower stress levels. “There’s a real sense of peace and composure you get from being outside and away from everything,” says Aaron L. Baggish, PhD., associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
6. Spend time with good friends and family. Whether you choose to vent your worries with your closest friends and family, or you enjoy spending time in their company without any talk of business, just being with them regularly (even virtually) can improve your mental health. Why? Having strong social support in your life helps you cope with stress, says Sheldon Cohen, PhD. and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And “people with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol—a stress hormone,” Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University, explains.
7. Find ways to stay productive. Ticking items off your to-do list can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment—even lifting a weight off your shoulders that you’ve allowed to rest there for too long. In fact, some business owners are using this time to discover and capitalize on new revenue streams via eCommerce. So, if your business activity is experiencing a serious downturn and you find yourself with little to do, look for ways in which you can use this time productively. Take care of any administrative tasks that may have fallen behind. Learn a new business-related skill, like social media marketing, that can boost your business, or tackle a big project that you’ve been meaning to do, but haven’t had the time to complete.
Each of us has our own way of dealing with the uncertainty of hard times, so be patient with yourself as you find what works best for you. Even if you’ve been feeling fairly optimistic, don’t underestimate the importance of caring for your mental health.
“The reality is [that] self-employed business owners cannot take a day off. They keep going until being busy becomes mental exhaustion, being anxious becomes anxiety and the low mood turns into depression. Rebuilding yourself is a big job. Prevention is the cure,” Power says.