Understanding mental health

As a small business owner, it can be tempting to focus all your time and attention on the business, but the most important resource that your business has is actually you. The healthier and more resilient you are, the healthier your business has the chance to be.

What is mental health?

Mental health, or being mentally healthy, is about you as a ‘whole’ person. It’s about how you feel, how you think, and how you interact with others. It is a positive concept related to your social and emotional wellbeing.

Being mentally healthy is about:

  • Enjoying life
  • Setting and achieving goals
  • Being able to cope or bounce back from stress and adversity
  • Being able to connect with others at home and work

Mental health and mental illness are not the same

Mental health is sometimes misunderstood and is used to refer to mental illness or mental health problems, but they are not the same. Mental health is about ‘wellness rather than illness’; just like being physically fit and healthy is not the same as having an injury or illness.

Mental health is also so much more than just the absence of mental illness. The fact that you are not experiencing a mental health problem doesn’t necessarily mean you are mentally healthy. Likewise, it is possible to be diagnosed with a mental illness, and still have a good sense of wellbeing in many aspects of your life.

What about your mental health at work?

Research shows that a place of work can give you a sense of purpose and meaning, helping to improve your mental health. Factors like stress, burnout, long working hours and multiple responsibilities can increase your risk of developing a mental illness or cause an existing condition to worsen.

As a business owner, your health and mental health is critical. Recent Evermind and icare Foundation research has shown that over 50 per cent of small business owners rate their own mental health as only fair or poor. In addition, the research found some unique stressors that can impact on the wellbeing of small business owners.

These include:

  • Working in isolation and not always having someone to share business worries with, or who understands what it is like to run a small business
  • Financial stress, including managing cash flow
  • The impact of business pressures on other people, including family members

Take action on your mental health

It doesn’t matter whether it is the stressors of work or the stressors of life that are impacting on your mental health, there are things you can do to enhance your wellbeing and improve your performance as a business owner.

We all know that to keep a car going, we have to fill it with petrol, check the oil and water regularly, and give the tyres some air. But how often do you take the time to reflect on whether you are giving yourself what you need to flourish at work?

Tips to get you started

  • Get enough sleep and rest: Sleep affects our physical and mental health but can be the first thing we trade in when we get busy or stressed.
  • Switch off from the business: Balance in life is important, so prioritising time away from work can make a big difference to how you think and feel.
  • Be active and eat well: Our physical and mental health is closely linked, so adding exercise and nutritious food every day can make us feel better.
  • Find ways to connect with others: As humans, we need a connection to others, but many small business owners indicate feeling very isolated. Connecting with others who understand what you are going through can make a difference to your overall wellbeing.
  • Learn to manage stress: Some stress can be good for us, but prolonged stress makes it harder to make decisions and function. If you have trouble winding down or feel like your emotions are out of control, then it may be time to find stress busters that work for you.
  • Switch off from the business: Balance in life is important, so prioritising time away from work can make a big difference to how you think and feel.
  • Reach out for help when you need it: Everyone needs support from time to time. Talking to a family member, a friend, another small business owner or your doctor can be a good place to start. 
  • Plan ahead: Every business is different, and every business owner is different. It can help to have a mental health and wellbeing plan for yourself and your business, so you are prepared in the future.

This story is sponsored by Ahead for Business. 2020 has been one of the most stressful years on record for business owners, their managers, employees and families. If you or someone close to you is experiencing challenging emotions, please visit aheadforbusiness.org.au The site contains practical strategies and tools to assist people to regulate their feelings, and also provides access to a range of mental health resources.

Ahead for Business is an initiative of Everymind and funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

If you are in need of support for your mental health, services are available 24/7:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

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