Looking after your mental health as a busy business owner

"Mental Health" spelt out in scrabble cards

As a business owner, stress can be a part of everyday life, and this can have a negative impact on our mental health. In 2024, most of us are aware of the importance of looking after our mental and physical health, but often when business gets busy, looking after ourselves can fall by the wayside. But, without a healthy mind, running a healthy business is usually much more challenging. Here are a few ways to look after your mental health even when you have 442 things to do for your business, and where you can get help if needed.

What is mental health?

How we are doing and feeling mentally has a massive effect on our day-to-day lives, impacting our mood, relationships, and how we do tasks and run our businesses. Our mental health can also be influenced by what’s going on in our lives, with anything from finances and how our businesses are going to the weather and the attitudes of others being able to affect our mental well-being.

As our mental health has such a big impact on how we relate to the world, poor mental health makes normal tasks like the day-to-day running of your business feel much harder. It is then common to be left feeling a range of emotions, such as worried about hypothetical situations, lonely, sad, uncontrollably stressed, and exhausted. All of this is something experienced by many people, and when you have the pressure of running your own business, this can heighten these negative feelings. Every year in England, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind and a 6th of people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. This means it’s really important to check in with how you are doing, and be aware if any particular parts of owning your business can trigger your mental health to spiral.

The link between stress and poor mental health for business owners

Stress is strongly linked to our mental health, although it in itself is not a mental health condition. This is because it can both cause mental health problems and exacerbate ones you might already have. There are two types of stress which we can encounter. 

  1. Acute stress (occurs shortly after an event and is very intense). 
  2. Chronic stress (lasts much longer or keeps coming back, often if under pressure for a lot of time).

Neither type of stress is nice to experience, and although small bursts of stress can make us more productive, it is good not for us to constantly be weighed down by it. As business owners, stress can be a common feeling. In fact, 80% of small business owners report experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year. The independence we all love from being our own bosses also means often being under constant pressure and having to deal with the stress of multiple people relying on you, as well as knowing if you stop, the business stops.

Although stress can be part of owning a business at times, it is important to control your stress levels and look after your mental well-being. That is obviously much easier said than done, but it is a good idea to try out different things to see what works for you. The next section includes a few tips to help you prioritise your mental well-being whilst successfully running your business.

Signs saying "don't give up", "you are not alone" and "you matter"

Tips on looking after your mental health as a small business owner

In order to look after your mental well-being whilst running your business, we need to learn to build up resilience to be able to cope with stress. As we all experience stress in different ways, it makes sense that there are various ways to cope with it. Here are some tips to help take the pressure off:

  • Be as prepared as possible if you know that a stressful time is coming up can greatly lighten the burden. For example, write lists, prioritise tasks, and make a plan.
  • Remember the importance of perspective and don’t “stress the small stuff.” Try not to waste your energy worrying about things that won’t matter in the long run.
  • Don’t procrastinate. While putting off a task and cleaning the kitchen instead might seem like a good idea at the time, it is likely to lead to more stress later on. By making a to-do list of what you want to achieve by a certain time, you will be more focused on completing the task in hand.
  • Set up systems to automate as much as possible in your business, to free up your time and headspace. 
  • Take time to appreciate what you have already managed to do. No matter how far there is still to go, knowing what you have already achieved will give you a confidence boost for moving on to other tasks. 
  • Build a strong team and delegate – don’t try to do everything yourself. How you do this is up to you. Perhaps you want to explore ways to lighten the burden and put less pressure on yourself. This might mean outsourcing and getting a Virtual Assistant, or taking on an employee to help you.
  • Be kind to yourself – you are only human and cannot be productive 24/7. This is probably the most important step for looking after our mental well-being as business owners. It is also probably the easiest step to ignore. However, if you don’t look after yourself and put yourself first, you won’t be able to look after a business. 
  • Take time out to relax. No matter how important your business is to you, you are more important, and if you don’t take the time to look after yourself and give yourself a break, it is much more likely that the stress will mount up and it might be harder to cope. Scheduling in time out does not count as procrastination, it is the time you need to take to recharge your batteries. For me, I like to go for a walk in nature to clear my head and recharge after a stressful day.
  • If you are struggling, having a good support network which you can rely on can help hugely. Being able to open up and talk about how you are feeling can offer a big release and can really help those important to you to understand what you are going through and how they can best support you.

Prioritising your well-being is prioritising your business

Your mental health is as unique as you and your business. Taking the time to look after yourself and being aware of steps to take if things get overwhelming are the best ways to help you, and therefore your business, to flourish.

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, sometimes things can just get a bit much. If this is the case, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many resources and people out there who can help. If you are struggling, contact your GP. There are also many helplines that can let you talk anonymously through your thoughts and give you non-judgmental, impartial advice. These include: 

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