Networking to improve business and mental health outcomes (even in lockdown)
Running a business can feel lonely at the best of times, and a lack of self-care can quickly cause mental health to suffer. Networking should be your first port of call, even under new lockdown restrictions.
A recent University of Melbourne report demonstrated that, under normal circumstances, almost one third of business owners experience a high level of psychological distress.
With Beyond Blue set to introduce a dedicated coronavirus mental health support line for SMEs in Australia, and new measures introduced just to keep small businesses afloat, it’s safe to say that the mental health of business owners has never been worse.
In these tough times, turning to fellow business owners is one of the simplest and most rewarding ways to manage stress and anxiety – and the best way to do so is through networking.
How networking supports positive mental health
Even when business feels like a disconnected experience, remembering that there are others in the same boat is highly beneficial.
Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue General Manager of Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement, finds huge value in business owners connecting with those around them.
“Business leaders often take major decisions on their own and, to a degree, feel a need to separate themselves from their employees to maintain their impartiality when making those decisions.
“So, having a network of colleagues outside the business, who can relate to the issues a small business owner faces day-to-day, can be a great support,” said O’Brien.
This has never been truer with our current economic landscape, so if you’ve had to make tough decisions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding support in fellow business owners can help lift the burden.
Take the time to develop a rapport with the business community
It’s important to keep in mind that creating a business-related support network is about more than discussing the work at hand.
Connecting with others can protect against the onset of anxiety and depression through something as simple as discussing common business woes.
“Having a network of people who you can talk to about work challenges and being able to share your own coping strategies can do wonders for your mental health.
“By sharing these challenges with others, you realise that you’re not alone and that others care about you and what you are trying to achieve,” O’Brien said.
Employees need to reap the benefits of networking too
Business owners aren’t the only ones suffering mental health issues in the workplace, and networking can be just as valuable for employees.
“Having contacts outside of the work environment to share life and work’s challenges and successes are well worth nurturing.
“They might be former colleagues who understand the work dynamic or contacts who can bring perspectives from other industries,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also points out that networking can also provide a variety of worthwhile opportunities for employees.
“These relationships can enhance the employee’s professional and career experiences and also help to keep their mental health in good order.”
Learning to get yourself out there
For some business owners, though, the thought of attending these events is anxiety-inducing in its own right. O’Brien suggests that these individuals may be pleasantly surprised after attending their first event.
“For many people who are stressed about attending a networking event, those feelings may subside once they settle into the networking event and have conversations with other participants.”
How you can manage your own anxiety
While anxiety can be unpleasant for business owners, most instances can be treated with some simple self-care.
Rather than immediately seeking out professional help, O’Brien provides some simple steps for those experiencing mild to moderate anxiety:
Slow breathing. Try deliberately slowing down your breathing. Count to three as you breathe in slowly and then count to three as you breathe out slowly
Stay in the present moment. Anxiety can make your thoughts live in a terrible future that hasn’t happened yet. Try to bring yourself back to where you are. Practicing meditation can help
Keep active, eat healthy foods, go out into nature, spend time with family and friends, reduce stress and do the activities you enjoy
Learn from others. Talking with others who also experience anxiety – or are going through something similar – can help you feel less alone. Visit Beyond Blue’s Online Forums to connect with others
Seek help when you see warning signs
Businesses are currently experiencing unprecedented issues in Australia and New Zealand, whether from unforeseen closures or sharp drops in demand.
With no end date in sight, mental health is often one of the first casualties for business owners.
If recent events are proving too much and self-care isn’t providing the relief you need, seeking support from a professional is always the best course of action.
In Australia, you can seek help via the Beyond Blue website, or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
New Zealand business owners can reach out via the Mental Health Foundation, or by calling Lifeline Aotearoa on 0800 543 354.
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