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How to Cope with the Stress of COVID-19 as a Business Owner

The Reality of a Global Pandemic 

It is in our nature as business owners to be prepared with the resilience to overcome roadblocks that affect the positive trajectory of our business. However, our adaptable mindset does not make us invincible. In September, we would have never imagined that today our international community would be grappling with a pandemic that forced society to isolate and our economy would largely close down. Business owners or not, we find comfort in routine – a way of life that has been upturned in recent weeks. COVID-19 is here, and whether your business is deemed essential or non-essential it is okay to be stressed about your company’s financial situation, anxious about the welfare of your employees and worried about the future. We must accept that COVID-19 will present challenges, but as with challenges, we can rise to the occasion and create new courses of action. It all starts with finding ways to alleviate our stress. 

The Psychology of Uncertainty 

Perhaps most of all, society was not prepared for the uncertainty brought with COVID-19. Problems demand answers, but those tend to get muddled when the problem is invisible and mutating. To our mind, uncertainty equals danger, inducing a level of panic and stress that cripples our desire to stay level-headed. Uncertainty kicks our stress response into overdrive as we overanalyze even the most miniscule changes in our lives and underestimate our control over both COVID-19 and the broad response to it. Jack Nitschke, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, states that “uncertainty lays the groundwork for anxiety because anxiety is always future-oriented.”  Additionally, a 2009 study in BMC Public Health discovered that people cannot process an information overload as it only adds to an increased feeling of uncertainty. Once we understand uncertainty and how to cope with the stress of it, our survival instincts can shift to focus on adapting. The uncertainty of COVID-19 will shape our decisions as business owners, yet we should not focus entirely on it. To achieve this balance, we can:

Create a New Normal

Create a New NormalNow that we’ve experienced all of the uncertainty that COVID-19 can bring to business, we can build a new plan around it. Building a plan of action for your business allows you to prepare rather than panic. If we have courses of action-oriented towards COVID-19, we are more in control of the financial outcomes. When creating a new plan for your business, do not reconstruct your aspirations for your company; rather, think about this plan as if you are creating an emergency backlink within your company’s functionality. Create a list of obstacles you believe your business will face due to COVID-19, revisit your financial input and output, think about the unique doubts you have for your current customers and employees. Inquiries to keep your business safe that your planning should cover should include asking yourself: 

  • Is my business considered to be an essential service?
  • How can I remotely keep my business open?
  • What do I do for the decreased work my employees have?
  • My business is struggling to meet financial obligations (production, rent, etc.), can I postpone these payments?
  • How can I continue to pay my employees? 
  • How can I maintain customer relationships if my service is not needed?
  • How can I reach out to new clients in the wake of COVID-19? 

Additionally, the City of Calgary created a business continuity checklist, handbook, template, and reference guide to help you maintain your business during an infectious disease outbreak.

Asking and then executing solutions to these planning questions serve to create a new normal for your business. Planning reduces the stress of uncertainty as steps are measurable and stimulate us with normalcy. Support can be found in federal and provincial relief measures, accessing financial support, staying up to date on employee travel and health, and keeping vigilant on fraud and your company’s security. 

Commence a News Diet

Reading the news is required to stay up to date as measures towards COVID-19 evolve alongside the virus. That being said, moderate your news intake. Look to credible sources for essential news on the outbreak to support measures you take with your business like the World Health Organization, an updated map of COVID-19 cases by John Hopkins University, provincial information, news outlets such as the Edmonton Journal or the Calgary Herald, and federal updates. 

Besides essential sources of information, follow the news in moderation. With all of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we look to find answers in any and all news sources, inevitably only increasing our stress with an over-consumption of information that is not always accurate. Choose a time in the morning or evening to sit down and read the news. Set a timer to stay up to date while also limiting the time you spend browsing articles and over-indulging. Being responsible with your news intake ensures you look after your business, but you are also coping with your stress. 

Work From Home but Don’t Forget to Communicate 

Although attempting to create a new normal can be done with planning, we should still keep some of our normal business day in our at-home lives. We may have worked from home before when we’ve been sick, but we’re used to dressing up and going to work. When we stress about COVID-19, we are probably stressing about how our businesses’ productivity has been affected. Try and find one new positive in each aspect of your business and personal life that has had to adjust. For one, a 2012 study found that telecommuting environments have positive impacts on the productivity of creative tasks. How can your business thrive with this new dynamic? On the other hand, this same study found that productivity dwindled on more dull tasks, and this is where communication and collaboration amongst your employees is key. When work shifts to telecommuting, communicating the work-day to your employees will give you a sense of relief in knowing that things are still functioning as they should. Discuss how often the team should check in face-to-face, not just about work-related topics, but also for general discussion and well-being. Having face-to-face conversations through video calls decreases feelings of isolation and makes everyone feel that they aren’t alone.

Communicating does not just include conversing, but communicating work and home boundaries to fuel productivity. For one, you don’t need to dress up in formal attire, but changing into an outfit you would go out in public with boosts productive energy to make you feel less cut off from the real world. Encourage yourself and employees to designate a workspace, where one can keep their work and living time separate. Maintain clear working hours to provide yourself the opportunity to communicate with your employees and customers efficiently and collaboratively. Lines between working hours and at-home hours blur when we work in the same place, creating a timeline for you and your team ensures that everyone is putting work away to recharge and relax. Decreasing stress means creating environments that are natural, normal and allow us to recharge. 

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle 

It is important that we carve out time in our day to take care of ourselves both mentally and physically. Keeping ourselves healthy gives us the energy needed to deal with pressure and anxiety. Incorporating healthy habits during these turbulent times allows us to resist the negative effects of stress and prevents it from becoming a problem. Important aspects to be mindful of in your changing lifestyle include: 

  • Buying the same food: Food fuels our mind. When we eat good we feel good about ourselves. Stress pushes us to eat unhealthy food, decreasing our productivity. Everyone loves pizza and chips, but when stocking up– or hoarding– comfort food should not be our priority. Purchase a few more things that you commonly use and know that you will use within two weeks. Go out on a whim and try a few new things, but purchasing items that you use consistently alleviates the financial stress of buying more things and provides stability when making your meals.

Write

During COVID-19 we may feel trapped in our house. We’re all in this together, and as entrepreneurs, everything starts with an idea. Taking the time to journal and write down our thoughts gives us a path to explore how we need to cope, keep our thoughts organized, and self-reflect. Not only are we facing the present challenge of COVID-19, but life and society afterward will be different. Writing down the obstacles of our current situation, alongside stresses, worries, things that have changed and your plans for the future allows you to “brain-dump” your anxieties. Leaving your tensions behind in a journal frees up your resolve to work and face the day. 

Invest in Learning and Set a Goal

Stress knocks on the door the moment we see COVID-19 as a limiting influence on our business goals for the year. We become anxious because COVID-19 disrupts our way of life. Taking a different perspective and seeing all of the new opportunities that have arisen because we must stay at home can relieve frustrations. With this, more opportunities have surfaced to take the time to learn. Was there a book you wanted to read? A topic you wanted to research? An idea you wanted to develop? Set a goal that you want your business to achieve as society handles COVID-19. Focus on an internal skill to be developed, a new target demographic of clients to reach out to, a new product idea, or even fine-tuning your website. Set a goal that you want your company to achieve that normally would not have been a priority. 

YYC Business Support 

Calgary entrepreneurs aren’t new to changing plans within the local business ecosystem. Calgary small businesses and entrepreneurs are here to support one another. COVID-19 has presented many new marketing dynamics, on top of JYZ Design offering discounts on websites and marketing services, there are plenty of other local Calgary businesses doing the same. Some supportive free services, listed by Startup Calgary include:

  • Goodlawyer Inc is offering free 15-minute advice sessions with a lawyer. 
  • Virtual Gurus is offering free virtual assistance services to Calgary startups in need of back-office support. (Enter code Startup100 at checkout)
  • Brightsquid has made secure-mail free for all medical clinics in Canada. 
  • Inspired Go has launched their #feedthefrontlines campaign. For each time a Calgarian orders a meal box, they provide a nutritious meal to a local healthcare worker. 

Information about federal resources to support Canadian businesses can be found here. 

“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.” 

– Randy Armstrong

Stay Optimistic 

The stress that COVID-19 brings to our personal and business lives will stay with us a while, but the stress of running a business is continuous. The goal is to mitigate it as much as possible so that while we live in an age of uncertainty, we are best equipped to mentally handle these new challenges. As with any challenge, we will look back in the future and can either remember COVID-19 as a moment that defined our business growth or hindered our spirits. None of us can predict when COVID-19 will end, but what we do know is that it is temporary and it will end. Stay home, spend time with family – call friends and employees, remain updated and flexible, and stay optimistic.

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