Business owners are generally a resilient and optimistic bunch, but there are a several aspects of their lives that make them particularly vulnerable to mental health issues.
Firstly, their working lives are more stressful than most employed people. Income is not guaranteed, they are often under-resourced and over-stretched, they carry the huge burden of being ultimately responsible for everything that can go wrong in the business. No wonder that disruptions such as load-shedding can push some business owners over the edge.
Secondly, they can easily become isolated. A business owner cannot always confide in their employees as colleagues and of course they don’t have a boss to whom they can turn to for support.
And thirdly, any mental-health struggle of a business owner can seriously and directly impact the performance of the whole business, which creates a vicious cycle as the resultant business problems put even more pressure on the business owner. Also, it is not so easy for business owners to take sick-leave and be replaced temporarily while they recover.
It could therefore be argued that a business owner’s mental health is just as important to the success of the business as good operational and financial management.
Here is a checklist to make sure that your mental health remains robust through the inevitable difficulties of building a business:
- Get enough sleep: The importance of making sure you have a well-rested brain to tackle the challenges of each day cannot be overstated. With enough sleep, you simply work, think, decide, judge, strategise and prioritise better. Occasionally business owners may have to work through the night to get a job done. More dangerous is a chronic lack of enough sleep, like routinely sleeping for 5 or 6 hours most nights while you should be doing 7 or 8 hours. The effects are subtle and gradual, so you don’t soon realise just how badly it affects your performance and your mood. If you struggle to sleep even when you do make enough time for it, get help from a medical professional. You can’t become mentally robust if you don’t get enough sleep.
- Stay fit and physically healthy: Physical health is the foundation of mental health. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, and make sure you don’t postpone visits to medical professionals when you need them. Don’t fall for the excuse that you don’t have enough time for exercise, healthy family meals or visits to the doctor. Staying fit and healthy will make you work better and faster, saving you time.
- Check your drinking and substance use: Alcohol, pills and other drugs can play havoc with your mental health, and the problems that it causes can creep up stealthily and debilitate your attempts to recover once you realise you have a problem. Be aware of the danger signs – drinking every day, binge drinking – and don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel yourself slipping down the slope of substance abuse.
- Nurture your family and friends: No ship can stay at sea indefinitely – sooner or later it will break and sink. Your harbour from the stormy ocean of the business world is your family and friends. They don’t have to be involved in your business or even be aware of the details of your business struggles, but you will need them as a source of comfort, diversion, emotional sustenance, and love. Try to be judicious about communicating your business struggles to your loved ones. Some of them may get too anxious when you expose them to the full details. Others may get very frustrated if you leave them in the dark. But business issues aside, work to be a committed partner, parent, child, sibling and friend to your loved ones. They will save you if ever the storms batter your business.
- Build a relationship with a mentor or business coach: While you may prefer being your own boss and the leader of your business, you also don’t benefit from having supportive management and colleagues. Of course, your employees must remain aware, to a certain extent, of the challenges facing the business, but you simply cannot confide in them about your emotional well-being and about your deepest fears and dysfunctions. For that, you need a soundboard – someone who can listen empathetically, perhaps from a slightly more detached position as a family member and give you sensible advice. The world is full of business coaches or experienced retirees who would love to share their wisdom, but don’t wait until you accidentally bump into one of them. Work actively at seeking out a mentor, and don’t be shy to approach them directly with your request that they act as your mentor, with or without remuneration.
- Accept that you can’t do it all – learn how to prioritise and to delegate: There are not enough hours in the day, or in your life, to do everything you want to as well as you want it done. Building a business is inevitably a process of deciding what to prioritise and what to neglect, no matter how painful it is to neglect certain things. Accept that you are not going to be able to check every job or product, satisfy every client, and resolve every staff issue completely. The challenge is to learn what to prioritise, and what to delegate to staff members even if you know you would be able to do it better.
- Accept that you can’t do it all the time – set time limits: Some jobs come with the satisfaction of completing a set of tasks for the day, week, or month. Not so for business owners. There are always more clients to recruit, processes to improve, and growth options to pursue. Make peace with that reality and set some limits on the number of hours that you spend on your business so that you can also invest in your sleep, your family and friends and your physical health.
- Business failure is not the end of the world: It’s very, very tough to have to cut your losses and close your business, but it is a completely normal part of the business world, and, if it happens, it does not make you a failure. In fact, it contributes to making you a wiser business owner for your next venture, or a better, more experienced employee if you decide to go back to employment.
- Learn to relax: Just as a muscle needs to relax in order to work again, your psyche needs a regular release from being focused on your business. Some people need a mere twenty minutes or so, others need longer, but try to find a positive daily activity that can take your thoughts completely away from your business.
- Plan to spend time away from your business: Your time off from work should include at least an occasional, but preferably a regular, holiday. Apart from helping to reset your worry levels, recharge your batteries, replenish your creativity and build your family bonds, it is also an excellent way to get your business to run on its own, without your constant presence.