Rethinking Mental Health for Remote Working
The economy has taken a hit and we’re all feeling it, especially small business owners.
Our current situation has bought many what-ifs. It’s not much fun thinking about scary things that may or may not happen while responding to changing circumstances.
While adjusting to working remotely, and the challenges that brings, many people feel that their business is vulnerable. It’s understandable that this state of mind can snowball into feeling defeated, or downright depressed. How do you stop worrying about these things you can’t control or plan for?
Worrying about each and every ‘what-if’’ life throws your way could have a detrimental impact on your mental well-being — and your ability to make well-reasoned decisions critical for running a business.
The best way to handle uncertain situations is to take action. Making small changes in our lives can help us feel comfortable with uncertainty and build resilience. This article provides tips on the skills needed to take on life’s current challenges — at a safe distance. Read on for advice on how to maintain balance and perspective to focus on what’s important: you.
Success in business means a balancing act of looking after number one (as well as your livelihood). Let’s get started
Running Your Business in Uncertain Times
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 challenges at challenging family situations affect 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 Managing Director of Unhooked Communications Claire Gamble 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, right now, most people in business 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
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. Instead of being stifled by concerns over what the future might bring, there is an alternative.
Take back control.
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 the state-of-play during an economic downturn that could last an uncertain amount of time. Well-being is priority number one so let’s take it from there.
Ease Your Mind with Self-Help Practices
For many of us, work brings us a sense of purpose. 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.
When 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
Unfortunately, this is not a drill, and we can’t all rely on keeping positive to get us through.
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. Many have switched their services to online right now.
Build Relationships to Tackle Isolation
Many people have suddenly found themselves working from home, temporarily closed, or they’re not working at all. Without colleagues and customers to engage with, While we distance ourselves from our extended family, friends, neighbors, and community—the very supports that nourish us as humans. What can people do to minimize the risk of being lonely?
Relationships are especially important in times of uncertainty, and that goes even more so when you’re self-employed. 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. In a discussion about mental health and entrepreneurs for Startups, Managing Director at Unhooked Communications, Claire Gamble 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? 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.
For those who manage other people, schedule check-ins with your team. Make sure your contact with your team is frequent and consistent. This practice helps promote positive mental health and efficiency!
Find a Positive 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.
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. According to Team Gantt, the project management app “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.”
Take regular breaks to eat, refocus, or engage with other people over Skype, WhatsApp, or a good old fashioned phone call (or pen letter)! 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. These days, it’s not uncommon to recruit and hire staff remotely.
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.
Whether you take to the local park for a run, join an online class or follow a workout video on youtube, there is no shortage of ways to get some exercise into your routine while we must social distance.
During times of uncertainty, no one has all the answers. That’s especially true right now. Lots of websites are popping up providing strategic insights to weather the storm. Some notable examples include:
- JimDo blog for entrepreneurs – this is a must-read if you’re wondering what to do if you can’t trade right now.
- Think with Google – Google HQ has stepped up once again with a dedicated Business strategies & resources tool.
- Inc for business – Always reliable in a crisis, Inc.’s essential business survival guide in a crisis is worth the read. Their solutions center offers expert advice on practical aspects of handling the new state-of-play from panicked customers, hyper kids, interrupted supply chains, Zoom meetings, webinars, and a work environment that changes by the hour.
Take the Financial Aid Available to You
In these tough times, there’s financial aid and more to cushion the blow your business might have been dealt. Check the US Chamber of Commerce site for the latest information on Government aid for businesses. There’s also a state-by-state guide to financial assistance. When you’re in need of financial assistance, it’s important that you take what is available to you. – to help you reduce anxiety, allow you to focus on business matters rather than survival.
Even if your company has completely ceased trading, for now, you might find that applying for grants as well as unemployment can keep you going and use the time not working FT hours allows you to do something you’ve been putting off, like updating your website.
As well as government aid, private/non-profit grants are available to small businesses and freelancers. Most municipalities are compiling lists of resources, check what’s available in yours.
Knowing that uncertainty is a part of life, how do the pros deal with it? I’ve swept the web for practical ways industry leaders deal with uncertainty. Follow these tips to put yourself in the best possible mental state to approach everyday life as well as your 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.” Startup Istanbul
Confidence is the first 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. “Small business owners should find some comfort in knowing that in being small, they have the advantage of being more nimble and agile, which allows them to adapt more quickly than larger companies.” Eyal Lifshitz, Founder of BlueVine
Lifshitz suggests you draw strength from knowing as a small business, you are in a unique position to respond to change fast — and find new opportunities in uncertain situations. For instance, can your business provide solutions to the latest tech or logistical problems? Can you shift some of your products or services online? How can you offer value — at a safe distance! You can try and switch to a different format for now, for example:
- Your brick and mortar shop might sell products online
- Your restaurant may offer food for pickup or delivery
- A yoga teacher or fitness trainers can switch to virtual training sessions for new and existing clients
- Acknowledge that business uncertainty is not a personal failure. For Business growth contributor Mark Schaefer, it’s all about finding the right focus.
“…there is probably some little voice inside of you saying “How did I let this happen? Why wasn’t I more prepared?” But this level of uncertainty and loss?
This is not on me.
This is not my fault.”
Say the last two lines out loud, repeat them, it’s empowering and true. You’re doing your very best in less than ideal circumstances, and that’s all you can do. Or is it? Schaefer encourages you to go one step further.
- Let go of the unknowns and focus on the positives. You might feel as though everything is uncertain right now, and that’s unlikely the case. Dwelling on something impossible — like trying to figure out how long a recession might last — takes away your power to make good decisions.
Schaefer suggests instead of dwelling on the factors that are unknowable and out of your control,
“Let them go. Focus on what is certain.”
and describes how we are hard-wired to react to uncertainty
“When we feel anxiety and even panic, your limbic system responds with a knee-jerk fear reaction.”
While it’s tempting to go direct to auto-response: panic mode, he suggests finding some small thing to stay positive. This small fix turns on a different part of your brain. The impact of positive thinking is not only; if you stop your brain from being reactive and afraid, you’ll make better decisions in tricky situations.
“Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinders performance. When you focus on actions, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves mental performance.”
The point being, you are in control of your decisions and making positive actions based on those decisions.
- Stick to your goals If you’ve lost sight of them, define three goals. Just three. A manageable amount to keep you in focus, no matter what uncertainty there is in the world. Start thinking about your big three goals, dreams, aspirations whatever you want to call them.
“Is it keeping your children comforted and sane in a lock-down? Exploring new business strategies? Committing to a period of wellness and new habits? Pick three. Focus like a laser. The uncertainty will fade away.”
This is liberating because if you try to respond to every distraction you’ll be completely sapped of energy.
- Stop asking “What if?”. According to Travis Bradbury, Author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, and there’s no place for them in your thinking once you’re focused on the Big Three and your plan.”
Lifes ‘what ifs’ will answer themselves. You can’t change that. Dwelling on them will drive you to distraction. Instead, Bradbury suggests that every time your mind wanders back to what if mentality, stop! You can mentally prepare for the unknown, especially not for an unfolding crisis. Neither the virus or the economy is in your control.
Wrapping it Up
Whether you’re a big conglomerate, 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.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America – an international non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for those struggling with anxiety and depression.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – the largest mental health organization in America. They provide information about finding mental health support locally.
- 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.