Managing mental health: A guide for small business owners
Owning a small business is perhaps one of the most rewarding things you can do. It will require every single one of your skills, plus hundreds more you won’t even realise you need until you have to make use of them. The challenges you’ll face can sometimes feel overwhelming, but the accomplishment of creating something incredible from scratch is worth every second of frustration along the way.
We believe in helping small business owners however we can. That’s why we hope that when things seem difficult, this guide can act as a small reminder to relax, breathe deeply and remember, you’ve got this.
Prioritise healthy habits
To run a successful small business, you have to be all in, right from the first brilliant idea to the first time you turn a profit. This should come as no surprise to the majority of small business owners, 79%1 of whom admit to having made personal sacrifices for the sake of their business.
Whether it’s forgoing an expensive holiday one year, or extending your opening hours when the business is still growing, owners will make countless sacrifices, big and small, to make their dream a reality. The danger of this is that it can easily lead to an unhealthy habit of chronic overworking. If every hour of the day is spent focused on the business, the activities that keep you mentally and physically healthy can quickly fall by the wayside, putting you at risk of becoming stressed, overworked, or even burnt out completely. Make a firm commitment to putting some time aside each week for the things you enjoy, whether that’s working out, baking, reading, watching films, enjoying time by yourself, or with your family. Not only will it help keep you happier and healthier, you’ll have more energy and motivation when it comes to the business as well!
Control the controllables
It’s almost impossible to own a small business and not be the slightest bit competitive. Businesses are born from a bright idea, an opportunity to make something new, better or different to what’s come before. However, this can often mean that owners set their expectations incredibly high, irrespective how feasible they might be in reality.
The path to success is rarely a straight one, which inevitably means that unforeseen challenges and disappointments all become part of the process for most small businesses. For ambitious, highly driven owners in the midst of a setback, it’s deceptively easy to begin comparing the business’s current state with the goals you’ve set out to achieve, or where you are now compared to where expected you’d be at this point in your journey. These kinds of comparisons can easily become quite negative, not only affecting your mental health, but impairing your ability to find a constructive solution to the challenges facing your business.
One effective way people learn to deal with this kind of negative comparison is to divide any problem into controllable and uncontrollable factors. It’s a strategy rooted in sports psychology, where the ability to cut out unhelpful information and ‘focus on your own game’ is often integral to success. For example, you can’t control a competitor’s lower price points, but you can develop a product that is worth every extra penny your customers spend on it. By learning to recognise when a problem is beyond your control, you’ll have more time, energy and motivation to focus on the areas of the business where you can make a meaningful difference.
Trust your team
It can often feel like running a small business is a solo endeavour, akin to climbing a mountain or running a marathon: It’s up to you to make the hard yards and ultimately, the success of the whole business rests on your shoulders.
Whilst this might be technically true, even the smallest business will often have a support network surrounding it, made up of business partners, family members, employees and customers. These are the people who want to see you succeed and are committed to helping you make it happen. One of the best (and no doubt hardest) things to do as a business owner is to trust this network. Let them take on some of the work you’re struggling to manage, whether that’s as mundane as painting the new office, or as crucial as managing some of your existing clients. A good owner needs to be able to devote time to health and growth of the business, which simply can’t happen if they’re weighed down with too many tasks.
Relinquishing control of some areas of the business can feel like a scary prospect. It’s easy to imagine worst case scenarios, but if you trust the team you’ve put together, it’s an essential step, not just for the business, but for your own mental health as well.
Be kind to yourself
‘Am I working hard enough?’ ‘Am I spending too much time on the business?’ ‘Am I making the right decisions with my technology?’ Questions like these probably pop into your head fairly frequently, rattling around like an unwelcome guest. It’s increasingly common to internalise stressful thoughts of this kind, with 47%2 of respondents to a recent survey revealing that their response to stress is to actually take it out on themselves.
Logically, we might know that we’re doing all we can to make the business a success, or that mistakes sometimes happen, but internally, we’re still blaming ourselves relentlessly. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but it can have real consequences for mental health if left unchecked. Many people advocate for self care in situations like this, by finding an activity or a pastime that allows your mind to relax and step away from the negative thoughts that can threaten to overwhelm it. It’s no secret that owning a small business is an incredibly stressful occupation, which makes it even more essential that you find the time to be kind to yourself and look after your mental health.
- Opus Energy Research, 09.09.2018, https://www.opusenergy.com/blog/opus-energy-research-sme-owners-losing-sleep-over-the-state-of-their-business
- ‘The United States of Stress 2019’, Everyday Health, 07.05.2020 https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/