Managing Your Mental Health as a Small Business Owner
It might now be ok to not be ok, but as a small business owner it probably still isn’t. Unless you have a plan.
It was Mental Health Awareness Day this week so it feels like an appropriate time to dive into this weighty subject. I’m no psychologist, but I am a small business owner who, from time to time, can suffer from the gathering of dark clouds. I consider myself as qualified as anyone to talk about this, through the lens of personal experience.
I think it’s wonderful that there are numerous campaigns running around the subject of mental health and shining a light on what has been, up to now, a very whispered about topic. The main thrust of the campaigns seem to be that it’s ok to ask for help and where to ask for help. This undoubtedly will save lives, careers and relationships.
However, it does somewhat gloss over the rather more serious problem that many people – arguably people that need the most help – will not ask for help at all. They will in fact simply withdraw and hide, make quiet and plausible excuses for social isolation and put on a rather confident show of all being well and probably actually quite busy, thank you very much for asking. So, watch out for friends that don’t ask for help – they need it anyway.
The Small Business Plan for a Mental Health Emergency
The problem with being a small business owner is that it’s lonely and actually can be very high pressured. There is often literally no one to support you when you are feeling at your worst.
When you do inevitably have difficult periods struggling with your own mental well-being, then the fear of loss of income if you cannot maintain your usual level of work is an additional pressure that you do not need.
You cannot afford to wait to feel down to react to your situation. In fact, you may not be capable of taking rational steps to do anything to help yourself at this point, so it’s important to implement a plan when you are strong.
Here’s three suggestions to get you started with your emergency plan:
Have an Emergency Fund
Build up a stash of cash that equals about 3 – 6 months of your monthly expenses. This gives you a safety net so that if you need to take a break from work, you are cushioned financially for a short period at least.
It will also support you a bit after you get back into the swing of things, because you may need to rebuild your pipeline of work too.
Think about this in advance and make a business case to yourself for implementing this now. Then it’s there when you need it but hopefully you never will.
Create a Support Network
I am not talking about friends (thought that is necessary too). I mean a small group of other business owners who understand the isolation and financial pressure that comes from working for yourself.
I have a small group of six women who I am connected to via the messaging platform Slack – separate from WhatsApp, which I use socially. We help each other daily (each of us drops in and out as is practical) – it’s like working in a team and having a board of directors on tap.
The advantage of this is that if anyone is absent for any length of time then we notice very quickly. We provide practical support to each other for keeping the business afloat in times of dire straits. This is quite different to the hugs and cups of tea that friends may offer, but it’s bloody essential.
I hope you have hobbies. I hope you have something that you do that makes you shut your laptop and skip out of the door to be social, sporty or creative and that it makes your heart sing. Actually, I think it’s essential and so good for your business development as well as your mind, body and soul.
However, when feeling down, hobbies, sports and social events are the first things to get struck off the list. They are just too demanding of our attention and energy. It’s just too hard, right?
So, my suggestion is to build into your monthly schedule something that you volunteer at – something where people rely on you, just a little bit. Look for a role that supports something bigger that you believe in, but isn’t solely down to you to implement.
For me this is volunteering at my local parkrun. It takes just two hours on a Saturday morning. I am not required to be there every week as a volunteer, but if not I will go and run anyway. It’s a very social event (which is honestly also quite exhausting after a week of working by myself, but great for cabin fever!). It’s hard to define just how beneficial it has been to me in the last year and I cannot recommend it enough.
If you are interested in diving a bit deeper into the topic of mental health then you may also enjoy this article on depression by Mel Robbins, someone whose compassionate but no-nonsense approach I admire very much.