When you run a small business, you know certain stressors come with the territory. But the COVID-19 health crisis has raised small business anxiety to a whole new level. We have needs — and opportunities — to learn new skills, face difficult challenges, and build resilience.
New social and economic crises have emerged too.
These difficulties require a lot of change from us in a short time. While we need to change, these pressures bring great stress that no one ever expected.
We know small business anxiety is normal
We can take on the challenges of running a business partly because they are knowable. These issues look normal to us. That can help us plan for them and accept them as part of doing business.
As the director of a family therapy group practice, I can empathize with the expected stress of running a business. We face a lot of the issues other small business owners struggle with in normal times:
- Staying in business – Ensuring we continue to work with clients in an effective way
- Learning — Maintaining current education and training in psychotherapy
- Managing — Making sure we have supplies, and do our bookkeeping, scheduling and outreach
- Collaborating – Continuing to ensure we are working together well, communicating, and being professional support for each other
Now the issues have shifted. We have the expected challenges, and then new ones.
Learning how to make your business resilient while under more stress is not easy.
It’s especially hard to turn anxiety into resilience when we’re under so much stress personally and socially too.
Small business owners need resilience for new sources of anxiety
In a time of crisis, it feels like our predictability has been thrown out the window.
Now the challenges we normally face are different, because the business landscape has changed – the world itself has changed.
Facing big new challenges is hard. For me, naming them helps face them:
Loss of predictability
There are no clear guidelines about how to move forward as a small business. People are sort of making it up as they go along and drawing on their personal resources for information. Planning for next month is barely possible, let alone next year.
Who knows how long this health crisis is going to last? When should we expect a vaccine? What should we do in the meantime? If you’re like me, you’re not sure what the answers are or how to plan. The guidance we get from the CDC, business leaders, city leaders and news organizations is often different.
Confusion and doubts about facts
As part of my psychotherapy training I had to use data to make decisions. If you’re like me, you’re wondering if we have all the facts. I don’t fully trust data I have to work with. I don’t know how old it is or what information has gone into getting it.
We won’t have some information for weeks or months. We are still learning about how different people respond to the virus. How our society and workplace and economy will look on the other side of this, nobody knows yet.
Many of us feel like there’s no firm foundation to make business decisions because we’re bombarded with new and sometimes contradictory information. That’s really stressful.
Loss of community
As businesses we’ve gone into survival mode. We’ve hunkered down to stop the spread of a virus. As a result, we’ve lost close in-person connection with colleagues.
We’ve had to learn new ways to do our work. We’ve had to endure a minimum of in-person contact. We’ve had to figure out much of this on our own and the usual supports are also very stressed and confused.
We’ve lost the ease of helping each other by working side-by-side. It’s harder to comfort and collaborate with each other. That’s really stressful, too.
All of us are facing the financial stress of keeping a business alive.
Some of our small business colleagues had to close for several weeks. Some are still closed or doing just enough to get by. This is hard.
Understanding resilience can help us make it through this together, without anxiety getting the better of us.
Build resilience for business and life with these 10 skills
Here are 10 resilience skills that are helping us build resilience. Taken together, they spell RESILIENCE:
1 – R Resourcefulness
The owner of my local hair salon described how she had to create custom screens to put between stations, and hire additional people to manage their door and check temperatures to ensure their staff stays healthy. That’s been expensive.
And then there’s the stress of keeping up with being busy because everybody (including me) wants to get a haircut!
We’ve had to find new ways to work with couples, families, and individuals in therapy – especially children who really do best with in-person interaction.
We feel fortunate we can continue providing therapy online. It is not our first choice of how to provide therapy, but with some practice it has turned out to be a great option. Your small business may have had to be resourceful with new ways of operating, too.
2 – E Emotional awareness
Knowing what we’re feeling is the first step in taking good care of ourselves. We listed 5 new sources of business stress. Are you feeling those too? Just saying them out loud or writing them down can be so helpful to begin to feel a sense of compassion for yourself and a bit of control over the situation.
3- S Safety
Staying safe is taking up more mental and emotional energy than ever before. What keeps me up at night? Worrying about the health of our therapists and clients. Being resilient means addressing these needs to the best of ones ability, so they don’t have to weigh on us every moment. If we can put safety procedures in place and stay engaged with each other, we can get on with our work.
4- I In this together
This health crisis impacts everyone. We may feel the impact in different ways. But we’re all in it together.
Owning a common challenge can help us find compassion for each other. Facing a struggle together can be a huge emotional support. A sense of belonging can help us build resilience. We are in this with you and we can help you find a way.
We’re finding ways to reach out. We may mourn the loss of our exercise buddies, family members, friends, and work mates.
We need to give ourselves new ways to let care and warmth in.
We’re making up new ways to connect as we go along. Several people we know enjoy having dinner with friends present only on a screen. Or when the weather is good, social distanced get-togethers outside.
Check in with your friends. Find out how they’re doing.
Check in with colleagues. Asking other mental health professionals about their experience has been really helpful for me.
5- L Let people vent
I spoke with a physical therapist recently, who had to rant about unexpected costs of safety upgrades. To stay open, they needed to buy lots of protective gowns, gloves, masks, put up protective screens, and hire extra staff.
There’s so much beyond our control. All that frustration needs to go somewhere. Sometimes people just need to vent. One day that may be you. Another day, that may be someone you’re doing business with.
So when somebody vents to me, I get it! And I am happy to vent back when I need to vent.
As business people, we can create space for our peers to unload their anxiety because we understand. Listening is all you need to do. You don’t have to fix it.
6- I Invent
All of us have to invent new ways to survive and thrive. We’re inventing ways to exercise at home and be ready to do our best at work. We’re inventing new routines around family, work, friends, and self-care.
As therapists we are coming up with new ways to work and stay healthy.
Many of us are learning to invent new ways to use space at home or at the office to manage work and home life.
7- E Expectations
Let some go.
In order to make it through this, business owners have to be flexible. And oftentimes, we’re not going to be flexible until we let go of some of our preconceived and pre determined assumptions and plans.
It’s not easy. But it will ease our stress if we can be intentional about letting go of things that are not a priority anymore.
8- N Notice feelings
Loneliness, fear, isolation — these feelings are real. We may not like having them. But it’s a myth that keeping suffering to ourselves is better for everyone.
We are wired to share joy in good times and support each other in hard times.
Sharing your struggle makes it okay for someone else to open up. Sharing our feelings in non-blaming, healthy ways helps people connect emotionally. That way we become stronger together.
9- C Care for yourself
Please make time to do things that recharge your batteries.
Self-care may look different now than it used to, but it’s still possible. Get outside every day, move your body, eat a variety of food, and prioritize sleep. Take weekends off.
As a business owner, you are the secret sauce to your business’s health so you need to show up ready to work.
10 – E Express
It’s okay to say what you need, to say you miss your friends, that you have fears. It’s helpful to name what is troubling you so you can respond to it better.
We named some of the losses we are grieving by writing them down earlier in this article.
In short, these are the 10 skills we’re using to build resilience.
Summary: How to build resilience:
- R Resourcefulness
- E Emotional Awareness
- S Safety
- I In this together
- L Let people vent
- I Invent
- E Expectations – let some go
- N Notice feelings
- C Care for yourself
- E Express
We know that crisis makes it harder to do everything, whether running business or just running a life.
To get through this, it’s important to take a step back and name what troubles us.
It can be very hard find resilience when you feel like there’s no one to talk to, no one who understands.
We are here for you
Resilience doesn’t form in a vacuum. All of us need good mental health skills to see us through these challenges. It’s okay to ask for help. Helping each other is how we’ll meet the challenges in work and life.
If you see yourself alone with your anxiety please reach out. Tell someone you trust if you are struggling. Our licensed professional counselors are here in Alexandria, Virginia and we can help you build the resilience and resources you need.