Prioritising your mental health at work

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When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, we don’t usually think of high-performing business owners as being susceptible to emotional challenges - after all, they’re doing something they’re passionate about and are succeeding, right? 

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that business owners probably have it easy when it comes to their business, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Plenty of business owners feel overwhelming anxiety and stress when it comes to their businesses. As an owner and business founder, you’re invested in its success, more than anyone else in the company, and this can cause a lot of pressure, making you feel like you always have to be on top of everything.

That pressure and expectation of perfection can often lead to thinking that you should run everything on your own, isolating and exhausting yourself. The high risk of failure, made even more daunting because you’re the figurehead of your business, links a business’s failure with your own. This combined with anxiety over performance can cause you to be mentally fatigued—even if you’re not fully aware of it. 

Business owners often neglect their health to tend to their business, forgoing sleep, proper nutrition, and adequate exercise, further exacerbating the mental stress they’re already under. That, and the idea that you need to hide any sort of vulnerability from your staff—it can be a damaging part of the entrepreneur creed, “Fake it ‘til you make it” (often referred to as “impression management”), which can make you feel even more alone, irritable, stressed, and depressed. 

By recognising the early warning signs of mental health fatigue, you can put a mental health plan in place and work to take the pressure off. Addressing mental health issues early can help you avoid any severe mental and physical health conditions that can stop you and your business in its tracks and ensure that you’re a healthy, happy leader. 

Why is it important to prioritise mental health?

What we need to keep in mind, before criticising mental health as a mind over matter ordeal, is that the entire body is interconnected. Something that weighs heavy on the mind can manifest in physical ailments if not addressed. Mental and emotional pain can be just as painful as any bodily injury (sometimes even worse). As well as affecting your body, mental fatigue will impact your business.

Both physical and mental health contribute to success. The more you take care of yourself, the better-positioned you will be to achieve your goals.

Prioritising mental health also ensures your productivity and motivation stays high. If you’re burnt out, you can’t meet your targets, you’re irritable, make mistakes, and you can’t focus. By making sure your mind and body are taken care of, you have clearer thinking, better processing skills and decision-making ability, giving yourself the opportunity to grow your business and yourself alongside it. 

A working mental health plan should start with you. When you show that you’re taking measures to care for yourself, mind and body, your staff will follow in your footsteps and take the necessary measures to stay healthy too. With a happy and healthy staff and leader, you’ll have a happy and healthy business. 

5 signs you have strained mental health

If you are experiencing any of these signs or other symptoms that are troubling you, seek help. There are plenty of professionals who can assist in getting you to be your happiest, healthiest self. If you are unsure where to start, your GP can make referrals to other professionals, depending on your needs. While it’s generally discouraged to self-diagnose a mental illness, here are five early warning signs that you can watch out for.

1. Little to no motivation or concentration

One telling symptom of waning mental health is poor concentration and motivation. You may feel like you’re not as focused as you used to be at work or you always have to force yourself through tasks. It can feel exhausting to accomplish something you used to breeze through and you feel completely sapped of any passion that pushed you to launch your business in the first place.

You may have a lack of concentration and motivation if you:

  • Have difficulty sitting still
  • Get sidetracked with every task
  • Have disorganised thought processes
  • Forget something that just happened
  • Make simple mistakes

When you’re able to pinpoint symptoms and find help, you’ll be able to motivate yourself again and succeed. While there are certain things out of your control that may make you feel unfocused, shift your attention to things you do have power over like what you eat and how much you sleep. Talking to a therapist is also something you can consider if you’re comfortable with it or a business coach can help you reconnect with your passion, prioritise your tasks, and structure your day in ways that really work for you.

2. Sleeping too little or too much

We’ve all thought we could take on a full day of work while feeling tired or not getting enough rest. Of course, you’re proven wrong later when you inevitably feel lethargic and cranky because you don’t have the energy to power through the day. You can also feel emotionally drained because sleep is usually when the body absorbs and processes information and heals. 

Too much or too little sleep can cause different kinds of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. It becomes a cycle when the long-term consequences of bad sleep catch up to you, leaving you feeling too overwhelmed to sleep, feeding your anxiety. Too much sleep has also been connected to feeling lethargic.

Seven to eight hours of sleep restores the brain and recharges ready for you to function at your best. 

3. Weight/appetite loss or gain

A lot of hormonal imbalances that come with mental health problems can trigger appetite or make it very weak. Stress in particular often causes over or under eating especially when people rely on a temporary comfort for stress release, or freedom from emotional difficulties they’re facing. By overeating, drinking alcohol, or relying on other vices, they get limited relief, but need to revisit it again and again unless they resolve the underlying issues.

If you already have pre-existing anxieties about your appearance and how you’ll be perceived by your peers or by others, it can also create a lot of unnecessary pressure. 

The opposite can happen as well, when someone is too overwhelmed or stressed to eat that it makes them feel physically sick and unable to keep anything down, adding to their feelings of fatigue and inefficiency.

4. Shorter temper

If your temper didn’t normally flare up so easily before and it does now, it could be a sign of waning mental health. 

When your fight-or-flight response is triggered, your body is flooded with stress hormones, making you more susceptible to angry outbursts, irritability, and panic. If you’re constantly putting yourself and your body through stressful situations, it can have a long-term impact on your mood and on your health at risk of heart problems and high blood pressure. 

Feeling more irritable than normal because of something small probably isn’t a huge red flag but feeling constantly angry and prone to exploding for days on end can be a warning sign you need to take seriously. 

5. Physical pain and aches

Plenty of business owners shrug off their own mental health troubles thinking they can just power through them when, more often than not, they do need help. There are some things you can’t do alone—especially when those mental health problems escalate to become life-threatening.

Stress can manifest in body pains and aches and are often connected with: 

  • Heart disease
  • Weak immune systems
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma and other lung problems
  • Premature death

When left untreated, mental health problems can make you physically weaker by taking a toll on your mind and body. You’re not sleeping properly, making you more susceptible to sickness. You’re not eating properly, increasing your chances of being dangerously under or overweight. And ignoring your anger will only keep you from properly dealing with stress hormones. 

When all of these things come together, the body is vulnerable and exposed. 

Improving mental health at work

Improving mental health for your business is important as a business owner. Taking care of yourself and your staff in every way you can is a priority in your business. You run the risk of your business failing when you or your team isn’t functioning at 100% capacity. 

By encouraging your staff (and yourself) to monitor their mental health and how they’re feeling, you can give them a better pulse on their performance and how it correlates with their mental health. Be open, supportive, and create an understanding and accepting environment since there’s still a lot of stigma around mental illness.

Leading your staff with positive examples and creating a mental health plan through a supportive environment can bring you all closer together and create a sense of community. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who have the same positive outlook on mental health can be relieving and keep you mindful of your own. 

If you’re looking for a trustworthy community of business leaders and owners like yourself who are open to conversations about mental health, maybe you’d like to join ours. We created a supportive Facebook group so you and others like you can receive help and even extend your help to others.

If you’re having mental health troubles in Australia, please refer to these mental health resources: 

  • If you or someone around you needs immediate help, call 000 or Lifeline 13-11-14, available 24/7
  • Beyond Blue aims to help people with anxiety and depression and prevent suicide, call 1300-22-4636 or have a chat with them on their website any time
  • Headspace provides counselling and support for young people aged 12-25, you can call 1800-650-890, 9 am – 1 am AEST
  • The Blue Knot Foundation looks to help those with complex trauma unpack it and heal, call them at 1300-657-380 or through their website 

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