The Importance of Looking After Yourself as a Business Owner

Last month, in the run-up to World Mental Health Day, I joined a panel webinar at Orbit 20 - an online festival organised by WeCoffe - to discuss this topic. 

One thing that struck me beforehand was that it’s great that we’re comfortable having these kinds of open discussions now. Even five years ago, I doubt the same could be said and one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic is that the conversation around mental health has accelerated further over the course of 2020. 

As an owner / founder of a startup business will testify, it’s hard work at the best of times and has been even more challenging over the past few months. You’re likely to live and breathe the business and it’s hard to totally switch off from it. However if you want to maintain positive mental health, the reality is you need to find time to step away from work to give your wellbeing a boost. It’s actually going to be hugely beneficial for your business, even if you don’t think so in the short term. 

The good news is that there are easy wins here. You don’t need to sign up to gong bath sessions (I had to Google it, too) or join daily monk-like meditations to preserve your mental health. Right now if you’re working from home some of the following is vital: 

Make a distinction between your home life and work life. It’s tricky, but one activity that will help is to introduce a ‘commute’ each day before and after work. This can be as simple as going for a five minute walk around the block, preparing your mind for the start of your working day, or signalling its end. You’ll also get some daylight and this is vital as the days draw in. It will help your sleep patterns and we all know that being active has plentiful mental and physical health benefits. 

Another easy win is to take lunch and do so AWAY from your desk. Yep, that’s right, don’t eat and work, use that time, even if it’s just 20 minutes to detach from your workload and think about something else. Research shows that taking a proper lunch break will make you more efficient and productive in the afternoon. 

Oh and lose the phone during this time too because if you’re checking work email and the like, it’s not a proper break. I know some of you won’t like this, but try it a few times and you’ll be grateful for that proper switch off.  

And the final easy-win tip is when you’re encouraged to use your phone! But this time, use it instead of video calls if you can. Let’s face it, we’re all getting tired of Zoom, Meets, Teams etc, so if you don’t have to use video, particularly if it’s a one-to-one call, then don’t. Go old school, talk and get up and stretch or even walk and talk if you can. 

Doing a couple of these regularly will give you those little boosts you need right now and in the future. 

In general, being a business owner can be lonely at times particularly if it’s just you at the start. This is when you need to keep an eye on your mental health. This current period has made a lot of us appreciate human interaction and the buzz of an office, so don’t always think that a quiet environment is going to be best.  The right shared workspace can potentially result in networking, casual conversations and even doing drinks rounds. That interaction can’t be underestimated when it comes to looking after yourself as a business owner. 

The good news is that you’re in charge. So allocate time for possibly some of the above, to exercise, and to put your wellbeing first. If you’ve got colleagues, encourage them to do likewise. One of the best things about being involved in start-ups is the agility and lack of red tape. So if you get the benefits of employee wellbeing, build them into your company’s ethos from as early as you can, and lead by example.