The American Business Association

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Mental Health and Your Small Business: How to Recognize and Manage Stress

Operating your small business is a labor of love comprised of busy days, long hours and a never-ending list of responsibilities. These efforts might be integral to keeping your business up and running, but too much stress takes a toll on your mental health.


You're not alone – all small business owners face challenges. While it might feel like your company's success is your sole responsibility, there are many people and resources you can turn to for help.


Recognize the Signs

Are you finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks? Do you feel irritable, snappish or overly emotional? Have you been drinking more alcoholic beverages than you usually do?


These are signs that your work is adversely affecting your mental health. Instead of pushing aside these symptoms in favor of work tasks, such as managing staff, coordinating payroll or preparing for billing, take the time to address the factors causing these feelings.


But why should you deal with these feelings now instead of when it's more convenient for your business? If your stress continues to build without relief – especially if you take on more stress-causing responsibilities and tasks – you can experience what's known as burnout.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is an occupational phenomenon resulting from unmanaged chronic workplace stress. It can be characterized by:


  • Feelings of low energy or exhaustion.
  • Increased negative emotions or cynicism related to your job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

As a small business owner, the stressors you're experiencing won't go away. That's why it's crucial to make your mental health a priority. Your mental wellness affects every part of your work – including how you perform and treat employees, partners or potential customers.


Create a Healthy Balance

Many small business owners feel like their business is their life, but finding time for the things that bring happiness outside of work is essential. The good thing about owning your own business is that you're the boss. You have the ability to make positive changes to your workload and daily schedule in a way that's more beneficial for your mental health.


Some tips on how to reset your work-life balance include:


  • Make time for lunch – Don't overlook a meal in favor of logging more hours. Food is fuel and imperative for keeping you happy and healthy.
  • Take breaks during the day – Stepping away from your computer for a breather outside or a five-minute walk can reset your mood and help organize your thoughts.
  • Plan your day – Combat stress-induced low productivity by making a list of priority items. Set alarms ahead of time for breaks, as well as a hard deadline of when you'll stop for the day. Taking these steps can help keep you on target without overworking yourself.
  • Spend quality time with friends and family – Having your own business shouldn't come at the cost of close bonds with your loved ones; making time for friends and family can help them feel appreciated while giving you much-needed space from work.

Stay Connected

Mental health issues can feel isolating, but you don't have to go it alone. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed by work, reach out to a close friend or family member. An outsider's perspective can help you see your troubles in a new light.


Members of your small business community can be assets. Other small business owners have dealt with the same issues you're experiencing – they might have tips or advice that can help. They can also help connect you with local small business associations with additional resources.


Additionally, check in with yourself often and seek the guidance of a mental health professional as needed. Like the tried-and-true oxygen mask instructions on a plane, you must take care of yourself before you can help others – your business included.


The American Workers Association (AWA) helps our members by enhancing three key areas of their lives — their careers, personal lives and general health — through the provision of unique member benefits.