Staying physically and mentally fit is essential for all small business owners, none more so than today as the pandemic continues. With small and, micro-business owners often working alone, paying attention to the warning signs their health could be deteriorating is vital.
As a small or micro business owner, your fitness is of paramount importance. It’s a simple equation: If you can’t work, your business isn’t profitable. As the pandemic has changed perhaps forever how companies operate, what does this mean for the mental and physical health of all small business owners?
I have been running my business for the past three decades. During that time, mental and physical health has played a massive role in the success of my company. As a business of one, I have had to rely upon my own stoicism to weather the periods when business hasn’t been so great. Physical health can easily be forgotten these days, with a focus on just mental health issues, when, in reality, the two are symbiotic.
Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index, concluded more than three-quarters of business leaders (78%) have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and experts are warning that tighter COVID restrictions could spur a new wave, exacerbated by pressures on business, the economy and reduced personal freedoms.
Physical wellbeing is, of course, just as important as mental health. With continued restrictions on movement for large areas of the UK, it’s critical to have a physical fitness regime that ensures you take some level of exercise.
For me, this is regular brisk walks staying close to home, and also Pilates to help with a weak back I have had for several years. Sitting at a computer all day means paying even more attention to my physical health. I invested in a sit/stand desk last year and a high-quality chair, both of which have helped immensely with my posture and overall physical health.
Says Christina Colmer, Co-founder of Moodbeam, a wearable device designed to allow users to log and monitor their own emotional wellbeing in real-time. “Small business owners must prioritise looking after themselves just as much as their staff and have confidence that there are several people who will be on-hand to willingly support them where needed. Identifying what environments, situations or behaviours are causing small business owners to feel sad, anxious or concerned is important as this can often help to recognise triggers that can cause low mood.”
Small business fitness
To gain an insight into how the small business community approach their own mental and physical fitness; I asked a group of business owners to respond to a few specific questions. The first of which was how the pandemic had impacted their physical and mental wellbeing?
“Small business owners can be pretty resilient – we’re used to the ups and downs of self-employment, such as unpredictable workloads, fluctuating income and, often, working from home,” says Sarah Townsend. “We’re also used to thinking creatively and adapting to challenges – so you could argue that the small business community was better equipped than many large, traditional businesses for the challenges of COVID-19.”
Virginia Mendez, Co-founder of The Feminist Shop, also commented: “I suffer from anxiety and understanding my own personal symptoms is really useful. I feel it clearly in my chest, I get over worried about things and have difficulties reframing the narrative that is happening in my head regarding failure. I think being an entrepreneur is a constant navigation of the feeling of being overwhelmed and being able to understand those first warnings and avoid falling into the trap of negativity.”
With Natasha Wallace, Founder and Chief Coach, Conscious Works, also explaining: “The pandemic has put a lot of strain on a group of people who are already subject to a lot of stress and pressure. For those who had a product which was needed, they may have needed to ramp up their operation to respond to consumer needs. For others, they have had to pivot and be heard amongst a sea of other businesses trying to be ‘seen’ in a crowded market. Having to furlough staff, lose face to face connection while mobilising people to stay connected online, losing customers or gaining customers, and having little certainty about what the future holds – it’s all contributed to increased stress levels.”
I also wanted to understand the practical steps small business owners are taking to ensure they stay fit and healthy today and post COVID-19.
Sarah continued: “Learn to recognise the signs that you’re taking on too much and take action to protect yourself. I cover the simple steps we can all take to boost our mental and physical health in my book, Survival Skills for Freelancers. They include making simple lifestyle changes, such as learning when to say no, building your support network, setting clear boundaries, and prioritising your own wellbeing. Just a few small changes can help to boost your emotional resilience so you’re better equipped to handle pressure and stress and know when to take a break.”
Jill Mead, CEO at TalkOut, also makes the point that you are your business’s most precious asset, which needs to be looked after: “While it can be tempting to go into firefighting mode in times like these, it’s so important for small business owners to practice self-care. You are your biggest asset and if you’re not firing on all cylinders then your business is likely to suffer too. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and taking time out for the things you enjoy are all key steps in improving your mental wellbeing. Loneliness and lack of social interaction can contribute to greater anxiety and depression so make sure you’re maintaining connection with others, through virtual connection apps and face-to-face where possible.”
Monitoring and supporting your mental and physical health doesn’t mean radical changes need to be made as Virginia outlined: “I find gratitude incredibly powerful. During this time gratitude has been the main emotion for me, even when we had to close the deliveries from our online shop. It has been a great realisation of what it is important and a moment to rebalance the why of the business and my personal purpose. It has helped me be even more aware of my privilege and has forced me to focus on the things I can control in a time where everything seemed uncontrollable.
“The focus on the small things, the small daily changes that make an impact: drinking more water, stretching in the morning, maybe a YouTube yoga challenge – feeling that it is on you to make small healthy tweaks go a long way in helping your physical and mental health.”
A deterioration of our mental and physical health can easily creep up on us unawares. Developing an early warning system is vital to ensure that you can understand what is happening and practice preventative measures.
Natasha offers this advice to spot the warning signs:
If you’re struggling to sleep well, you’ve likely got things on your mind. Get to bed early, stay off digital beforehand, use a meditation app, and talk about how you’re feeling to someone close to you.
You may be overworked. Take time out, take more rests, get some fresh air. There’s only so much pressure that our brains can take, and this is a sign you are putting yours under too much strain.
If you feel unusually emotional, whether it be angry, frustrated, sad, it’s a sign that you’re stressed or too pressurised. Notice how you are responding to the people and situations around you, and if you see a shift in your behaviour, you may need to change something.
Rob Stephenson, Founded InsideOut, as a social enterprise to encourage business leaders to discuss their own mental health challenges and end the stigma around mental health in the workplace says: “My hope is that we will return to a more empathetic workplace whether a greater emphasis is given to health and mental health in particular. My belief is that the businesses that come through the pandemic in good shape will have looked after their people along the way. I also hope that in the future people will be more literate in how to care for their health and wellbeing and have the permission to do so by their employers.”
And what does the future look like for the mental and physical health of all small business owners? Cate Murden, Founder, PUSH, a business consultancy grounded in human behaviour, answering business problems with people-focused solutions says: “Amid the wreckage of COVID-19, the shoots of a new, more dynamic and highly-focused business climate are beginning to show, and those firms nurturing this growth are already seeing success. The tightrope walk across the chasm between old and new is perilous but thrilling.”
Everyone goes through periods of distress and physical illness. As small business owners, we are responsible for our own health, and by extension, our business’s wellbeing. If you pay attention to the warning signs something is not quite right; you and your business will be able to stay fit and healthy during and after these testing times.