Mental health for small business owners

04 September 2017

While every job involves potential stressors, running a small business has its own challenges.

It’s possible you’re dealing with the stress that comes with cash flow concerns, heavy responsibility, a demanding workload, social isolation, long working hours and the ups and downs of busy versus quieter times.

In this case, you need to focus on both your business and your self-care. While the latter is often considered peripheral to business needs, Dr Angela Martin from the University of Tasmania’s School of Management, and Business in Mind project manager, says the two are 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 to do is 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 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. Some ideas for including exercise into your routine include:

  • wake 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 lunchtime jog;
  • 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 mood, staying focused and looking after physical health. It can be difficult to have 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 put some leftovers into the freezer.



Switch off

Finding a work-life balance is hard. Recognise, though, you still need some downtime to avoid burning out or having continually elevated stress levels.

Try out some ways that help you switch off from work. This might be meditation or socialising with friends, or it could be as simple as setting 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 as a small business owner

For nine years, Kelly Exeter has been running her small business (Perth-based boutique web and graphic design company Swish Design) with her husband.

She says it’s been tough at times and the pair has 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.

With a marriage and two small children included in the mix, keeping on top of their mental health and wellbeing is a 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, who now employs five full-time workers, two part-time workers and several contractors, highlights some strategies that work for them:

  • Regular exercise. “Daily exercise just seems to allow us both to cope with higher stress,” says Exeter.
  • Processes that reduce stress. Exeter says coping with continual high stress isn’t the best option and they try to manage it better. “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.