How small business ownership can impact mental health – and what you can do about it
When you start a small business, the lines between ‘work’ and ‘life’ don’t as much blur as become indistinguishable. You often throw yourself into the job because you want your new venture to be a success, and every hour not spent on the business is potentially money lost.
And that may seem like the right thing to do at the start but in the medium to long-term, it’s not a sustainable way to operate.
Research reveals small business reality
If you do have a work/life imbalance, you’re certainly not alone. A recent survey commissioned by Prospa and carried out by YouGov Galaxy found that nearly half (49%) of small business owners in New Zealand are working between six and seven days a week on their business, with one in five (20%) working seven days.
The vast majority (88%) of those surveyed also feel they miss out on quality time with their family because they’re distracted by their business, with four in five – 81% – saying they actively cut back on personal activities to work longer hours.
The most common things that small business owners are sacrificing outside of time with their family include personal time (58%), hobbies (57%), exercise (48%) and spending time with their friends (47%).
All of which can have a detrimental impact on both one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Common small business stresses
Michael Burrows, a Wellington-based clinical psychologist at Anxiety Specialists, says that he commonly sees forms of stress in small business owners, whether it’s a conscious process that they’re fully aware of or more of an automatic process that occurs due to preconceived assumptions.
“For example, say you have an upcoming meeting with a big client or potential new supplier,” says Burrows.
“You could have conscious worries about whether it will go well and how you should answer their questions. Or you could just notice you’re nervous, which is likely caused by standing assumptions in your mind that meetings may not go well, for whatever reason. That’s when your brain will automatically signal for the release of adrenaline and all you will notice is feeling anxious and stressed.”
Common issues Burrows hears about from small business owners include time management, not taking time for health-promoting activities, not trusting their decision-making skills and difficulty in dealing with conflict.
Dealing with complaints and negative feedback, particularly in retail and hospitality, and failing to engage with business networking opportunities in professional services due to anxiety and a feeling of loneliness are also common complaints.
Know your triggers
Burrows says one of the most important things small business owners can do is to identify the warning signs of stress in themselves and take active steps to alleviate it.
“Those warning signs can include difficulty getting to sleep, low appetite or comfort eating, feeling low or fatigued and staying up late watching TV or playing games to avoid going to bed and having the next day roll in,” he says.
“Some of the more obvious signs are noticeable worry about the future or rumination on past mistakes, as well as significant feelings of anxiety and stress. Keeping a diary or using an app on your phone can be very helpful in tracking the above symptoms and noticing patterns.”
Once stress has been identified, there are a number of things Burrows recommends to alleviate those negative feelings, such as scheduling time to both worry and relax.
“If you can figure out what you’re stressed or worried about, schedule it into your routine by writing it down then putting it aside until a predetermined time you have allocated for worrying,” he explains.
“This sounds simple, but it’s a well researched and massively successful technique for limiting your amount of worry.”
From there, scheduling time to relax, whether that means exercising, socialising with close friends and loved ones, having a massage or meditating, is crucial to providing feedback to your brain that it is not in constant threat and it is in fact safe to relax.
“You will probably need to structure in some incentives to help with this,” adds Burrows. “Back yourself into a corner with socialising, arrange it ahead of time so you’re less likely to back out and establish a rule that you’re not allowed any TV or device time until you’ve done a relaxation exercise.”
Need help managing your wellbeing? Wellplace NZ is a website dedicated to helping New Zealand workplaces foster wellbeing, providing practical ideas, tools and resources.
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