Small Business Owners vs. Mental Health: What can you do?

At AUZi Insurance, we love a #girlboss, and we loudly advocate for the Business Owner Life. But do you know something else we advocate for? Positive Mental Health Initiatives. Mental Health Awareness Initiatives allow us the chance to get a topic that often isn’t talked about enough, into the limelight.

Chances are, if you’re currently on this page – you’re either interested in, or understand how the increased stressed placed on Small Business Owners through their duties can lead to an increased likelihood of Mental Health Issues, especially in recent years.

A recent 2020 Report by the Australian Government into Small Business Owners and Mental Health has indicated that Small Business Owners are underreporting in relation to their Mental Health status, even when showing clear heightened signs of stress, anxiety, poor sleep schedules, and other symptoms of anguish. Not only this, but the Report also indicated that Small Business Owners, while being tolerant of others opening up about Mental Health issues, will often conceal their own.

Society has a way of getting us to think of ourselves as a never-ending Candle, of sorts. This is probably due to our entrepreneurial nature. But, the irony is that we know this is impossible in reality – as Candles always burn out. As do we. Yet, we trick ourselves into thinking that we can be on fire at all times. 

Burnout is very real, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. Piling on the responsibilities of being a Business owner too? You’re just adding more… flame to the wick? (I’m stretching this analogy a bit far now)

We get it.

There’s an appeal to being a Small Business owner. The constant hustle & bustle, the juggling of 50 different daily tasks (not to mention the kids), Meetings, Networking, Social Media etc. At the end of the day when you’re finally sitting at home with a nice glass of wine basking in that sweet hit of dopamine, it’s all worth it.

But sometimes the dopamine is replaced with anxiety because you’re having to figure out how to move your entire business online after something shuts it down. Sometimes the 50 daily tasks ramp up to 100 simply because something’s gone wrong. Or sometimes you’ve just hustled and bustled your heart out so hard that you could sleep for 72 hours. Of course, it’s all worth it in the end – running a business has many, many benefits. But to reap the most benefits, or rewards, one has to set aside the time to look after themselves, too.

Take a moment to look at the chart on the right (or below on Mobile). Have you ever felt these ways during stressful/busy times in your life? There’s a few I could definitely put my hand up for. Or perhaps not only during busy times? If the answer is yes, you may very well have been feeling the effects of Deteriorating Mental Health. If you do find yourself feeling these ways, there’s no shame in it at all. That’s what these initiatives are for. For breaking down the stigma that’s associated with taking care of your noggin, and you can’t do that by wearing a helmet.

Have you felt any of the following ways while running your Business?

These are some of the Early Warning Signs for deteriorating Mental Health, as explained by the Heads Up Organisation

Disclaimer:

This Blog is mainly aimed at those Small Business Owners who’ve experienced heightened negative feelings during stressful events in their lives (I think it’s safe to say Covid has been a pretty big stressor in all of our lives). Although, it’s important to recognise that there are also those among us who struggle with these feelings more-so than they don’t. For those of you who may fall into this category we want you to know something;

 

You aren't Alone.

20% of all Australians Struggle with Mental Health, meaning that there’s over 5,000,000 of us who are. Out of men, for example – 72% will flat out refuse help due to the social stigma. That means 1.8 million Aussie Blokes think it’s better to keep their feelings inside, than it is to express them and seek help – even if it’s adversely affecting their lives.

These past few years of fundraising have allowed for some absolutely amazing services to come in to play, which should make seeking help more approachable, and it does. But that stigma still somehow exists, and it’s why its so important to continue breaking down the barriers of why it’s okay to not be okay. Let’s have a look at a couple of programs/services that have been made available because of past fundraising.

What can I do if I feel like I'm struggling with my Mental Health?

Personal Mental Health Wellbeing

Beyond Blue has been around since 2000, and it’s goal is to tackle the issues of Depression, Anxiety and Suicide within Australians. It’s essentially the best place to go for anything Mental Health Awareness within these realms. It’s here you can find anything from The Facts on Mental Health to tips on How to Aid Somebody who’s Anxious about Seeking Help. Let’s have a look at some other available services;

Beyond Blue has a completely anonymous Anxiety and Depression Checklist which can be found and completed online. As the checklist utilises an official measurement of distress used by GP’s, the results of which can be taken to your Doctor and aid in treatment.

The Organisation, being into their third decade of operation, has personalised mental health resources for so many different lifestyles. Whether you’re young or elderly, male or female, Pregnant or already a Parent, Multicultural or Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderThere’s resources available. There’s also a section with hundreds of Personal Stories from people who have personally struggled in the past, further helping break down the barrier for the seeking of treatment. 

If you feel as if you need immediate support, visit this page. If you are in a crisis or emergency, please call 000.

What can I do as a Business Owner who's struggling with Mental Health?

Mental Health Resources for Small Business Owners

Created and Supported by a wealth of Australian organisations, Heads Up is designed for those specifically struggling in a professional context. After recognising the difference between professional vs personal struggle, Heads Up has been full steam ahead in devising as many resources and programs as they can for Business Owners, Small Business Owners, Managers, Employees, and more. 

You can find Tips for making your Workplace more Conscious about the issues of Mental Health. You can read up about your Legal Rights and Responsibilities as an Employer, or even find Personal Stories and Case Studies (much like Beyond Blue). 

However, NewAccess for Small Business Owners has quickly become the most beneficial and impactful programs to have been implemented with Heads Up. NewAccess is an entirely free and confidential mental health program designed to lead Small Business Owners through a structured six session program. Over the six sessions, you’ll be chatting with a coach (either via phone or video call) who’ll give you the practical tools to manage the increased life pressures that come along with running a Business. What’s best is you don’t need a doctor’s referral or a mental health plan. You can simply Enquire here

If you feel as if you need immediate support, visit this page. If you are in a crisis or emergency, please call 000.

We've spoken about the Warning Signs for deteriorating Mental Health. But what can you do to prevent the Warning Signs from even happening?

In order to best answer this question, we decided to chat with the lovely Lauren from Dancing Through Life Studios (DTLS). DTLS is an adult dance studio located in Sydney’s North Shore. DTLS Offers Studio Classes, Online Classes, Dance Fitness group Sessions, Private Lessons, and Choreography services in styles of Tap, Jazz, Theatre Jazz, Hip Hop, Dance Fit, and Stretch. Lauren and her team are passionate about encouraging, inspiring and empowering adult dancers. They believe that everyone and anyone can be a dancer!

As you can assume from their huge list of activities, Lauren’s entire business and livelihood was jeopardised by the introduction of Covid. However, she was still able to diversify and push through the challenges that Covid presented successfully, whilst increasing productivity. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Let’s look at how Lauren managed to keep her head on straight during a pretty rough year;

How long has Dancing Through Life Studios been in Operation?

“Dancing Through Life Studios was founded in December 2018 and opened studio classes in January 2019. We will be celebrating our third birthday in December!”

Did you find that you felt any change or increased strain on your Mental Wellbeing when opening the studio?

“Yes- of course! Initially I was caught up in the excitement of starting my own business but as it started to grow my stress levels definitely increased. I love every second though – being a business owner is definitely not for the faint hearted”

Small Business Owner Lauren Posting with a group of Dancers after a Dance Session
Lauren (middle) posing with a group of her dancers after a studio class.
Small Business Owners - who are required to uphold every aspect of their business - often don't find the time to look after their own Mental Health. What are some ways that business owners, like you, can better look after their noggin?

“Being a Small Business owner, we do it all and it can often be very hard to switch off. A few things I have learnt over the past 3 years that have had a positive impact on my mental health that I would love to share with other business owners are the following;

Fitness:

Make sure you are looking after your body – eat good foods, drink plenty of water, get a decent sleep and stay fit. I have learnt that ‘staying fit’ doesn’t mean – do an intense workout everyday. Staying fit means do what works best for your schedule AND lifestyle – whether it’s morning pilates, going to the gym on your lunch break, taking the dogs for a walk after work, (or a dance class in the evening) – mix it up!. It can be something simple that you may not even be aware is already in your schedule. Do something every day that motivates you to get moving!

Work:

Be willing to accept that;

• Some days you simply can not get through everything on your to do list – and acknowledging that you are not a failure if you haven’t.

• You will get things wrong – it’s about how you move forward that’s important.

Work/Life Balance:

Implement into your life;

• Time away from devices – being present when you are with you family and friends.

• Me time – allow time for yourself. As adults we tend to stop focusing on the little things in life that bring us joy – take those piano lessons, join that sport club, start learning dance!

• Plan breaks and holidays – If you work Monday to Friday make sure you are actually giving yourself time off on your weekends. Alternatively book in holidays (even if it is only for a few days) where you step away from your business. It is so important to give your mind a rest from the stress and pressures of business. I find that time away from my business allows me to realign my goals, review any problems that need solving and recharge my mental and emotional health so I can come back to my business with a clear mind.

As a Dance Studio, the Pandemic surely would have affected Business. How did you handle the increased stress during this time?

“For me personally I dance. I dance everyday, I have to. It keeps me sane. When I am most stressed I put on my favourite song, allow myself to get up and dance around to. Then when I sit back down to work I am in a much more positive mindset ready to complete the task at hand.”

Small Business Owner Lauren Dancing and Posing with a group of Dancers
Lauren and a group of dancers mid-class.

What was your work/life balance like before vs after the Pandemic?

“Prior to the pandemic I didn’t have a work/life balance at all – I was always running around everyday trying to keep my head above water. However during Sydney’s second lockdown was when I found my work/life balance.

I was quite literally working 24/7, even through the nights as well sometimes, and I thought to myself – this has to stop! I can’t keep working like this or I am going to constantly burn out. So I wrote out a weekly to do list and a monthly to do list – combining both work and personal life schedules.

I wrote out all the tasks that I do week to week and month to month and I scheduled time for it. Instead of doing the same tasks everyday I allocate an amount of time once a week for that task and get it done in that allotted time.

So instead of doing the same tasks each day e.g. posting on social media I now have a scheduled time once a week where I sit down and load up all my posts ready to go for the week. Those 2hrs once a week have given me back more hours in my week where I used to be scrambling around for hours everyday trying to find or create something to post. Same goes for personal life e.g. doing chores around the house – during lockdown I was doing washing or cleaning everyday. Now I have my schedule ‘cleaning’ time on Sundays where I get everything done for the week in 3-4hrs.”

Lauren and a dancer laughing together.

If you had to include your personal mental health efforts on a list of top business-priorities, where would it sit?

“More recently it has become a top priority. If you asked me this question a year ago it would have been at the bottom of my list.”

Lastly, how do you think a Small Business Owner can successfully promote Mental Health Awareness internally to their staff?

“It is important to allow your staff to work in an environment that works for them. Being a teacher I understand that my dancers all learn very differently, this is the same for employee’s – everyone works differently. If they are happier working from home – let them. If they like to workout or go for walk on their lunch breaks – let them. If you know your staff has an upcoming day in lieu, holiday or personal commitment – let them have this time and actively limit your contact to your staff on their days off. Just like business owners need time to switch off from work, so do employee’s.

At the end of the day simply by checking in with your staff! Ask them how they are going. Are they managing with their workload? Do they need extra resources or support? Are they feeling stressed about an upcoming deadline – how can you assist them? Communication is key for a healthy and happy work environment.”

So how can I better my Mental Health as a Business Owner?

Lauren has suggested some pretty amazing, simple ways for anyone can work on their mental health, even working in tandem with running a business. We’d love to help you put them into practice.

As Lauren mentioned, keeping fit doesn’t mean going to the gym an hour a day, every day for the rest of your life. Hell, it doesn’t even necessarily mean going to the gym at all. Exercise aside, switching up your diet to include slightly healthier foods, more water, less coffee alone can help improve your mood. Little do people know, a poor diet can leave you more susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder. Here’s a few more things you can try;

Dancing:

As mentioned by Lauren, Dancing is an absolutely fantastic tool for RnR. There’s just so many benefits that come along with dancing

Dancing Through Life Studios diversified throughout Covid to include entirely Online Dance Classes. While they’re slowly opening up shop now (fingers crossed it stays that way!!), the online classes are here to stay and are a fantastic way to keep fit, healthy, and happy. They even offer dance classes for Businesses, so you can find out once and for all who to not challenge to a dance off.

Skipping:

Skipping is a great choice as it burns a lot of calories, is extremely cheap, and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. A moderate-intensity skip alone burns up to 13 calorie’s a minute. If you find yourself strapped for time, even 10 minutes of skipping a day will see you reaping those benefits.

But take it from me, as somebody who’s spent the past month doing exactly that. Spending 10 minutes a day skipping not only makes me feel more accomplished, but I have a better night’s sleep and often get more done in the day because of it.

Walking:

This one’s pretty straight forward, and I’m sure a lot of us spend 30 minutes walking a day, anyway. Walking can not only help improve your mood, but also your cardiovascular endurance, it can reduce the likelihood of diabetes or heart disease, and it also poses many more benefits.

There's one more you should try, stick with me.

Disconnect through Mindfulness:

Mindfulness Meditation can make some people shudder immediately. This might be due to the misconception that it’s shrouded in mysticism and religion. But take it from me, as somebody who’s been making a concerted effort to learn – this tool can be just as powerful as any physical exercise (besides the obvious differences) as it can help you better understand your own body, emotions, and triggers. The fact that it’s been utilised in cultures around the world for thousands of years is enough for me to surmise that it’s important.

At it’s best, Mindfulness Meditation can (apparently) lead somebody down the path to full enlightenment, finding answers to all of the greatest questions of humanity. Apparently. While I’ll leave that up to the Tibetan Buddhists for now; it’s important to recognise that, even at meditation’s worst – it is still extremely invigorating. 

I have been on the sceptical side of Meditation. Where the idea of sitting down and simply breathing for 10 minutes doesn’t seem very beneficial. But it’s when you take the practice into an objective, science-based context – you can start to see its benefits. I’ve been using the guided meditation app Waking Up, created and run by world-renowned Philosopher, Neuroscientist, and Author, Sam Harris. 

He works to make Mindfulness as approachable as possible by showing you the ways it can change your perspective on life. Have a read of this excerpt from his ‘What is Progress in Meditation?’ Audioblog, found in the app.

“Mindfulness eventually becomes an antidote to your psychological suffering. It’s not that negative emotions and moods no longer arise. But when they do, you can drop back and merely witness them. You can’t always do it, perhaps. But you can sometimes do it. And then you can do it more and more… Your own Psychological suffering becomes a kind of mindfulness alarm, which reminds you to pay attention, and when you pay attention – it actually helps.”  Sam Harris.

Sam Harris
Waking Up Founder, Sam Harris

The app gives you a mixture of practice and theory designed to help you link the concepts of meditation, with your every day life. I can see that I have 47 Mindful days when looking at my profile. Meaning 47 Meditative sessions. I can absolutely attest to the fact that, since beginning meditation, I have become so much more aware of not only my emotions, but the specific warning signs and sensations that they present internally. Because of this, more often than not, I am able to pick up on anxious thoughts before they’re fully present and already affecting my day. 

All it takes is giving it a go, yourself. They offer a free trial which works in tandem with their beginner Meditation course, giving you enough of an introduction to see if Mindfulness is something that you can employ into your life.

Okay, Let's Recap:

There has been a LOT that we’ve covered over this blog post. That’s because this is a topic that we feel needs to be talked a lot about.

We’ve covered a huge range of activities, resources and programs which hopefully a few of you may implement into your lives.

Chatting with the absolutely fantastic Lauren from Dancing Through Life Studios, we were able to get some relevant tips for how she managed to get through one of the most stressful years in recent history. 

We’ve also laid out some of our personal recommendations for keeping your mind and body fit, even when extremely busy. 

Most importantly, however, we’ve (hopefully) helped push a topic further to the top of your mind moving forward. The more of us talking about this, the faster we can progress.

Like we said, we absolutely love a #girl boss at AUZi Insurance. We want to keep seeing not only our Small Business Owners thrive in their day-to-day lives, but every single Aussie. Get involved in raising awareness for Mental Health wherever you can. Chat to your family, your mates, your colleagues. Don’t shy away from the conversation. We’ve been able to (mostly) come together for the common goal of ending a worldwide pandemic, it’s time to do the same thing to the Pandemic of Mental Health Issues that plagues the planet. 

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