How small business ownership can impact mental health – and what you can do about it

As a small business owner, you’ll no doubt have a good business plan in place. But, with new research revealing the stresses Kiwis face running their own business, it’s equally as important to have a stress plan in place, too.

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.

The information on this website is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisors. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information, Prospa, its officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

Research reveals the realities of running a small business

Research: The realities of running a small business

Working for yourself, being your own boss, building a brand – that’s the dream imagined by small business owners everywhere. And while it undoubtedly has its benefits, the reality of running the show also has more than its fair share of challenges.

A recent study commissioned by Prospa has shone a spotlight on the daily battles faced by New Zealand’s small business owners – and the extent of the work they put into making the business a success.

While there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to business management and work/life balance, it’s proven that small business owners certainly aren’t afraid to put in the hard yards to make their business a success.

Working 9 till 5… and beyond

The research, which was carried out for Prospa by YouGov Galaxy, found that nearly half (49%) of small business owners around the country are working between six to seven days a week on their business, with one in five (20%) working the full seven days.

But long hours aren’t the only challenge small business owners are facing, the research found that over three quarters (76%) of respondents are struggling with one or more areas of business management – namely finance and accounting (39%), IT/technology knowledge (31%) and digital marketing (30%).

Other common struggles were debt collection and managing overdue invoices (20%), sales techniques (20%) and people management (17%).

As a result, up to 43% of small business owners have found themselves putting in extra hours to learn new skills. While 38% of respondents say they’re missing out on opportunities to grow their business and one in five (20%) reported cash flow issues that brought them to the brink of going out of business.

Interestingly, millennials (90%) are more likely than baby boomers (69%) to say there are areas of business management that they struggle with, particularly finance and accounting (52% compared to 33%), and people management (35% compared to 8%).

The personal impact of running a small business

The study also reveals the emotional impact of such pressures, with 88% of small business owners reporting that they experience negative emotions, such as frustration (44%), stress (40%) and feeling overwhelmed or burnt out (38%).

What’s more, a massive 81% of respondents said they’ve had to make sacrifices in order to focus on their business, including cutting back on personal time (58%), hobbies (57%) and exercise (48%). Sadly, time spent with family wasn’t far behind (38%), as well as time spent with a significant other (33%).

Unsurprisingly, 30% even cut back on sleep to get back to the grindstone.

Small business wish list: Skills and investments

Still, small business owners know what’s needed to improve things, with key skills in digital marketing (31%), financial literacy (30%) and sales techniques (30%) listed as having the biggest impact on their ability to manage and grow their business.

And when it comes to investments, 25% of small business owners felt that a marketing campaign would have the biggest impact on helping them grow their business, while 17% said hiring staff and 13% said better, more professional equipment.

Finding the resources to fund equipment is something that Kurt Jacks and his wife Althea, owner/operators of The Rib House in the Auckland suburb of Pakuranga, know all about.

“We found that when you start a small business, it sucks a lot of money, more than we anticipated,” says Kurt. “We needed to do upgrades and renovations to the kitchen, and we also eventually want to upgrade the size of our restaurant, but we needed a bit of help.”

Read more about The Rib House’s small business story.

The information on this website is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisors. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information, Prospa, its officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.