At my age and level of experience—so far my fifties have been about being bashed up by life and having a really interesting time discovering resilience and gin—I know it’s normal to feel down sometimes.
Poor mental health is part of normal mental health. There’s good and bad when you’re a human exposed to a wealth of delights and challenges that will affect you in different ways.
Still, my theory was tested last year, leading me to revolutionise my business and create new personal and professional priorities that already feel seismic.
I’ve spoken before about a trio of tribulations – that’s a restrained way of putting it – that befell me in 2021. A close relative suicided. One of my teenagers struggled badly. My long marriage ended abruptly. I was overwhelmed, overworked and freaked out by not knowing if I had it in me to steady the ship.
Turns out, like the rubber plant in my living room, tennis club membership fees and the next good Netflix series, mental health was something I didn’t pay much attention to. It was just there, doing its thing. Sometimes it was great (summer, a recipe that didn’t baffle me, a win at work) and sometimes not so good, like when the kids were little and I was trying to create a business and hadn’t slept for years.
So I was blindsided when my usual equilibrium was busted apart. I had to fix things without much of a guide book.
The power of play
But I did, thanks to supportive girlfriends, the challenge of the career I love and the chance discovery of something I’d forgotten I loved doing. Playing. Yep. Having fun. Making things up on the fly. Being spontaneous, saying yes. Being playful and childlike in the way I did things – for the joy of it, not to get results.
Since then, play has become the foundation of how I do business. A lot of my private coaching now is around teaching people to travel back to the future and work out what ignited them as a kid, then translate how what they loved then – drawing, jumping on stuff, getting muddy, playing strategic games – can be so impactful on how they do business now.
I’ve discovered play can be used as a business strategy to manage stress and anxiety within team environments, and can make the business journey more enjoyable. I’ve discovered playing is serious business that can increase productivity and performance, built a trusted environment, grow team rapport and morale, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop creative problem-solving skills.
Oh, and yeah, who wouldn’t want to play more?
Mental health a top concern for small business owners
The fact that I’m not alone was hammered home in late 2022 when, with four other Australian small business experts, I undertook the first annual Big Small Business Survey. 584 small biz owners from around the country were generous with their time and voices about their main post-pandemic challenges and concerns. Five themes emerged, and one was mental health.
‘Exhausted’ is the word business owners repeatedly used when describing their mood and wellbeing. The pandemic, its lockdowns and the resulting frenetic recovery activity and fluctuating demand, meshed with the pressures of owning a business, have created a population of business owners who are overwhelmed, overworked and never ahead of their task list.
Many business owners feel ill-equipped to handle the growing mental health needs of their team. They believe they have a responsibility when it comes to supporting people’s emotional wellbeing but this is adding to their feelings of overwhelm.
The facts, as per the national survey:
More than half (58 per cent) of small business owners have experienced a mental health challenge in the past two years.
Key stressors involve money and boundaries.
Not having enough money, not having proper boundaries between work and family, and dealing with the rising cost of living are the top three things that keep small business owners up at night.
Faced with diving mental health, small biz owners are most likely to talk to family and friends (38 per cent) or seek support from a therapist or fellow business owner (both 21 per cent.)
The good news? 81 per cent of small biz owners have sought help to improve how they feel.
Life and business coach Christina Foxwell wrote in Mumbrella last December that after working with managers, executives and business owners across the globe for many years, she has “never seen things so bad”.
Foxwell described managers finding it impossible to manage staff remotely and “maintain cohesion and workplace culture” with hybrid working arrangements and teams working from home. “Culture is decaying fast. Targets are being hit but … creativity and innovation is dying.”
Of course, there’s no easy or quick fix for these issues. Perhaps the way we work has changed forever. Which means business owners need to prioritise mental health issues more than ever before. It sounds simplistic, but research supports the idea that taking time out for creativity, for pure fun, for a circuit breaker without an aim, improves concentration, productivity and enjoyment.
Go on, give it a go. Put down your phone, and your expectations. Check your silly meter at the door. Go play. Let me know how you feel.