Mental Health for Small Business Owners

18 August 2017

Self-care is often not a top priority in the life of the small business owner, but it is the most fundamental – not only to your personal health and wellbeing but the success of your business. ACA partner Cbus and SuperFriend discuss the value of finding time for social interaction, exercise, professional development or simply switching off. 

While every job involves potential stressors, running a small business has its own set of challenges. As a small business owner, it’s possible you’re dealing with the stress that comes with cashflow concerns, heavy responsibility, a demanding workload, social isolation, long working hours, and the ups and downs of busy versus quieter times.

Investing in yourself 

In order to stay on top of your game, you need to focus on the health and wellbeing of both your business and yourself. While the latter is often considered peripheral to your business needs, Dr Angela Martin from the University of Tasmania’s School of Management and project manager of Business in Mind says the two are actually interconnected. ‘Just like you draw on financial capital to invest in your business, you’re also drawing on your psychological capital to keep the business running,’ she explains.

Seek support 

One of the best things you can do as a small business owner is to maintain a strong social support network. Your family and friends are the ones who will distract you from business pressures, listen as you vent your frustrations, and help to keep an eye out for your health.

It’s also really valuable to form connections with other small business owners. These are the people who will understand what you’re going through, and may be able to share coping methods that work for them. ‘Link up to other small business communities or groups for additional support, both formal (like your local chamber of commerce or a small business support line) and informal,’ Martin suggests.

Incorporate exercise into your day

Regular exercise can combat stress, so have a look at how this can fit into your day. The following ideas will help you to incorporate exercise into your routine:

  • Get up earlier for a morning gym session.
  • Go for a walk while you make phone calls, or suggest walking meetings as an alternative to a cafe catch-up.
  • Go for a run at lunchtime.
  • Create little triggers for adding extra movement into your day, such as standing when you’re talking on the phone.
  • Schedule a yoga class for the end of the day, which can also serve as a reminder to switch off.
Maintain a healthy diet

Eating well is a key to regulating your mood, staying focused and looking after your physical health. It can be difficult to stay on top of a healthy diet when you’re really busy, but this is when it’s most important. Use some of your downtime to plan meals, cook and get some leftovers into the freezer for those hectic days.

Switch off

Finding a work-life balance is hard as a small business owner, as work seems like it’s part of your whole life. Recognise, though, that you still need some downtime in order to avoid burning out or having continually elevated stress levels.

Try out some ways that help you switch off from work. This might be through meditation or socialising with friends, or it could be as simple as setting yourself an alarm to switch your computer off and do the things you enjoy.

Treat yourself as an employee

As a small business owner you’re taking on many different roles that require skill and training. ‘Think about your business as your career,’ says Martin. ‘Consider what development you need on a personal level and a professional level, as you would do for any employees you have.’

Managing stress: a case study

For nine years, Kelly Exeter has been running her small business (Perth-based boutique web and graphic design company Swish Design) with her husband. They employ five full-time employees, two part-time staff members and several contractors.

She says it’s been tough at times, and she and her husband have to be very careful to monitor their stress levels. ‘Keeping a lid on workload and stress has been our greatest challenge, and when work stress makes its way home, it's time to make some changes,’ says Exeter.

Combining marriage and two small children with small business ownership means that keeping on top of their mental health and wellbeing is a top priority. This takes a high level of self-awareness. ‘When I let my stress levels get out of control, they trigger anxiety and depression,’ Exeter explains. ‘I have learned to manage my life and my workload so that my stress levels are well-controlled but I find that when my husband's stress levels are too high, it can have a huge impact on me too ... so managing stress levels has to be a team effort because it's easy for us to pull each other down otherwise!’

Exeter says that they have a couple of strategies that work very well for them. Regular exercise is key. ‘Daily exercise just seems to allow us both to cope with higher stress,’ says Exeter. Avoiding continual high stress is another important strategy. ‘Workload management, and creating systems and processes in our business that allow us to outsource tasks/delegate tasks to other team members, has been the big one here,’ she says.

Additional reading material

Other excellent resources include ‘Ten things you can do to make your workplace mentally healthy’ from Heads Up; and ‘Quick links: My mental health’ from Beyond Blue.

This article was provided by ACA partner Cbus and SuperFriend, a national mental health promotion foundation that helps ‘all profit to member’ superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace. SuperFriend provides easy to understand information about mental health, tips on how to create supportive work environments and, importantly, advice on where to find reliable help if you or someone you know needs assistance. This information is correct at the time of publication.

Cbus’ partnership with mental health promotion foundation, SuperFriend, provides member employers with opportunities to create mentally healthy workplaces. Visit www.superfriend.com.au or www.cbussuper.com.au for more information.

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