9 realistic mental health tips for the busy SME owner

Emma Deriu

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Running a business means wearing multiple hats and sacrificing things you love. Sometimes it feels like there’s no turning off. Even when you’re out with friends, doing chores, with the family or asleep, you’re constantly thinking and dreaming about work. Your business becomes a part of you.

And, as rewarding as it is, business ownership comes with a cost. One in three small business owners struggle with their mental health due to financial stress, working long hours, cash flow issues, having too much on their plate and feeling socially isolated.

What does it mean to be mentally healthy?

Being mentally healthy is often misunderstood as simply being happy most of the time, or being devoid of mental illness. But it’s so much more than this. Mental health includes your ability to cope with stress, bounce back from adversity, connect with others and feel good about yourself.

Identifying mental health issues: are you busy or burnt out?

It’s good to keep busy, but how much work is too much? If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you could be dealing with something more serious than ‘being busy’. It might be time to slow down if you’re:

  • Struggling to make decisions or effectively solve problems
  • Feeling overwhelmed, irritable or more sensitive than usual
  • Constantly thinking of work, even during down time
  • Neglecting daily tasks that need to be done
  • Drinking or smoking excessively or more than usual
  • Avoiding social situations and time spent with friends and family
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Finding reasons to stay in bed or avoid important work-related tasks

9 realistic mental health tips for SME owners

The internet is flooded with tips on managing your mental health and creating a balanced lifestyle as a business owner, but many of them are easier said than done!

For example, delegating tasks isn’t always feasible or affordable, especially in the early days. We’ve gathered our nine top tips for managing mental health while juggling your daily to-do list:

1. Talk it out, even if there’s no solution

Most SMEs can agree that when your business is doing well and things are good, it’s great—but when you’re under the pump, the stress, anxiety and pressure can really get the better of you.

In these moments it’s helpful to talk with family, friends or your GP about how you’re feeling. Even when there’s no direct solution, or no one can completely understand what you’re going through, a listening ear can help to relieve anxieties and clear your mind.

You can also seek support through mentoring programs, training sessions and support groups, or simply connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. Networking with others is a great way to fight social isolation while making important connections for your business and keeping motivated.

2. Mix things up

Work is my life, isn’t it? This mentality is common among entrepreneurs and it’s easy to think this way when your business is also your greatest passion. But without balance, you won’t perform as well as you could, plus your health and relationships will often suffer.

Make a conscious effort to break from your usual routine every now and then, and do something you enjoy outside of work. Not only will this keep your mental health in check, but it could also spark fresh ideas for your business.

If you find it difficult to switch off on the weekends, why not work an extra day per week and take a longer holiday or break at the end of the year? Find what works best for you, but remember to spend time with loved ones regardless of how hectic your schedule can be—we need quality social interactions to thrive.

3. Be mindful of what you’re consuming

Even subconsciously, you're absorbing stimuli within your environment all the time, from other people’s moods to the music playing through your headphones.

Think about the people you follow, the friends you surround yourself with and the media you consume. Our social feeds alone are flooded with recommendations, and sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. Are your favourite bloggers really motivating you, or just overwhelming?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed but not sure why, it could be time for a spring clean. Take a break from social media, cut toxic people from your life and try experimenting with new playlists. See if these small changes make a difference.

4. Ask yourself: is this really worth my time?

As an SME owner, you might feel tempted to dabble in several areas of your business, from building a website to managing client relationships and everything in between. Just because you can do it all, doesn’t mean you should.

At the same time, not everyone can afford to delegate tasks, especially in the very early days (and not everyone wants to). Instead, focus your time and energy on the most important, revenue-generating activities. Cut out the rest, or pick them up later when you have more resources. Right now it’s time to be strategic and focus on growth.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re unsure whether a task is worth your time:

  • Am I the only person in my business who can do this effectively?
  • Do the benefits of doing this outweigh the mental or physical cost?
  • Will I enjoy this task? Are there any risks involved?
  • Will I feel a sense of relief after personally completing this task?
  • How much better will life be afterwards?
  • Is this something I’ll be proud of?

If you are in a position to delegate, doing so can make your workload much more manageable and free up time for the projects you’re interested in. Check out freelancing websites like Upwork and Fiverr if you aren’t in a position to hire permanent staff.

5. Set goals that make sense for your business

Everything you do should have a clear purpose. Setting SMARTER goals gives you direction, keeps you on track and ensures that what you’re doing is actually worth your time. In turn, this helps to sustain a manageable workload that supports a balanced lifestyle.

SMARTER goals are specific, attainable and measurable:

Specific: Is your goal clear and defined? What challenges might you run into? Measurable: How do you know you’ve succeeded? Achievable: Is it realistically possible to achieve this goal? Relevant: What will achieving this goal mean for you/your business? Is it worthwhile? Time bound: Should you create a timeline? If so, how much time do you need? Evaluated: Are you on track? What’s working and what isn’t? Reviewed: Are you hitting a wall? If so, this doesn’t make your goal inherently flawed, it just means you need to re-think how you’ll achieve it.

6. Stay on track

It’s easy to get on a roll. Before you know it, hours have passed you by. But if this is happening almost every day, you could be misusing your time and compromising other aspects of your life.

Often we do things we think are important but fail to see the big picture. If you struggle to close the laptop when it’s time, jot down your ideas so you can revisit them in the morning with fresh eyes.

You might even have gained new perspectives or developed your idea when you revisit where you left off, which could save you a bunch of time.

7. Establish a routine (even if it’s no routine)

Some of us thrive on 5am starts and green smoothies, others do better with a simple sleep in. Health, fitness and lifestyle influencers will have you believe that their routine will change your life—that’s because it changed theirs in a profound way.

But what works for one doesn’t work for everyone, so experiment with your own routine. Find what’s right for you, even if that’s feeling your way through the day and living more instinctively. The most important thing you can do is stick with your routine and be consistent. As long as you’re keeping your SMARTER goals in mind, don’t force yourself to work a certain way if it’s not working!

8. Make small, consistent changes

You might think healthy eating, exercise and maintaining hobbies (let alone having a social life) is out of reach. You might think this idea of having a ‘balanced lifestyle’ is outdated and unrealistic, and give up on the idea altogether.

So instead of making a salad for lunch, you order UberEats to save time. Rather than taking quick breaks throughout the day to move your body, you work hours straight without checking in. And though you should get an early night, you dart to the coffee machine instead because you’re way too busy to think about winding down.

Temptation is everywhere. But you’re in control. Forget hour-long workouts and healthy meal prep seven days a week. You don’t have to be perfect. One small, positive choice will lead to another, building momentum. And the little things in your day make the biggest long-term difference.

For example, getting just thirty minutes of exercise a day is one of the best things you can do for your health—mental and physical—as it helps to ward off stress, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a range of other conditions.

9. Get on top of stress before it spirals

Deal with stress head on, rather than procrastinating. Whether you have a difficult business decision to make, an angry customer to deal with or a stressful phone call awaiting you, get on top of it as soon as you can rather than letting a stressful to-do list get longer.

Taking care of your mental health is important not only for your wellbeing but for the success of your business. The entrepreneurial experience is different for everyone, so find a routine that works for you and remember that true business success starts with your health.


Emma is our Senior Copywriter at Valiant. Working closely with our lending experts, she enjoys educating SMEs on the latest in business finance, and empowering them to achieve their entrepreneurial goals.

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