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Entrepreneurial Lifestyle

Rethinking Mental Health in Business

“It’s more stressful not knowing if a shock is coming than knowing you’ll definitely get zapped”

Helen Thomson, New Scientist

Right now, we live in uncertain times that we can’t just “zap” ourselves out of. It seems like you can’t go a day without hearing news of political turbulence or shifts in the state of the economy—as well as international challenges like trade wars and climate change.

While events like this are unnerving to the individual, the impact of these scary scenarios can be life-changing to a small business owner. Suppliers stall on making big decisions, retailers are hit with rising costs affecting consumers buying behavior. 

Many people feel that their business is vulnerable, and it’s understandable that this feeling can snowball into feeling defeated, or downright depressed. How do you stop worrying about these things you can’t control or plan for?

Making small changes in our lives can help us feel more comfortable with uncertainty and build resiliency. This article provides tips on the skills needed to take on life’s challenges easily—and come out healthier on the other side. Read on for advice on how to maintain balance and perspective to focus on what’s important: you.

Running Your Business in an Age Of Uncertainty

When you’re self-employed, you are at the whim of uncontrollable factors that can affect how your business operates. Economic conditions, shifts in consumer behavior, erratic workloads, and illness affects everyone—no matter which field you are working in. On top of that, factor in things like isolation, balancing the books, and fear of failure. All are things that can manifest as depression, stress, or any other type of mental health issue.

Speaking to startups.co.uk, Claire Gamble, the Managing Director of Unhooked Communications, recommends business professionals take good care of their mental wellbeing.

“You have to have a lot of resilience running your own business, and looking after your mental health is paramount for this. Anxiety and depression are sadly all too common amongst business owners. These feelings can start to manifest themselves in different ways, such as losing motivation, procrastinating, making risky decisions, and not looking after yourself.”

There might be days where you feel like throwing in the towel. In these moments, remember that most people are exposed to the same knocks as you. People just differ in their ability to cope with “not knowing”. Fortunately, there are options to address these feelings. Writing for the New Scientist, science journalist Helen Thomson suggests that, “our discomfort with the unknown can be manipulated, so we can learn how to boost our resilience.”  

But how do you go about that?

Strategies to Cope When the Future is Uncertain

Instead of being stifled by concerns over what the future might bring, there is an alternative.

Take back control.

Robot working on laptop

At this point, you might be thinking, “Easier said than done.” With a little effort, it is possible to reduce the impact of uncertainty on your mental health. Dale Brashers and Timothy Hogan (scholars in the field of Communication and Uncertainty Management) suggest that that uncertainty isn’t something negative to eliminate from our lives. Rather something to be managed.

In other words, it’s possible to ‘hack’ your mind to change (or “manage”) the way you experience uncertainty. And here’s the best bit: you won’t need a lobotomy to start feeling better. It takes a few small steps to build some resilience.

The following coping strategies will help you achieve a more sustainable way (rather than biting your nails and fearing the worst) to navigate the weird, wonderful—and uncertain world we live in.

Ease Your Mind with Self-Help Practices

Many of the same traits that help you become successful in working for yourself can lead you to overextend yourself and neglect your mental health. With that in mind, the most important take-away from this article is this:

You need to be as proactive about self-care as you are about your business.

If you’re not feeling comfortable with how things feel, you might benefit from ‘self-help’ tools. 

Many strategies that help cope with uncertainty don’t involve tapping into professional help. There’s no shortage of self-improvement books and online literature to help understand and address your concerns. Mindfulness and meditation are also popular methods. If that’s not for you, throw yourself into an absorbing task that will give your mind a welcome distraction. There are also apps designed to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and stress

Seek Professional Help

There’s a lot of help out there for people who fear that uncertainty is holding them back. Similar to physical ill-health, some mental health illnesses need specialist knowledge. If you feel like you’re not coping, or you’re not seeing the results you’d like from self-care methods, then reach out to a professional for advice. 

Your first step is a visit to your family doctor. Once you’ve discussed your symptoms, you can talk about the best way to get treatment. That might mean referring you to someone with specialist knowledge, such as a therapist. Or, your doctor can help you work out a self-help program, and keep track of your progress along the way.

Practice Gratitude

While you’ve chosen a path that presents new challenges, working for yourself is also extremely rewarding. When negative thoughts creep in, remind yourself of all that you’ve achieved so far. According to the financial insights website Fortunly, only 78.5% of small businesses survive their first year. If you’ve made it past a year, you’re a superstar! 

Writing for The Guardian, Tania Diggory founder of Calmer, (a platform helping entrepreneurs learn to manage anxiety and uncertainty) says, “It takes courage to live this lifestyle.” 

In the article, Diggory recalls her struggle running an events company while overcoming uncertainty and anxiety and how she managed to overcome the mental challenges of running her business. For her, practicing gratitude was a big help. She recommended being grateful for the positive aspects of running your own business and offered The Guardian readers some tips on how to do it:

“At the end of each day, take time to think about what you’re grateful for in your business, whether it’s something general or something that’s just happened. It’s important for us to acknowledge positive outcomes in our day”. 

Build Relationships to Tackle Isolation

Relationships are especially important in times of uncertainty. Without the safety net of a 9-5 job or emotional support of colleagues, self-employed people have to take steps to protect their own wellbeing. Claire Gamble, Managing Director at Unhooked Communications, says,

“When I first went self-employed, I’d often go days without seeing anyone else, and I soon found myself feeling really down and losing motivation.”

Sound familiar? Ask your office-based friends, and the idea of working from home all day sounds like bliss. In reality, it can be really isolating and harm your mental health.

It can be helpful to engage with people that understand the pressure and demands that come with running a business of your own. It just takes a quick Google search to pinpoint professional networking sessions or informal meetups in your area. Similarly, you might enjoy working in an office-style environment. Many small businesses run from co-working hubs—there you have a dedicated workspace alongside a community of fellow entrepreneurs and freelancers. 

Further reading: Co-working: When Working from Home Doesn’t Work

Find a True Work-Life Balance

Blurred work-life boundaries can take their toll on your mental health. Separating work and home can be a real challenge when you’re constantly “thinking shop”. It’s important to find time to switch off, especially if you run a family business, or from home. It might help to make a distinct space between the two parts of your life. For example, you could set up an office in an independent room in your house. If this isn’t possible, how about setting strict business and leisure hours to stick to.

Take Breaks

When you’re on a roll, it’s tempting to just power on through. But, skipping breaks is not only bad for your health, but it’s also counterproductive. When you run your own business, you might be tempted to work as hard as humanly possible when this mentality is actually a one-way ticket to burn out. Your best option is to plan your day, and that includes making time for breaks.

If you were employed by someone else, you wouldn’t have control over your work schedule, so take advantage of one of the biggest perks of being your own boss. Plan your working hours around when you’re most productive. Take regular breaks to eat, refocus, or engage with other people.

As they note on the Team Gantt website,

“The most common strategies for success involve structuring the day by the time. That is, finding out if morning, afternoon, or evening are the most productive periods for you to work, and sticking with it.”

If breaks are absolutely out of the question because of your workload, think about growing your team. Or take someone on to help on a part-time basis. Then, you might have the chance to take a well deserved stress-free holiday.

Exercise

There’s a strong link between your mental and physical health. Exercise makes you feel good because it causes your body to release chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. These mood-boosting hormones improve your mood and help you sleep better. Light exercise has been found to alleviate stress, depression, and mild anxiety—and can even enhance self-esteem and cognitive function.

graphic of barbells

Whether you take to the local park for a run to clear your mind or join a group class at the local gym, there is no shortage of ways to get some exercise into your routine.  

Rethink Uncertainty

On their company blog, Startupist offers tips on how to cope with uncertainty in business. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main points:

Embrace it

“Entrepreneurs are extraordinary people driven by a vision which motivates them to work harder and to try to predict the uncertain outcomes from specific situations. This is what the entrepreneurial environment offers and entrepreneurs must embrace this situation and walk their way to success, surrounded by uncertainty.”

Uncertainty is here to stay, and successful people embrace this part of life in business. 

Believe in your business

“Entrepreneurs might not be sure about the stability of the business environment and how exactly this insecurity can harm their business, but they have one thing in which they believe undoubtedly—their idea.”

Confidence is the second point of call. Have faith in whatever venture you engage in. Believing in your business can be one of the easiest ways to overcome uncertainty in the business world.

Seek out opportunities 

“The most unexpected situations offer the most opportunities. Innovations are created from the demand of solutions for specific problems.

It’s possible to find opportunities in uncertain situations. For instance, can your business provide solutions to the latest tech or logistical problems? 

Look after your mental health

“Entrepreneurs face uncertainties on a daily basis and they must prepare by improving their mental stability—acceptance, flexibility, open-mindedness—and business preparation.”

This last point confirms that success in business means a balancing act of looking after number one (as well as your livelihood). And that, people who ‘win’ at uncertainty mentally prepare themselves for the unknown, rather than pursuing the impossible task of preparing for every possible version of the future.

Wrapping it Up

Whether you’re Bill Gates or a web designer hustling for gigs, no one can escape from living in uncertainty. And while it’s natural to ponder what your business will look like tomorrow, in two weeks or next year, there is just no way of knowing. 

There’s also no way to completely prepare your business for anything that the future has in store. The best you can do is follow the tips we’ve covered, and look after yourself. Remember: the person who can contribute to your mental health the most is you. 

Here are some charities and support organizations that you can turn to if you’re struggling.

  • Mental Health America – a community based non-profit promoting mental health for all Americans. Their website includes screening tools, educational resources, and help to find the right treatment.
  • Mind – A charity providing assistance to anyone experiencing a mental health problem in the United Kingdom.

Most of us have lived with and worked through difficult times. We’d love to hear your go-to strategies for staying on top of your mental health to succeed in both aspects of life.

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Isobel Weston

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