Business Owners Must Prioritize Mental Health

Jimmy D. Warren II Commentary

Business Owners Must Prioritize Mental Health

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti/He’s nervous but on the surface, he looks calm and ready …”

Those classic lines from “Lose Yourself,” by rapper and recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Eminem, deliver the raw emotion that business owners feel every day.

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The song is from the 2002 film “8 Mile,” in which Eminem stars as B-Rabbit, a battle rapper who performs for raucous crowds. The opening lines capture B-Rabbit’s feelings of anxiety just before he takes the stage.

While we hope the COVID-19 pandemic is in its sunset phase, we also know that small-business owners are experiencing similar feelings amid the lingering chaos the virus caused. And that’s why we must pay more attention to something we rarely think about: business owners’ mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness says that in 2020, 21% of U.S. adults — or 1 in 5 adults, about 53 million people — experienced mental illness. That’s an amazing statistic. But more concerning is the number of people who are undiagnosed and suffering in silence.

I’m no therapist, and everyone’s mental health journey is different. But here are some steps that business owners and others can take to deal with mental health issues.

► Seek balance. Easier said than done, right? Life is a constant battle of balance. The balancing act of relationships, parenthood, business, finances, health, faith and pleasure is a difficult one.

One thing that helps me is to make a schedule that allows for flexibility. Each night before I go to sleep, I make time to decompress and write out my goals for the next day. I know I won’t always achieve those daily goals — my schedule is often thrown off. But when I make a plan for the things I know I need to accomplish, it allows me to be well prepared for the day, and I feel better about it.

► Eat well and exercise. The hustle and bustle of being in business is extremely overwhelming. But learning how to prioritize nutrition is a major life hack that can pay dividends for your mental health.

I’ve seen situations where small-business owners get so busy that they forget to eat. And before you know it, they’ve created a cycle of bad eating habits and no exercise for months. Try incorporating healthy breaks into your routine and bring healthy snacks with you to work. When you can, break away for a quick walk or bike ride. Those small changes can lead to dramatic improvements in your everyday life.

► Talk about your struggles. I recently had an illuminating chat with one of our Conductor interns, a Gen Z member who showed me that while many of us think we’re the only ones who struggle, those challenges cut across generations and ethnic groups. All — from college students to business owners and other professionals — have their own mental health journeys.

The intern, who also attends college, has worked as a fitness influencer and felt intense pressure to maintain peak physical fitness. But she also discovered that “the state of my body is not worth the cost of my mental stability. While physical health is important, it is so important to take care of your mind.”

I think a lyric from another wordsmith, William Shakespeare, sums it up: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

As business owners, we must make intentional efforts to keep ourselves from being consumed by negative thoughts. But no matter where you are in your personal or professional lives, now is the time to begin cultivating good mental health.

Jimmy D. Warren II is a community engagement officer with The Conductor, an entrepreneurial support organization and public-private partnership between the University of Central Arkansas and Startup Junkie. He’s also a political communication specialist.