As the cost of living crisis continues to sweep across Australia, impacting consumers and businesses alike, it’s more important than ever for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to monitor the way financial stress affects their mental health and wellbeing.
It’s critical that SMEs take care of their wellbeing and lead by example, though this can mean stepping outside their comfort zone. In this piece, we’ll dive into how to cope with financial stress by building your mental fitness—which is all about developing resilience, adaptability and strong support networks—to ensure your health stays a priority during these challenging times.
The impact of financial stress on small business owners
As Australia’s economic climate continues to feel uncertain, the usual challenges of operating a small business have become magnified.
Supporting workplace wellbeing in staff, inflation and general uncertainty about the future market are just some of the large factors that add to small business owner stress. The June 2023 MYOB Business Monitor found that in the last 12 months, running a business has caused 51% of SMEs stress and 36% anxiety. Fifty-five per cent agreed that running a business has had a direct impact on feelings of anxiety or depression experienced. For 34%, financial concerns/cashflow is the top mental health challenge faced.
Despite these figures, a 2022 Australian Treasury report found that up to 22% of small business owners don’t have a strategy in place to support their mental health. A further 17% admitted that their strategy was just to “deal with”.
Signs you might be struggling with your mental health as a small business owner
- You’re feeling constantly fatigued at work
- Deadlines are becoming harder to keep track of
- Relationships both at work and at home feel strained
- Difficulty concentrating
- Your general mood feels lower
How can mental fitness help?
The benefits of stress management
As a small business owner, you’re no stranger to stress. That’s why it’s critical you have support structures in place to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed and burnt out.
Tips to support your stress management, you can:
- Prioritise activities that energise you
When stressed, the small activities we enjoy doing in our free time are often the first things to be sacrificed to make more time for work.
Try to continue to prioritise these activities and allow them to recharge your battery, rather than pushing to continue running on empty.
- Turn to breath work
Breath work is a great way to step out of your head and tap into your body, allowing your nervous system to calm down in moments of high stress. By doing so, you’ll lower your stress levels and be able to tackle hurdles more objectively.
- Make time for movement
We all know exercise is a core component of being a healthy, balanced human. The good news is that there's no clear research that suggests one type of exercise is more beneficial than another. Exercise as a whole leads to a range of benefits, including an enhanced mood, lower stress levels and higher self esteem.
So, whether you’re a runner, walker or yoga-poser, make sure you take time out to move.
The benefits of building resilience
Your resiliency to life’s unexpected ups and downs will massively dictate your ability to cope with the challenges of being an SME. Building mental resilience boils down to your attitude when faced with stress.
By keeping an open, curious mindset—a beginner’s mind—you’re more likely to approach challenges with more mental resilience than before. Ways to build your resilience include:
- Treating yourself with kindness
We’re often our worst critic and the first to point out our own flaws. Try to show yourself compassion in moments of stress and treat yourself with care.
- Reflect on past experiences
When faced with a tough situation, try to reflect on a time you were faced with similar emotions. How did you get through it? What skills and strategies did you employ that worked? What didn’t? Learning from past experiences will remind you of your capability to get through your current situation.
- Stay connected
Although being an SME can feel isolating sometimes, remember you’re not alone. Knowing when to ask for help is a critical skill that you should continuously strive to master to ensure you’re receiving the support you need!
The benefits of social connections and values
When stress hits, it’s easy to isolate yourself from others. However, humans need to be connected. It makes us feel safer, calmer, and gives us a sense of belonging. This leads to higher self-esteem, lower stress levels and generally higher feelings of contentment.
Relationships are most fulfilling (and beneficial to our health), when our values are acknowledged by and often shared with the other person.
To help you foster strong social connections and values, you should try:
- Actively listening
Every conversation is a great opportunity to switch off from external stimuli and really become present in the moment. Active listening shows the other person that you’re attentive and engaged, making them feel valued and heard.
- Allowing your values to lead
Our values are our moral guideposts of what we believe are most important in our life. Behaving in alignment with your values minimises cognitive dissonance. By extension, we lower our stress levels, and raise our positive emotions and self efficacy.
- Acting with compassion
Studies suggest that acting with compassion in our connections can actually activate the pleasure centres of our brain, lower stress inflammation in the body, and raise self esteem. It also makes us more likeable to others—meaning stronger relationships.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness for business owners is all about re-centering your state of mind into a place of clarity and calm. Having been consistently linked to better psychological wellbeing and decreased stress, practising mindfulness is a health gold-mine for SMEs.
By practising mindfulness on a regular basis, you might find yourself:
- Focusing on the present more often
- Identifying, acknowledging and understanding your emotions more easily
- Disengaging with unproductive emotions and thoughts when faced with change
These skills and knowledge will allow you to approach the challenges of being an SME with a more actively engaged, emotionally controlled attitude.
Informal Mindfulness: Your New Healthy Habit
There are small, informal ways to practise mindfulness that don't require you to set aside time—which is great when you're a time-poor SME.
When used regularly throughout your day, these exercises can be just as beneficial to your mental wellbeing.
How Smiling Mind’s Small Business Program can help (build these skills)
Mindfulness, stress management, building social connections and resilience are all skills—they take time, practice and patience. As with developing any other skill, some guidance and structured learning is incredibly helpful to get you started.
It’s here that Smiling Mind’s Small Business Program can step in. Designed in partnership with MYOB, this psychologist-designed program aims to provide flexible and accessible mental, emotional and physical wellbeing support to small business owners and their teams.
Each module tackles a core skill that makes up our mental fitness, providing guided meditations and activities to ensure an immersive, practical experience. They’re also quick, ensuring that even on your busiest days you can carve out some time to engage with the program and support your mental wellbeing.
Experiencing financial stress is unfortunately a largely unavoidable hurdle in the small business sector. However, how you cope with financial stress and choose to care for your wellbeing can completely transform its impact on your health, business and relationships.
Through MYOB’s partnership with Smiling Mind, SMEs have access to a range of helpful, supportive resources, all designed specifically for small business owners and their unique set of challenges.
Start supporting your wellbeing today with the free Small Business Program.