Small business owners are known for being resilient, a necessary asset when running a business even in the best of times.
Small business owners face many stressors even when business is operating smoothly and efficiently, including long hours, responsibilities for multiple business functions, and staff management observes Yohana Franklin, Everymind Project Lead who heads up Ahead for Business – a Federal Government funded digital hub, which supports mentally healthy businesses.
“When adverse events impact small business owners, they may face numerous challenges that have long-lasting effects on their business and their mental health,” Yohana says.
COVID-19 is an example of an adverse event that has caused a considerable amount of stress on small business owners, Yohana continues, “whether they’ve had to close or cease trading due to lockdowns, lay off staff to save on costs or adapt their business to keep earning.
“We also know that high levels of stress experienced over a prolonged period, coupled with future uncertainties, can have a negative influence on someone’s mental health and wellbeing.”
The small business response to mental health risks
The experience of the team at Ahead for Business is that COVID-19 has hastened a significant shift in small business owners. Yohana elaborates, “Owners and those who support them, are seeking resources and information to safeguard their mental health and wellbeing online.”
Many online support services are being utilised by small business owners at this time, including the Ahead for Business digital hub, which provides tips, tools and resources for owners, as well as mental health and business stressor check-ups and action plans.
“Social connection is also a critical protective factor in maintaining mental health and wellbeing for small business owners,” Yohana suggests.
“Ahead for Business offers an online, anonymous social forum where owners can connect and share experiences, worries and tips for self-care.”
Peter Godden, owner of Handyman Pete, from Parramatta in Western Sydney agrees it is important to look after yourself inside and outside the workplace. “Every week I get a three-hour period where I just look after myself and play a bit of sport.
“You’ve got to have friends and people around you, so I’ve got a couple of groups where we have people from all walks of life but typically in small business together.
“And we get together and discuss the tax implications, insurances, all the overheads and so on. So you need to realise that other people are going through the same problems, otherwise you feel like you’re just a little island, an isolated island with no support, so I think it’s important to talk to others.”
Identifying the mental health red flags
A shift in behaviour may indicate a warning sign of mental ill-health, Yohana advises. Small business owners should be conscious of:
- Not getting things done at work
- Finding it hard to concentrate or forgetting things
- Withdrawing from close family and friends
- Avoiding particular places or situations
- Not going out anymore, when you were exceptionally social previously
- Relying on alcohol or drugs to feel better.
Other warning signs include feelings such as being overwhelmed, irritable or frustrated. Further mental health red lights include a lack of confidence, unhappy for no reason and indecisiveness. SME owners might also wish to seek help if they are experiencing signs of nervousness, anxiety, worry, edginess or have difficulty in switching off negative thoughts.
It is vital to get help early advocates Yohana as mental ill-health conditions are treatable. SME owner should also be mindful of any physical signs, including:
- Constant tiredness
- Sick and run down
- Headaches and muscle pains
- Churning stomach
- Racing heart, tightening of the chest or quick breathing
- Difficulty relaxing
- Sleep problems
- Loss or change of appetite
- Significant weight loss or gain.
Tips for supporting the small business recovery
With governments around Australia now starting to wind back lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, Yohana recommends that SME owners should take some time for self-care. She says, “In a general sense, self-care refers to activities undertaken with the intention of enhancing energy, restoring health and reducing stress.”
Yohana adds, “There are many ways to do this, and self-care is something that can be personalised for every individual.
“Self-care can also be about processing emotional reactions to life and doing things that we might find difficult, such as asking for help.
“Being mentally healthy and living well is important to every single one of us. It’s about enjoying life and being connected to friends, family, community and culture.”
Ask for help
It’s a fair bet that none of us were in business during the Great Depression, but we can almost be sure that there are significantly more mental health support services available to small business owners today. Yohana agrees, “You are not alone. Reach out when you need it.”
Your informal support network might include family members, friends, other family day care educators or a spiritual or religious leader. For tips on ways to enhance your informal networks, check out the Ahead for Business Networking Toolkit.
If you feel you need additional professional support, consider these options:
- Make an appointment with your local doctor. You can find a GP with an interest in mental health issues through Beyond Blue – beyondblue.org.au/get-support/find-a-professional
- Find a psychologist by postcode, issue or name through the Australian Psychological Society – psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist
- If you require immediate support, contact Lifeline, a 24-hour telephone counselling service on 13 11 14.
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