Unlock Your Wellbeing: 10 Tips to Cope with Stress & Anxiety as a Business Owner

Published: 3 February 2021

Being an entrepreneur is stressful at the best of times, but what happens when unforeseen circumstances, a pandemic for example, forces you to rethink your entire business plan? It’s more important than ever to bring discussions around mental health and wellbeing into the equation as we all learn to adapt to a rapidly changing world and an uncertain future. We’ve outlined 10 simple strategies, along with insight from a corporate mental health professional, that you can use to ease the burden of anxiety on yourself, your family and your team.

1. Transparency is Key

Simple though it sounds, accepting that you’re struggling is the first step in overcoming your fears. Voicing your concerns and personal challenges with friends, family, a trusted professional or even your team opens the door to an external perspective, and possibly suggestions and advice you wouldn’t have thought of alone. Starting the conversation is the most difficult part, but your courage could encourage others to do the same, reminding you that you are not alone in your worries and concerns. Company is always a comfort!

2. Take It Day By Day

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the ensuing chaos, we’ve learned that stability and consistency are mere illusions. Even now, almost a year later, we are still learning to adapt day by day. We’ve all experienced the paralysing panic as lockdown restrictions have been introduced, changed and clarified, always trying to stay as up to date as possible and understand how the latest regulation will affect us. Sometimes the best thing one can do is nothing. Hold off on those late night panic-sent emails and before-dawn news trawls – they’ll only leave you exhausted and jumpier than before.

“Lockdown initially seemed to provide the hypothetical pause button, allowing business owners to finally have the opportunity to consolidate fundamental tasks and catch up on the ever-present backlog, but in 90 percent of the cases, my clients were so anxious and fearful about Corona and its impact on them, professionally and personally, as well as having to adapt systems and embrace technology to facilitate remote working , that they found themselves in a state of ‘amygdala hijack’, making access to such strategic thinking nearly impossible.”

Candice Cohen, Life and Business Coach


Coined by Daniel Goleman, an amygdala hijack is an emotional response that’s sudden and intense and out of proportion with the actual stimulus, triggering a so-called fight or flight response that is irrational, primal and highly reactive. 1

3. Have a Game Plan

Even though taking it day by day is a necessity under the current turbulent water, adopting a rough game plan can also help to prepare for what may come. We all hate to think of the ‘worst case’ – after all, what could possibly be worse than 2020? The reality is, it can always be worse, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being prepared for any and every eventuality is underrated. What will you do if another hard lockdown is enforced? What if 2021 sees a third or even fourth wave of the virus? What if the tourism sector is permanently scarred? It’s important to game plan how you will cope under every circumstance before they become a reality. Adopting what we call an “Opportunity Mindset” can always enable you to make the best of a bad situation by viewing every new challenge as an opportunity for growth, realignment and success. The opportunity mindset doesn’t ask, “Why is this door closed?” but rather, “How can I cut the key that unlocks greatness.”

Learn more about cultivating an opportunity mindset in our Unlocked Publication.

4. Build a Tribe

Networking is imperative to survival no matter what the weather. Connecting with other entrepreneurs and business owners through platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook groups can help you tap into how others are feeling and what they are doing to combat the common challenges that businesses are currently facing. This can serve as a support system and a positive community to lean on and collaborate with when the going gets tough.

Candice says, “For those gripped with fear, anxiety, panic and rage (the known triggers for amygdala hijack and ultimately burn out), the only way to re-engage the levels of cognitive functioning and creative initiative required to effectively deal with the adverse circumstances, involves de-escalating the stress response in the body. This is assisted by connection, expression of concerns in a supportive, non-judgemental environment and a dedicated approach to self-care.”

5. Manage Expectations

As with all things, this too shall pass, but we are all feeling the mania of the present too much to always bear the big picture in mind. In a rapidly changing and evolving climate, it’s important to manage the expectations of clients and customers through clear communication. Over promising and walking on a tightrope can only serve to compound already heightened feelings of stress and anxiety. Everyone is in the same boat so clients tend to be more understanding of setbacks and shortfalls, as long as they are respected with honesty, positivity and constant communication.

6. Baby Steps

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Sometimes overcoming an obstacle or achieving a goal can seem insurmountable, but as long as you keep moving forward, victory is within your grasp. Breaking big ideas down into smaller steps allows you multiple small victories to celebrate along the way, making you feel like you’ve accomplished something new and made progress towards your final goal, as well as making those seemingly insurmountable tasks a little easier to stomach. Any step forward, no matter how big or small, is a step in the right direction!

7. Know Your Strengths

When faced with a particularly gruelling task, we can often forget the mettle of which we are already made. Know your strengths and those of your team and use them to the best of their abilities, be it in accomplishing a common task or strategising a new way forward. Part of being a team leader is knowing who can do what and using those individual talents to the benefit of the group as a whole. This also allows you to run a smooth and effective operation with a number of different perspectives maintaining a holistic approach to doing business.

“Owners need to distinguish between when they need to MANAGE and when they need to LEAD . Management can loosely be thought of as  ‘doing things right” while leadership is about ‘doing the right thing’,” says Candice. “The pandemic has invariably elicited the primary response of making sure everyone is doing their best work and that all issues are being addressed effectively. It is however really important, for owners to also take their foot off the pedal and LEAD: this means to be, not to do, to use EQ, not IQ, to check in with their staff, to model vulnerability to their staff as a sign of strength and authenticity (not weakness, as is so often assumed), and to share appropriate information as transparently as possible with their team.”

8. Take Time Out

The problems we face today are likely to still be around tomorrow, and overcoming them is less of a race than a marathon. Knowing your triggers can help distance yourself from particular anxieties. If reading the news keeps you up at night, limit your screen time before bed. If you struggle to clock off, sign up for a daily class that forces you to take a break. Don’t answer business calls after sundown if you can help it. Turn off email notifications on your mobile phone. Make the time for effective self care, whether that be reading, taking a walk, cooking or quality time with loved ones. Apps like Headspace and Calm encourage meditation and better sleep. Burnout can devastate you and your business, so actively taking the time to enjoy the other aspects of your life can make a world of difference.

9. Ask For Help

There are always ways to reduce the load we carry as business owners if only we put pride aside and reach out for help when we need it. One way of reducing the burden is applying for Business Funding to tide you over while the economy recovers post-lockdown. Having access to extra capital to grow, maintain equipment, cover rental fees, pay salaries or purchase stock can reduce pressure and avoid you digging into your personal savings. Liquid capital can also allow you to take advantage of new opportunities, such as starting an e-Commerce division, hiring new talent, upgrading your website, expanding or franchising and more!

Retail Capital offers flexible Small Business Funding solutions to address the cash flow needs for Small Business Owners in South Africa. Apply for a Cash Advance or Asset Finance online today.

10. Destigmatising Mental Health

While entrepreneurial communities are a roaring trend at the moment, and have been for the past few years, mental health problems remain a taboo topic for many. Occupational health and wellness play a major role in business success. Afterall, a business is only as healthy as its people. Opening discussions about mental health within your own business can have a chain reaction in the Small Business Sector as a whole. Things you can do to start include: hiring a business coach (browse Symmetry for affordable business coaching and advisory partners), encouraging staff support systems and protocols, making effective use of office hours to reduce after hours workloads (apps like Monday.com work great for managing time and priorities), and offering workshops for effective stress-relief strategies.

“The pandemic is a marathon and not a sprint and needs to be ‘trained for’ as such. The tendency, if viewing the situation like a sprint, is to focus on the crisis and neglect these fundamentals as they seem unimportant under the circumstances (how can I take the weekend off to watch Netflix, do yoga, walk etc when Rome is burning?). The reality is quite the opposite. It is a long-haul situation and the more we focus on maintaining our optimal mental and physical health, the better equipped we are to respond to change as it happens,” Candice concludes.

Finding the work/life sweet spot is tricky, and only trickier with these unprecedented and uncertain times. While the challenges currently facing business owners are likely to be around for a while longer, there are steps to be taken in curbing their long term impact on you and your business. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a valuable exercise, both personally and professionally, and can only make you stronger, savvier and more resilient for the challenges to come.

1 https://study.com/academy/lesson/emotional-intelligence-amygdala-hijacking.html

Candice Cohen is a life and business coach and has been in private practice since 2005. She is passionate about assisting both individuals and businesses to identify and achieve their purpose, with a particular interest in mental wellbeing and the impact of company culture on both the attainment of its objectives and its employee potential. You can contact Candice via email at candicecohen@mweb.co.za.

Candice’s Book Recommendations for Business Owners Struggling with Mental Health and Anxiety:
Dare to Lead, Brene Brown, 2018 
The Science of Emotional Resilience, Peter Hollins, 2017 
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, Matthew Walker, 2018 
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, 2014 
The Energy Code – Mastering Energy in the Age of Burnout, Dr Ela Manga, 2017