Looking after your mental health – for small business owners

As a small business owner there is much to enjoy about being your own boss, such as the freedom to make the decisions and the autonomy to run the business your way. Following your passion can help you to feel good and be productive, and can also contribute positively to your mental health.

 

cafe worker making coffee

But anyone who has run a small business knows that there are also a range of stressors or challenges too. Putting in long hours, feeling isolated, worrying about cash-flow and all that decision making can come with a sense of great responsibility. On top of that, there can be external factors outside your control that influence your business or the demands on your time too.

That’s why it’s important to be proactive about looking after your mental health. Taking care of yourself can help you to face the inevitable stressors and keep well while running your business.

"I walk five minutes every single hour of my working day  – just around the car park of my apartment block"

Sarah, small business owner

We’ve put together some strategies to help you look after your mental health as a small business owner. Keep in mind that what works is different for everyone, so try different things until you find what works for you.

 

Keep your work hours in check

Running your small business can be all-consuming and, at times, it may feel like your business is your life.  Long working hours can too easily become the norm and before you know it there is not much room for anything else.

Whether you are driven by the satisfaction of running your business or you feel like your business is running you, taking time out for you, your family and friends is essential. Long working hours have not only been linked with poorer mental health but also excessive fatigue, burnout, worry and irritability, as well as increased injuries.

"Self-care is often the thing that goes to the bottom of the 'to do' list, if it makes it at all. It's really important to schedule in time for rest and relaxation into your calendar, otherwise it never happens."

Sharon, small business owner

To start to think about your work-life balance, you may like to consider your response to the following statements:

 

I enjoy hobbies or interests outside of my business.
Almost always
Sometimes
Almost never

 

I have time to do something just for me every week.
Almost always
Sometimes
Almost never

 

I forget about work when I'm not working. 
Almost always
Sometimes
Almost never

 

I generally take a lunch break daily.
Almost always
Sometimes
Almost never

 

My family is never upset with me about the amount of time I spend working.
Almost always
Sometimes
Almost never

 

If you answered 'Almost never' or 'Sometimes' for some or all of these statements, try some of the tips below – you are likely to benefit from greater balance between work and life. If you answered 'Almost always' for most questions, the tips below may give you something else to try, or if you employ staff, provide you with tips on supporting others in your business.

Here are some tips to help with work-life balance:

  • Set a time for when you will switch off your business email and mobile phone each day. Technology can blur the boundaries between work and home and make you feel as though you need to be ‘always on’.
  • Set an alarm to remind yourself to take breaks throughout the day. Taking a meal break or getting outside for a short walk can help to organise your thoughts and manage stress.
  • Have an afternoon off or take a long weekend after a busy period. Sometimes it can be easier to balance periods of longer hours with some shorter hours.
  • Challenge yourself to think about what you can out-source, delegate or say ‘no’ to. Some tasks may not need your expertise and could easily be done by others, while other tasks may not be a priority or of significant benefit and saying ‘no’ could be the best approach.
  • Plan out your day before you start. If you’re already resigned to working a long day, you may find you are less productive during the day. Prioritise your urgent tasks and set a time that you plan to finish by.

"Turn off your mobile at home or at least turn off the ringer – you can always get a message and call them back."

Greg, small business owner

Stay connected and access supports

Running a small business takes time and energy and sometimes this can be isolating. This may be in a literal sense if you are a sole trader working by yourself. If you are an employing small business owner, being able to share some of the challenges of business with your staff isn’t always possible and this too can feel isolating.

It is important to keep connected and find someone who you can talk with about your business successes and worries. Having access to social supports is one of the key things you can do to keep well and is linked to better mental health.

Here are five tips to keep connected and increase your supports:

  1. Find someone to talk things through with can help – this could be a close friend, a family member or another small business owner.
  2. Join a small business network. Your local council may be able to assist you to identify local networks or contact your state based business association.
  3. Find yourself a small business mentor. Mentoring can be established through a formal mentoring service or informally through your existing contacts.
  4. Seek support during times of financial difficulty. Organisations like Your Business Angels can help you find solutions and provide expert advice.
  5. If you find you are struggling with your mental health, make an appointment to see your GP, a mental health professional or contact the beyondblue Support Service.

"There are a couple of quite successful business people in the town that I have sat down with and said, 'Hey, floundering – help'. And you'll find that most of the time people are more than happy to impart their knowledge."

Rebekah, freelancer

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle represents a way of living that is good for our mental health and wellbeing. It includes actions, like those above, to assist with work-life balance and ensuring we have access to supports. It also includes other actions that can help us manage stress and obtain better mental health. In this way a healthy lifestyle can provide a good foundation for managing the day-to-day challenges of running a small business.

There are a number of tips to help with developing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are five to consider:

  1. Try different relaxation techniques and find one that works for you and that you enjoy. You may like to consider exercising, meditating, reading, connecting with nature, gardening or listening to music.
  2. Download a meditation app, like Smiling Mind, for your phone or tablet. Starting or finishing the day with a mindfulness meditation may help to manage stress.
  3. Develop good sleeping habits. You might try sticking to a regular sleep pattern – even on the weekends, slowing down at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and creating a comfortable sleeping environment which is free from work, phones, television and laptops.
  4. Build physical activity into your day and make some time for exercise. The trick is finding something that fits with your commitments and that you enjoy.
  5. Develop an interest (e.g. a hobby) outside of your business that is just for you or that you can share with friends or family members.

"I make sure that I eat well, sleep well, exercise and I drink very little alcohol. If things get stressful, I break tasks up into bite sized portions and tackle it one piece at a time."

Jason, small business owner

Learn more about taking care of yourself and staying well