How First-Time Entrepreneurs Can Look After Their Mental Health During The COVID-19 Lockdown
Entrepreneurs are familiar with the everyday challenges of unpredictability, long hours working alone, shifting demands and the uncertainty of success. In fact, perhaps it is exactly this which keeps many owners of start-ups motivated. But faced with the current circumstances imposed on us through the Coronavirus crisis, these challenges are being compounded with many more difficulties, all of which must be overcome in order to survive. For lots of entrepreneurs, orders or client work has fallen off a cliff as customers switch their focus to the immediate issues of contingency.
Even if you haven’t experienced this, your work pattern will have changed as you’re confined to houses or apartments with family members, children, or housemates who have their own work or school demands. Below is a simple framework which you can use as a guide to support you during these times and help you not just survive but thrive in the current climate and beyond. This extensive PERMA+ framework is produced by Ripple&Co founder Eileen Donnelly.
This element is perhaps the most obvious connection to happiness. But it’s more than just keeping a smile on your face: it is the ability to remain optimistic, to view your past, present, and critically your future from a constructive perspective. This may be hard given the uncertainty of the future and what the world will look like when we come through this. Resist dramatising or catastrophising what may happen in the future. All situations change, all feelings pass. Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People makes reference to what he calls the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. Being mindful of the things that are outside of our control enables to not only stop wasting energy and time worrying about them but also to spend time on those things over which we do have some influence.
To this point, it is also worth considering how often you need to check in to media sources. The emphasis on negativity can make positivity even more challenging and induce anxiety and stress which are likely to already be at higher levels during this time. Whilst it’s important to stay informed it can quickly become addictive. A constant barrage of news and updates may elevate anxiety and stress. Try limiting yourself to two or three updates a day – maybe half an hour of morning news and one in the evening.
Another very simple tip to encourage positive emotion is to keep a gratitude journal. Evidence shows that recognising the things that we can be grateful for has a positive impact on our wellbeing. And the impact is greater if we actually write it down. Another way to look at this is the idea of reframing our perspective of situations. For example, COVID-19 presents huge challenges but it has also brought to light huge amounts of human kindness and community spirit. This is most obvious in the enormous response of 750,000 volunteering to help the NHS. The key is to look out for the positive, things to be grateful for. If you’re able to do this in the morning as you wake up, you can set a positive mindset for the day, and again at bedtime, you create positive thought processes as you fall asleep.
Being truly engaged in a situation, task, or project, creates an experience of time standing still, losing a sense of self as concentration focuses intensely on the present. Activities that meet our need for engagement flood the body with positive neurotransmitters and hormones that elevate a sense of wellbeing.
How we find this kind of engagement is highly subjective. People find enjoyment in different things, whether it’s playing an instrument, playing a sport, dancing, working on an interesting project at work or even just a hobby. Whilst many activities have been curtailed due to current restrictions there are still many options, whether it’s listening to a favourite piece of music, reading a good book or getting lost in a jigsaw, all of which can give a sense of being entirely present at the moment. Maybe right now, stop and think of something you can do that you enjoy that you perhaps haven’t done for a while and make a promise that you’ll do today or tomorrow.
The idea of being present is at the core of mindfulness. Perhaps now is a time to try a form of mindfulness, especially given the number of free resources being made available online such as the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings and mental health. It is becoming widely used in a range of contexts. It is recommended by NICE as a preventative practice for people with experience of recurrent depression. Mindfulness has been shown to affect how the brain works and even its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.
As humans, we are “social beings”. We are hard-wired to bond and depend on other humans, therefore good relationships are core to our well-being. Connections that promote love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with other humans are critical. Positive relationships with parents, siblings, peers, and friends is a key ingredient to overall joy. So, whilst entrepreneurs are perhaps used to working alone, perhaps now is the time to connect in a little more and nurture our key relationships. It’s through these that we’re able to access support in difficult times and remain resilient.
A study done at Harvard showed that people with supportive relationships had a sharper memory longer into life, a happier mood even when they were in physical pain, and improved overall health. In fact, the Oxford Research Centre found that relationships at work have the greatest impact on job satisfaction. It’s worth noting that the call for social distancing is about physical distance and that connection now is more important than ever. Fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal, 38 percent is the tone of voice. Using email to connect means you are missing out of 93 percent of your human ‘fix’. Picking up the phone or better still speaking to someone with video is a great way to connect with others.
For many people having meaning in life is a way to achieve fulfilment. As an entrepreneur, this may be work itself. After all, this is the passion that drives most entrepreneurs to follow the dream of setting up their own business, taking risks and working so hard to achieve it. If work has changed due to the current circumstances this might mean that some of the meaning has disappeared. But surely the very essence of entrepreneurialism is finding opportunity where others perhaps haven’t, finding new and better ways of fulfilling a need.
Our world of work and our entire economy is changing. Is there a way you can find ways to pivot and grasp the opportunity this presents? If you look back in six months what do you want to have achieved, what will you have learnt and what will be different in your response. To find a renewed sense of meaning to your work in the present climate it’s important to plan and prepare, to make the best use of your time during the lockdown. Even if work has dried up, this may be a chance to learn and develop yourself, especially when so many training solutions are free to access.
It’s also critical to manage expectations of what you will be able to achieve. Having a sense of accomplishment through achieving an ambition gives us a sense of pride and fulfilment – key ingredients in wellbeing.
As an entrepreneur, you are likely driven and set big hairy audacious goals for yourself. However, if you continually push yourself, it is easy to “run yourself ragged” in pursuit of the next achievement. And more than ever, now is the time to reflect on your goals and perhaps adjust them in terms of what can be achieved during this difficult time. With the correct planning and preparing, as mentioned above, you can ensure that you will still be achieving and can feel a sense of pride, even if these goals have had to change.
The ‘+’ has been added in response to consultations with global experts in wellbeing measurement, who have added the following elements to provide a more comprehensive picture of individual wellbeing: • Physical Activity • Nutrition • Sleep
They cover the physical aspects of health which interplay with our mental health.
Exercise releases anxiety-reducing chemicals and is also a great way to take a break from work. There are a number of free on-line gym classes available now that you can sign up for. Or simply keep moving during your working day. This can be done using the Pomodoro technique, a time management tool which can also increase focus and productivity. Simply choose a task to work on and set a timer for 25 minutes, and then work only on that task, followed by a 5-minute break. In the break move away from your screen – make a cup of tea, go up and down the stairs or do some stretches. Complete three more pomodoros and then take a 20-minute break. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo as a university student, when he used a tomato timer to measure his 25-minute sessions. These intervals became known as pomodoros and the technique became its namesake.
Nutrition and alcohol
More time at home can often mean easier access to the kitchen cupboards and bad eating habits may creep in. Our digestive health is key to our immunity with as many as 70% of our immune cells being housed in our gut wall. Therefore, basic nutrition which supports our digestive health is critical for the good functioning of our immune system.
There has been a 22% increase in alcohol sales in the first two weeks of the coronavirus lock-down suggesting that people are likely to be drinking more whilst in lockdown. Stick to the government’s recommended limit of 14 units a week for both women and men plus have some alcohol-free days each week. Perhaps use an on-line calculator so you can be sure of how much you’re consuming.
Lack of sleep is associated with disruptions in mood, thinking, concentration, memory, learning, vigilance and reaction times. Sleep is considered an important diagnostic criterion for depression, while people who are good sleepers report better quality of life than those who suffer from insomnia. Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to wellbeing and yet is the one that seems the least in our control. But there are proactive measures we can employ to aid better sleep. The Sleep Health Foundation some important facts about sleep:
- Sleep need varies. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Eight and a quarter hours is the average for adults and whilst this may seem a lot, research has shown that even just one hour less sleep each night over a long period of time can have a significant impact on our health.
- Sleep is an active state. It was thought that everything shuts down during sleep. But over the last 60 years, scientists have discovered that our brains are very active during sleep. In fact, some parts of the brain use more oxygen and glucose while asleep than when awake.
- Deep sleep happens first. The first three hours of sleep have the deepest stages of sleep (Slow Wave Sleep). Later in the night, we have more of the sleep stage with vivid dreams (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, REM sleep).
- Sleep changes in cycles. Sleep changes across the night in cycles of about 90 minutes. There is REM (dreaming) sleep in every cycle, even if only for a short time. We also have very brief arousals many times across the night. We are not aware of most of these arousals and we forget most dreams.
- A body clock affects our tiredness. The timing of our need for sleep is based on two things. The first is how long we have been awake. The second is our body clock. If we stay awake all night we will feel more tired at 4am than at 10am. Scientists call the time between 3am and 5am the ‘dead zone’. It’s when our body clock makes us ‘dead’ tired.
- Falling asleep can be hard. You cannot make yourself fall asleep – just like you can’t digest your food faster. Sleep onset is not something we can control. We can only create the right conditions for sleep – both in our minds and in our environment. These can include:
- Do not frequently change the times you go to bed and get up. Try to keep to the same times each day
- One hour before going to bed start to wind down and do more relaxing things
- Avoid going to bed on a full stomach, but also make sure you are not hungry either
- If you are not asleep after 20 minutes in bed, go to another room until you feel tired again and then go back to bed
- Don’t have things in the bedroom that distract you from sleep
- Getting sunlight during the day will help you to sleep better at night
The uncertainty of how long we will be facing lockdown and what the subsequent impacts will be is still unknown. And for many, this can be stressful. It is therefore crucial that you are aware of a change in your mood and reaches out to people should you feel your wellbeing is impacted. It’s okay not to be okay.
Prioritising optimal performance is the only thing that you can put at the top of your to-do list every single day and it has a positive impact on the rest of the things on your list. Take care of you first; put your own oxygen mask on first.
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