COVID-19 is dramatically shifting the professional and personal routines of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Many businesses are implementing remote work for employees as well as their leadership. Working remotely offers the chance to keep operating the business. However, this remote work must be done entirely at home and adhere to practicing social distancing. Entrepreneurs that were already used to going it alone may feel truly alone — isolated and scared, listening to the ever-present dull roar of the news cycle on TV and via social media.
What happens to our health, both physical and mental, during such an unprecedented crisis?
I was able to gain a bit of insight after speaking with Aleya Littleton, a SCORE member and licensed mental health counselor in Colorado at Wild and Wonderful Life Counseling.
Where Does Stress Begin, Physically and Mentally?
Physically, Littleton says that with access to sanitation and modern healthcare, our bodies can recover. Mentally, the pressure weighs heavy for small business owners struggling to support their clients, employees and selves.
“Stress manifests in the body and behaviors first,” Littleton says. “You’ll start to notice your temper getting shorter, appetite changing, and sleep becoming more difficult. Even cravings for high-calorie foods emerge.”
The more stressed out we become, the more our perspective shifts to believe there isn’t time for enjoyable things.
“We sense that enjoyable things, like learning new concepts, no longer fit into our schedules,” Littleton adds. “Perspective becomes narrow. This leads to decisions based on fear, which can be destructive in the long term.”
Using the Stress Continuum to Manage Mental Health
What is the Stress Continuum? Widely used in the military, this is a model developed for individuals and organizations that helps assess and manage stress. Military service members must be resilient in the face of adversity, to protect their fellow members and selves — and survive. Upon returning from deployment, these service members must be able to get back on their feet from operational stress. Typically, this is done through reintegrating with families and communities. It’s key that reintegration is successful; otherwise members could develop mental disorders.
Littleton explains that the Stress Continuum invites you to articulate what your feelings and behaviors are like under stress. This may include reacting to any new stressor, injuries from long-term exposure, or feeling ill as a result of too many stressors and not enough resources to help. All of these are normal symptoms for being under stress.
The more you are able to personalize a Stress Continuum, the more you will realize there are other symptoms — such as isolation, diet and energy changes, and the need to check in — that may be specific to you.
Once the symptoms have been personalized in the Stress Continuum, you can start creating practices to intentionally move you back into the ready or green zone.
“Seeing each color or stage is a great way to visualize our nervous systems,” Littleton says.
She adds it is essential we follow the proper practices to get to the green zone. After prolonged exposure, cortisol has lasting mental and physical health impacts. It may be helpful to call a friend while you are in yellow for now, but that practice will not work as well in the later stages of stress. We must be able to get to the green zone by tending to our nervous system.
How Can Entrepreneurs Get to the Green Zone?
While you must still be able to personalize your Stress Continuum, here are a few “green” practices one may exercise.
Taking a walk in a park.
Going for a walk, and spending time in nature, is a great decision. It’s even better if you can be in a (literal) green space to further reduce anxiety and rumination. Littleton advises seeking the “awe” during your walk. Think small details like a blooming daffodil, a bumblebee lazily floating in the air, or the funny shapes of clouds.
What if there’s not a park nearby? That’s okay — you can still get up and move. Take a break from work to stretch, watch a YouTube video for a Pilates lesson, or even throw yourself a dance party in your home. Gentle movement, she says, will remind us we are alive and have options.
Volunteer or donate.
How can you get involved in donating to a COVID-19 relief fund or assisting in your local community? Consider the ways you may give back to others on a monetary or physical level. For example, your small business may make a donation to relieve an industry in need. If you have elderly neighbors offer to pick up their groceries. This is an act of compassion and kindness that proves we do still possess the ability to make a difference.
Feel your feelings.
It’s okay to cry in the shower. It’s okay to scream into a pillow in your bedroom. It’s okay to be sad or depressed or upset. Right now, you will feel your feelings — all those emotions we generally keep under tight wraps — and it’s necessary to feel them.
What are the healthiest ways to process your feelings? You may see a therapist (or engage in teletherapy services).
Littleton also recommends making space to lose it at home. Even the most put-together small business owner is welcome to take an old magazine and absolutely rip it to shreds or ugly cry it out.
“Don’t judge yourself for wanting to burn it all and run away,” she says. “Just feel it. The emotions will all peak and subside.”
As the emotions subside, you may have a glass of tea or a snack afterwards. If you are able, get a hug from a family member or partner. Use this time to FaceTime with a friend or loved one if you live alone.
The sooner you are able to feel your feelings, the faster they will be discharged from your system. Then, you’ll truly be able to focus on your business and its survival — and potential to thrive — during the coronavirus pandemic.