Being a business owner is tough at the best times, but add in a global pandemic that has seen many workshops shut down completely or operate on a restricted basis for months on end, and the stresses and anxieties of being in business have been amplified.
Even before coronavirus hit, Capricorn’s State of the Nation Report 2020 discovered 46 per cent of Members had difficulty maintaining a good work-life balance or finding time to take a holiday. The pandemic, and the response to it, has created more stress and uncertainty.
Knowing many Members have been struggling with some of the problems and issues coronavirus has thrown up, including mental health issues, we’ve spoken to psychologist Dr Marny Lishman to get some tips and advice on resilience, adaptability and keeping a positive mindset.
Dr Lishman has been working with businesses and employees during this stressful time, so the first question we put to her was:
How well are Members coping with the pandemic?
“They’ve been going through adversity for months, so there’s a low mood — a lot of exhaustion, a lot of lost hope, a lot of uncertainty and a fear of the unknown,” she said.
“That can make people quite fearful, because when we don’t have a lot of information, we conjure it up in our own minds and then, often, we go to worst-case scenario in our head. That makes things worse as well.
“What the human brain does is make it up, and it always skews to the worst thing that could ever happen. We have that ‘survival brain’ that always defaults fear.”
What are some strategies that we can use to stop these feelings?
“We can’t control the big things, but we can control all the little things in our life,” Dr Lishman said. “Don’t underestimate the power of small actions, because these things will actually help.”
- Go for a walk around the block
- Jump on a Zoom call with a mate
- Play games online with a friend
- Do that jigsaw puzzle.
“It works because it’s a great distraction — and as humans we’re not great multi-taskers, so if you’re doing something it’s hard to be thinking about something else at the same time,” she said.
“When you’re engaging in any sort of activity, you’re ‘in the moment’ instead of thinking about all the worst things that could happen.
“But also those moments make you feel good, and your brain releases endorphins —natural opiates — when you feel good. It actually changes you psychologically and physiologically.”
How can we handle the stress of feeling responsible for our employees?
“You have to make sure you’re looking after your own psychological wellbeing first,” Dr Lishman said.
“If you can look after yourself and know yourself well and have the self-awareness to take care of your own mental wellbeing, then that will give you that ability to adapt to how your business has to change — and to help everybody in it.
“If you’re a leader and you’re stressed out, you can’t solve problems well and you can’t make effective decisions.
“Once you’ve looked after your own mental wellbeing, then you’ll be able to understand what your team is going through and show empathy. Then you can start listening to what your team actually needs.
“A lot of employers avoid these conversations because they think employees are going to ask too much of them. Sometimes your employees just want to be heard.”
How important is it to check in with our employees?
“It is beyond important —one of the main complaints people have is ‘my employer has gone AWOL during this tough time and I don't know what’s happening’,” Dr Lishman said.
“That ends up being very chaotic for employees because they’re frightened.
“So, reach out to employees and check in with them. It might be a phone call. It might be an email. It might be organising a Zoom call. Just hearing what they’re going through and giving them more information and making them feel psychologically safe is important.”
“A lot of employees don’t feel they can talk to their bosses, for fear of retribution,” Dr Lishman said. “They feel like that is going to be some sort of consequence. So, if you can make them feel psychologically safe, that really is a game changer.”
Could this be an opportunity to build trust, respect, a more cohesive team, and a better workplace culture?
“Yes. But achieving that means not only having space to hear how your team members feel, but also sharing a bit about yourself as well,” Dr Lishman said.
“What you will find is that if you let your team know how you’re feeling, you’re going to connect with them better and, over time, your team will probably end up performing better because they’ll be aligned with your vision and see you as an authentic leader.”
What if a Member is experiencing depression?
“When you’re a leader it’s often quite lonely at the top, because there are not many people, particularly at work, on the same frequency as you — who understand you and share that sense of responsibility over everybody else,” Dr Lishman said.
“So, have someone to reach out to — someone who has gone through something similar. Make sure you have another person you’re able to debrief with. It could be a business mentor or a psychologist.”
How can we switch to a more positive mindset?
“It’s very important that we realise there are going to be tough times and that we have to adapt to them,” Dr Lishman said.
“A lot of people who’ve gone through really bad tragedies and trauma will say that a really tough time was the catalyst for an immense amount of personal growth and the realisation they could actually get through anything.
“Once you’ve gone through a really tough time, it’s almost an inoculation for getting through other stuff in the future in an easier way. It’s like you channel it to get through anything. You can constantly reinvent yourself with each learning after each adversity.”
What if we’re feeling overwhelmed by everything?
“Again, it’s self-awareness — knowing what the feeling is and knowing yourself well enough to know that you’re not operating at your finest and then just checking out for a little bit,” Dr Lishman said.
“When you’re overworked and you feel you can’t step away from the business and all your responsibilities, even the smallest things that you can do can help.
“That might mean taking a walk on your lunchbreak or putting in your EarPods and doing some meditation — just whatever you can do to bring yourself back to the present moment.
“What happens when you do this is your brain turns off the stress response and it turns on a different part of your nervous system and just calms everything down, and gets you back some clarity.”
How can we tackle feelings of anxiety?
“Anxiety is your brain thinking that there’s actually a threat in your environment,” Dr Lishman said. “It’s like that feeling of impending doom or that something’s not quite right. So, you’re sitting in fear all the time.
“This is very understandable right now because we’ve been told there’s actually a threat to our survival.
“But again, it’s you taking control — because your brain is trying to protect you and what you need to do is just override it and say, ‘no, everything’s fine at the moment’.
“Come back to your own life and control the little things that you can control. To deal with anxiety, that means learning to manage your thoughts, managing your mind and managing your cognition.
“Exercise is the best anxiety medication you could ever take. Also, distract yourself with other things. Connect with people. Talk. Communicate.”
Any final words of advice for when things get tough?
“Think about an adversity you’ve faced in the past and how you conquered it,” Dr Lishman said. “Just remind yourself of your ability to adapt and cope.”
You can read the full State of the Nation Report here.