How to Manage Anxiety as a Business Owner

4 min read • Feb 19, 2021 • Barry Eitel

Global pandemic. Lockdowns. Second lockdowns. Economic uncertainty. A presidential election when America is more politically polarized than ever in modern history.

Most people would likely say that 2020 was a year full of anxiety, and small business owners would not be exempt from this overwhelming notion.

Running a small business, though, has always been a stressful, anxiety-inducing pursuit—the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have ratcheted up the anxiety for all of us.

Here are some thoughts about how you can manage your anxiety while managing your small business that will be helpful even after the vaccine is distributed.

Situational Anxiety vs. Generalized Anxiety

Because we’re talking about mental health, it is important to understand what you can handle yourself and when you should seek the help of a professional—although going to therapy and talking to others about your mental health is something that we should all probably do more often.

Still, there is a big difference between situational anxiety, which is a common feeling for all humans, and generalized anxiety, which is a condition you can’t shake just by following some tips you find online.  

According to mental health nonprofit ROTR, situational anxiety “is a specific type of anxiety that occurs during unfamiliar situations or events that make us so nervous that we lose control of our ability to stay calm.”

Public speaking, running a business during an economic downturn, and worrying about layoffs would all count as common triggers for situational anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) “is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

If you think the latter situation describes how you feel, you should talk to your doctor.

Make Lists, Create Routines, and Delegate

Many small business owners begin to feel overwhelmed because they take on an overwhelming amount of tasks and stress.

Especially when you are starting out, it can be easy to try to do everything yourself and take on seemingly monumental tasks.

David Finkel, the author of The Freedom Formula, recommends that spending some time planning out your tasks will save you a lot in terms of future stress. He coached an anxious small business owner to write down tasks and fully understand his workflow.

“We began the process by having him write down every single thing he did over the course of a week,” Finkel related in Inc. “We then looked for places where he could free up his time by creating a series of processes and systems and delegated tasks, where appropriate.”

Take a few minutes to write down tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

“Once these were in place, he was able to take his focus away from the ‘what ifs’ and fine-tune the process until he felt comfortable taking on new contracts,” Finkel added.

In time, you’ll be able to quickly formulate workflows and protocols to make your company as efficient as possible.

Don’t Fear Slowing Down

Business in the 21st century has been defined by speed. As a small business owner, you probably are on call 24/7, and it seems impossible to separate your leisure hours from business email or phone call interruptions.

If your business is making you feel overwhelmed and anxious, though, the best solution is probably to take a step back and slow down whatever task is at hand. Not only will this prevent many unforced errors on your end, but it will also reduce the build-up of stress.

“When I get the urge to fire off emails, I try to distance myself from the issue for a bit,” Katie DePaola, CEO of Inner Glow Circle, explains in Entrepreneur. “Since my brain can err on the side of catastrophizing, if a situation is impacting me, I take time to let it be. The same goes for an email.”

For sensitive emails, she suggests writing the message, saving it in the Drafts folder, and taking 24 hours before sending it. That gives you time to be more thoughtful about how you are feeling and acting.

Taking Care of Yourself Is Critical

At the end of the day, you are the most important asset to your business. Just like you take care of your vehicles, employees, and property, you need to take care of yourself.

This can mean going to therapy. It can also mean going for a walk or talking to a friend on the phone.

“It’s okay to be sad or depressed or upset,” business expert Deborah Sweeney writes for small business group SCORE. “Right now, you will feel your feelings—all those emotions we generally keep under tight wraps—and it’s necessary to feel them.”

This is an anxious time, and it is not weak or unprofessional to accept this reality. Feeling anxious is natural, and being mindful of your mental health is not just a personal capacity but a business skill, too.  

Barry Eitel

Barry Eitel has written about business and technology for eight years, including working as a staff writer for Intuit's Small Business Center and as the Business Editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly newspaper covering the city of Piedmont, California.