Being your own boss can be exciting, challenging and sometimes stressful. Long hours, unpredictable cash flow, significant changes in your industry and having responsibility for employees can leave you feeling mentally exhausted, stressed, anxious or depressed. This in turn could affect your ability to run your business, and have an impact on your relationships with family, friends, employees, suppliers and customers.
Watch out for warning signs that stress and anxiety are starting to build up. You may need to pay more attention to your mental health or seek some outside support. You may not notice the warning signs yourself, so listen to comments and feedback from people close to you.
There is no shame in asking for help; one in five Australians will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime. Having good mental health is also good for the health of your business.
You may be experiencing stress, anxiety or depression if you are:
- finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
- feeling overwhelmed and unable to solve problems
- regularly feeling irritable, sensitive, tense or close to tears
- constantly thinking of work, even during personal time
- finding reasons not to get out of bed or go to work
- avoiding essential day-to-day tasks
- spending less time with family or friends and generally avoiding social situations
- drinking excessive alcohol or smoking more
Stress can also appear in ways you may not expect. Watch out for the following physical symptoms, which may indicate that you are under stress:
- chest pain or pounding heart, high blood pressure
- finding it difficult to sleep or feeling constantly tired
- reduced interest in sex
- diarrhoea or constipation, nausea
- weakened immune system, getting colds more often
- muscle tension, aches and pains, headaches
- fast, shallow breathing, sweating excessively
- loss or change of appetite
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are conditions that can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. It’s normal to feel anxious if you are under pressure, however if these feelings happen for no obvious reason or continue after the stressful event has passed, it may be a sign of something more serious. Effective treatments for anxiety and depression are available, the sooner you seek help the quicker you’ll be on the road to recovery.
Top 10 tips for maintaining good mental health
Running your own business can leave you with little spare time, but taking care of your mental health is an investment in you and your business. Start working through this list:
- Make regular exercise, sleep and healthy eating your top priorities.
- Take up an activity you really enjoy – a new hobby or get involved in your community. Visit the Act-Belong-Commit website for lots of great ideas.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises you can do anywhere at any time.
- Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
- Put business systems and process in place that will allow you to take regular short breaks and holidays.
- Decide which tasks you can outsource, don’t try to do everything yourself.
- Don’t regularly take work home with you.
- Set a time every day when your phone and emails are turned off.
- Join a local business group or industry association to build a support group of peers to share and discuss your daily challenges.
- Sometimes it’s OK to just say “no”.
Good mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, and can work productively and fruitfully, is able to make a contribution to his or her community. (Source: World Health Organisation)
Seek extra support
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety, stress or depression, there are many organisations that can provide information and support.
beyondblue is one of the Australia’s leading support organisations, offering a wealth of advice. Their website includes a special 'For small business' section focussing on the needs of business owners and managers, plus videos of small business owners talking about issues they have faced. T: 1300 22 4636, help is also available via online chat or email.
Ahead for Business has been designed specifically to help small business owners. Their website has a range of free resources to help you assess your situation, access support and develop health and wellbeing plans for yourself and your business.
Heads Up also provides information about creating mentally healthy workplaces.
If you have a close connection to a small business owner, as a work contact, friend, family member or as a small business adviser (such as an accountant or tax agent) beyondblue has developed a guide called Supporting small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing to help you to support them.
Support for your business
If you’re worried about how your business is performing, or are involved in a business dispute that’s causing you stress, we have business advisers and a dispute resolution service ready to help you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.
The Financial Counsellors’ Association offers a free confidential service for support with financial problems and queries. It provides information, strategies and guidance to assist if you are experiencing financial difficulties. T: 1800 007 007
Rural Financial Counselling Services WA offers free, confidential and mobile services for rural primary producers, fishers and rural small businesses. T: 1800 612 004
The Australian Tax Office (ATO) recognises that there may be times when your mental well-being could affect your ability to pay tax or super obligations. Information to assist small businesses during these periods is available on their website.
Most Australian banks have dedicated teams who can help you in times of financial hardship. The Australian Banking Association provides a list of the hardship team contact details for most banks in Australia.