How to remain resilient amid uncertainty
Small business owners are used to wearing a lot of different hats. You’re the boss, the finance expert, the marketing guru, the logistics manager, and this is on top of the roles you might hold in your personal lives – the parent, the friend, the partner.
With so many roles to juggle, prioritising your own mental health can slip. But in 2020, mental resilience is what will lead to business resilience.
Rebecca Bishop has collapsed from exhaustion three times this year, after the pressure of running a small business during a pandemic caught up with her.
Bishop and her husband Nick own Elite Building Services in south-east Victoria, a residential business that, she says, provides a “personalised, engaging and interactive building experience for its customers”.
“The first weeks of COVID-19 were insane,” she says. “Initially, we thought we were going to have to shut down. We were absolutely petrified.”
Getting the news that the building industry was classified an essential service was a huge relief, but in many ways, it meant the hard work was only just beginning.
“I did as much research as I could to find out what was happening in the industry and what the forecast was going forward. I didn’t sleep much at all. I didn’t stop working.
“I have the personality type to take on the world,” she says. “I was working between 17 and 21 hours per day for at least three weeks and was feeling pretty broken.”
Bishop used this time to pivot the business and increase its online presence by creating videos for clients, trades and suppliers outlining the safety expectations and relevant guidelines for their work sites. This transparency and proactiveness saw their business pipeline remain strong – and increase quickly, but it didn’t take long for Bishop to realise she needed a break.
“I was burnt out and severely neglecting myself,” she says.
Replenishing your self-care cup
Small business owners need to be vigilant about their wellbeing and mental health in the best of times, and even more so during a pandemic, says Dr Sadhbh Joyce, a Senior Psychologist & Co-Founder of Mindarma, External Fellow at The Black Dog Institute and a resilience training expert.
It’s also important to understand what resilience is and what it’s not.
“It’s not about being tough and forcing yourself to get through hard times unscathed. Rather, it’s our ability to adapt to tough situations effectively,” Joyce says.
“We know from research that if we’re trying to approach novel thinking, creativity or innovation, our brains need to be grounded and calm. Without that, we’re making our brains work even harder.”
She says we have a number of emotional resilience resources. That might be how naturally mindful we are, our levels of optimism, our ability to see the bigger picture or how inclined we are to engage in self-care.
“Those things all replenish our cup. Make sure your self-care and resilience resources are regularly replenished. That needs to be front of mind in the months and years ahead,” Joyce adds.
Mental resilience for the time poor
After joining Business Chicks, an online community for female entrepreneurs, Bishop had access to a range of helpful webinars, which gave her some simple, daily resilience tools, such as writing in her gratitude journal and knowing how to start her day on the right foot.
“I learned the first eight minutes of your day will define what your day will look like. So, I don’t pick up my phone or look at my emails in the morning. I try to spend that time cuddling my son or patting the dog – doing things that make me feel warm and fuzzy so I can smash out the rest of the day with confidence and joy.”
Acknowledging small business owners often don’t have time to take a long break to recharge, Joyce suggests some small tools you can incorporate into your day.
Mindfulness exercises that connect you to the present moment are an excellent starting point.
“When you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re activating the frontal lobe – the area of the brain that allows for higher level thinking. That’s what’s needed for innovation, which is important for small business owners right now.”
Set aside some time for yourself every day, says Joyce, and book it into your diary.
“You’re making an appointment with yourself. Make it a non-negotiable. If we see it in our diary, we’re more likely to honour it.”
Bishop uses this tactic. From 4:30-7:30pm each night, she’s got family time blocked out in her diary.
“During this time, I get to be really present with my son. Once he’s in bed, I’ll often go back to the computer and do more work. But that’s fine because what matters is that I got to spend time with him.”
Bishop acknowledges the word ‘pivot’ has been overused in recent months, but she thinks it’s a key pillar to remaining financially and mentally resilient into the future.
“If you haven’t already, you need to think about what you can do differently. That could be training videos, tutorials or virtual platforms.”
Resilience is a life-long skill, Joyce says. It’s not something you do once to get yourself through a hard patch, it’s a constantly evolving skill that needs to be embedded into business owners’ daily routines.
Joyce’s final advice for business owners who might be struggling in these difficult times is to look up organisations like HeadsUp, Beyond Blue, Mindarma and the Black Dog Institute for helpful resources.
“Reaching out for support is always an act of resilience. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential to you as a human being,” she says.
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