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Mindfulness: looking after your mental health

Don’t worry; no-one is trying to sell you an entrepreneurial colouring-in book with words like ‘mumtrepreneur’ and ‘#boss’ in complicated floral designs.

No, we’re here to think about the mental health of small business owners. Openly discussing mental health issues is starting to emerge from the depths of the sea of embarrassment. It is way overdue. An NHS study found around 25% of the UK population is suffering with depression or anxiety at this very moment. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020, depression will be the second largest cause of early mortality, after cancer. Can you even believe that!

Why isn’t this in the news? Okay, so maybe discussion of mental health still has some way to go until it equals physical health, but surely such a high number of early deaths would be noticed?

Well, here’s the thing. People with mental health issues such as depression don’t take their own lives that often. But they do die from liver failure after drinking too much. Others overdose on medications, or form an addiction to them, causing health issues. Some damage their lungs after using cigarettes to cope with stress. Strokes and heart attacks claim those using food to fill the empty feeling in their soul. And a myriad of other issues linked to just not looking after yourself because of mental illness.

Does reading about these issues make you feel uncomfortable? You need to read it. A recent paper by Michael A. Freeman, M.D et al., found 72% of entrepreneurs admitted to suffering from mental health issues recently. So, the fact is that many of us just don’t know how to look after ourselves and be happy.

A common problem is that people’s jobs make them miserable. Working to live, plodding through the in-tray at the office, sneaking a peek at Facebook when the boss isn’t looking. Does sound depressing, doesn’t it?

And hopefully, why you’re even reading this article in the first place, means you’ve found something you’re passionate about. That’s why you left the office in the first place, and put so much effort into your business. You love your job!

So what would any small business owner be depressed about? The masses may think life for a creative Artisan is all hipster cafes, perusing art galleries for inspiration and wildly successful start-up campaigns. We know the life of an entrepreneur isn’t always so rosy. Actually, what is that life you are describing – I hear you cry!

An often unspoken murky underside of being self-employed is the hidden demons; sleepless nights, stress, and feeling isolated. A recent report from Xero found 4 out of 5 business owners know emotional health has a direct impact on bottom line profits. So it’s in your interest to look after your mental health.

If you need help – see your GP. This is the best advice, as it’s the first step towards feeling better. They will give you the support you need and they would have seen so many people (unfortunately) like you before.

Once you’ve seen your doctor, there are other tips to help you with the pressures that pull you in a multitude of directions, and help you manage your health.

‘I probably won’t be available at 3am when you wake up worrying about everything so I got this card to remind you that it will all be absolutely fine’ card by Veronica Dearly

Be financially responsible. Managing finances is one of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face. No matter how dire your finances might seem, being aware of unpaid invoices and late payments is important. They won’t go away, so don’t bury your head in the sand.

If you find the opportunity to outsource work (and you can afford to) – do it. Yes it’s tempting to avoid outsourcing and save the money, but you can easily overload yourself with work that someone else could do. Outsourcing will allow you to focus your energy and grow your business.

In a worse-case scenario, you may have to call it a day. Facing up to the reality that your business isn’t working is tough for any entrepreneur to accept. When you’ve put so much of yourself into your start-up, being forced to close can be heart wrenching. But, being unable to accept failure can cause even more problems. Running your business into debt, can mean your personal assets are at risk. In this situation you may need to seek independent financial advice.

Poor mental health costs the UK 5% of GDP. This means addressing mental health across the business landscape could play a key role in addressing Britain’s “productivity puzzle” say the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Don’t just take our word for it, what do other business leaders think?

Gary Turner, managing director of Xero’s UK

“Small business owners are actively encouraging a healthier work-life balance for themselves and their staff, being rewarded with increased productivity as a result.”

Josephine Fairley, co-founder of organic chocolate brand Green & Black’s

“Your own health and wellbeing is of paramount importance as a small business owner and it’s great to see that small business owners are seeing the connection between personal health and their bottom line.”

Lewis Chris, CEO & Founder, Lewis

“Wordsworth, Darwin, Elgar – all great walkers. While out walking they cleared their minds, so that their subconscious could throw up ideas. These days mountain biking is my way of relaxing. There are times when you’re working so hard that it makes you really appreciate being alone with your thoughts.”

Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, Owner & Founder, Hotel Ion

“I de-stress by fly-fishing. It’s an all-day event, sometimes starting at 7am and not finishing until 10pm. The best thing about it is you don’t hear anything apart from the loudness of the river – just you and the fish.”

Geeta Sidhu-Robb, CEO and Founder Nosh Detox

“When I have a problem, I meditate. As a single parent to small children I never had the luxury of wandering away to a physical place so I had to learn how to escape in my head.”

Ileana von Hirsch – Founder & MD, Ultra Villa

“I get most of my ideas while walking. I walk very fast and don’t like anybody in front of me – and I have to overtake. This shows in my business – I’d rather have a little path on my own with nobody ahead.”

Nailing your niche and growing your business is about creativity. And feeling stressed or struggling with mental health issues is going to make creativity hard.

Sir Ken Robinson, who is the author of several books including ‘Finding Your Element’ says: “If you don’t stop to think what creativity is, it’s hard to know how to promote it.” Robinson defines creativity as “…putting your imagination to work. It’s like the executive wing of imagination. You can be imaginative all day long and never do anything. To be creative, you have to do something,” he says.

To have ideas, Robinson says: “…fresh ideas have their origins in keeping your imagination fertile. So do new things. Keep your mind alive. Feed your store of ideas. Open your mind to new possibilities and experiences.”

So, in short get out and enjoy yourself. Look after your mental health, and the world will seem brighter. Paint the picture you dream about by getting rid of all your grey paint.

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