Managing Stress as a Small Business Owner: Work-Life Balance

Cash flow and work-life balance have always been stressors for small business owners. Yet technology and the rise of social media has added a layer of stress that can make business owners and entrepreneurs feel like there’s never enough time in the day.

While stress is a normal part of owning your own business, it doesn’t have to run the show. Here, mental health and stress management experts weigh in on busyness, business, and finding the balance between it all.

Busyness and Work-Life Balance

Many small business owners subscribe to the false belief that busyness is synonymous with success. As long as the phone is still ringing and emails are being sent, there remains a sense of assurance that things are getting done. The problem with this overzealous work ethic is that it can be hard to differentiate where business ends and where the rest of life begins.

Exacerbating this issue is the fact that getting help is traditionally seen as a weakness — especially for proud and humble founders who hold themselves responsible for the company’s success.

“By and large, small business owners are hardworking and highly motivated, with a strong work ethic. Rather than thinking they are experiencing symptoms of stress or burnout, they are more likely to think, it’s just part of owning my own business,” says relationship and intimacy expert Alexandra Stockwell.

A few common signs that you may be struggling with work-life balance include:

  • Feeling chronically tired whether or not you’ve gotten sufficient sleep
  • Struggling to make time for friends, family, and other important relationships
  • Having a messy and unorganized home, office, or personal space
  • Feeling addicted to your phone and computer, especially email and work chats
  • Neglecting exercise, eating unhealthy food, and experiencing physical pain

Additionally, technology — and smartphones in particular — make it difficult to turn off the working mind and allow time to enjoy one’s self. “It can feel like the workday is never truly over,” Stockwell adds. As seen in a University of Gothenburg study, heavy smartphone use increases instances of depressive feelings. Using both smartphones and computers heavily has been shown to increase instances of not only depression, but sleep disorders, and stress.

This suggests that small business owners who find themselves attached to their devices can benefit from stepping back and setting boundaries on when and how long these tools are used.

Stress Management for Work-Life Balance

Taking control of your schedule and penning in time for self-care can ensure there’s ample time to rest and rejuvenate. Specifically, setting boundaries when you’re tired or overwhelmed can reduce chronic stress and burnout. “It can be as simple as saying no,” says Colette Ellis, a stress management expert and founder of Start Within Coaching.

Consider where you might be unnecessarily spreading yourself too thin at work. Speaking engagements, volunteer opportunities, mentorships, and employee meetings are all common examples of obligations that might be cluttering your schedule. Staying balanced in business-related activities also ensure that you grow and scale your business responsibly over time, rather than extending yourself beyond your means.

Failing to step back and take time for yourself can also cause you to lose the passion, drive, and energy that inspired you to start your business in the first place. Ellis, who helps clients manage stress through self-care routines, looks at the whole picture to devise a plan for improvement. “We look at various ways you can take time out for yourself, whether that’s doing some form of meditation, doing some journaling, or looking at what you’re eating.”

In addition to taking tasks off your plate by saying no to engagements that cause overwhelm, delegating tasks to others can help create a structure so that there’s more time to care for your own basic needs. When owning a small business is interfering with your ability to feel safe and secure, it’s important to implement a self-care plan that gets your needs met.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most important needs are physiological needs; things like sleep, shelter, and food. This is a great time to ask yourself a few check-in questions:

  • Are you eating healthy, energizing foods?
  • Are you drinking enough water and getting ample nutrition?
  • Are you getting enough sleep at a consistent rate?
  • Is your home a clean, inviting sanctuary that helps you relax?
  • Are you physically well and free from pain or disease?

Once you assess these basic needs, you can implement steps to care for them better. Then, you can move onto safety needs — which involve financial stability and freedom from fear — and the need for meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Worrying About the Future of Business

At some point, all small business owners worry if there will be enough cash flow to pay the bills. But the financial stressors for small business owners run deeper than monthly income, warns Stockwell.

Ellis suggests finding a team of trusted champions you can talk to about the stressors and challenges you can’t share with others. Here’s what finding community as a small business owner might look like:

  • Speaking with friends and family about what’s keeping you up at night.
  • Working with a business coach or therapist to gain actionable tools towards improving your wellbeing.
  • Seeking out entrepreneur groups or small business associations in your area
  • Visiting your city’s Chamber of Commerce to find events and groups in your area
  • Creating your own support group and inviting other small business owners to join

Create a Balanced Culture

Small business owners who make an effort to shift towards a more balanced workplace culture will reap the benefits both in the office and at home.

Ellis suggests that business owners keep tabs on how employees are feeling. What stresses them out? How can you reduce stress and anxiety for them? One idea is to set expectations around when people are required to answer calls and emails.

“If I got an email from my boss on Saturday at 2pm, do I need to respond now? What is the expectation around that? Look at how your behavior as a founder impacts the health and wellbeing of your team.”

Many people feel that there’s no clear line between work and home, which feeds the toxic cycle of stress that leads to burnout. Business owners can also take the time to create an open culture where it’s acceptable to talk about stress and take time for one’s self.

Take a Break

Business owners tend to identify strongly with their business. As business succeeds, a founder may feel happier and have a higher sense of self-worth. During a slump, mental health can wane. While this is normal, it’s necessary that business owners step back from their work and realize that business isn’t the only meaningful thing in life.

“It is important for small business owners, if they are stressed, to give themselves permission to pursue other interests and hobbies as a means for creativity and fulfillment separate from the business.”

The stressors that small business owners face range from balancing work and life to keeping up on social media. Most of all, small business owners tend to place an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to work hard and succeed. Creating a less stressful life is about setting boundaries, stepping back, and building a toolkit of supportive people and nurturing practices that can help you unwind and feel your best.

Michelle Polizzi is a freelance writer and editor with over 5 years of experience. When she isn't busy writing or researching, you can find her doing yoga, enjoying the outdoors, or exploring a new corner of the world.

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