Opinionista Nic Haralambous 2 June 2020

The mental battle of running a small business

Entrepreneurs have a habit of beating themselves up. It’s a strange habit and one that I’ve battled with for years. Whether I realise it or not, I punish myself in pursuit of a better business, bigger profits, more security, the next big idea or even just the day-to-day grind and trying to survive.

As we get comfortable in lockdown Level 3, you may be feeling excited at the possibility of going back to work and making money. You may be feeling a sense of dread that things won’t go back to the way they were. You may be sitting at home because your business isn’t allowed to reopen until Levels 1 or 2. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s okay to be doing okay and it’s okay to be doing terribly. 

I often used to wake up with a raging headache and continue my day this way, telling myself that this is what it takes to be an entrepreneur. This is what it takes to do something that other people shy away from. I made myself believe that sacrificing my wellbeing was the only way to be a success. Hell, everyone else around me is doing it this way so this must be the way it’s done. 

I call this the “Sacrifice Fallacy”. The idea that you absolutely must suffer for your craft. You must suffer and sacrifice to build a business. You must avoid sleep so that you can work longer hours. You must eat as quickly as possible and whatever you can scavenge from the kitchen or Uber Eats. You must wake up early, but get right to work and avoid exercise because that’s time you just can’t afford to waste. 

Let me be the one to tell you that you’re wrong. As entrepreneurs, business owners and obsessively ambitious employees, we put our mental and physical wellbeing at the bottom of the priority list. This is flawed logic, unfortunately. We think we’re being smart and selfless, but we’re doing irreparable damage to ourselves and our ability to fight stress, anxiety, depression and bipolar reactions to mundane events. We sacrifice ourselves and believe that we’re better for it. We’re not. 

When I was younger, I worked myself into a hospital bed. In the throws of one of my businesses, I had kidney stones… twice. I had a stomach ulcer that put me in hospital – and I had to drive myself because I wasn’t brave or smart enough to ask anyone for help. I also had constant insomnia and headaches that plagued me for months on end. This is not healthy and this is not normal. 

So what can you do to improve your mental health? Here are four of the most basic things that you can do to improve your mental health.

Calm your mind

I know meditation seems like a strange and esoteric practice that makes you think of spiritual people finding a higher power. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I try to meditate for 10 minutes every day. The main goal is to clear and calm my mind so that I can be present and not panic when I start to work. 

I am a huge fan of The Waking Up app by Sam Harris. He focuses on your mind and how it works, not on the spiritual side of meditation. 

Alternatively, you can try Headspace, The Mindfulness App or Calm

Exercise

I struggle to exercise in lockdown. I don’t like exercising at home and I can’t run due to an old injury. This means that I walk, a lot. I walk in the morning and try to walk again in the late afternoon. This low-impact exercise gets my body moving and allows my mind to wander as I pace through the streets of town. 

I also suggest basic body-weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups and squats if you don’t like walking. 

Alternatively, if you need motivation beyond me telling you to start, then head over to your favourite social media platform – Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, etc – and search for “home exercises”. You’ll have your pick of instructors, workout length, workout type and much more. There really are very few excuses not to do at least a few minutes of exercise every day. 

It has been understood for a long time that the mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. You don’t have to believe me, but the science speaks for itself. 

Eat healthier food

I am not a health or food expert in any way, but what I can tell you is that the more home-cooked food you eat, the better. Of course, ordering take-out once in a while to make yourself feel rewarded is brilliant, but overall you should be cooking fresh food in its natural state as often as you can. 

In lockdown, I’ve also found cooking to be a calm release from my day of stress. 

Food makes me happy and that sometimes means eating something unhealthy, but not feeling guilty about it. As long as the junk food isn’t a staple, you’re doing okay.

Go to sleep

You think you need to work deep into the night and early into the next morning. You don’t. You need to go to sleep. It’s okay to sleep. No one is going to judge you for getting in a good, solid, restful eight hours of sleep. In fact, sleep is a human requirement for survival. 

The better you sleep, the better you work. That’s really just as simple as it has to be. Staying up and starving your brain of recovery time will not make you a better person to be around the next day. In fact, it’s going to make you worse and people notice. When you haven’t had enough sleep, you can’t respond to things in real-time, you forget more things more often and your anxiety levels rise. This is a terrible way to run a business and live a life. You need to sleep. 

Continuing as if nothing has changed is not a viable option. Your emotional wellbeing is an imperative part of your success and the survival of your business. Staying mentally fit will benefit you in the long term and your business in the short term, trust me. DM/BM

The Department of Health’s website has resources and contact details in case of need, including some mental health resources.

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