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The quiet lesson small businesses all over Australia have learnt during COVID-19.

MYOB and Smiling Mind
Thanks to our brand partner, MYOB and Smiling Mind

The COVID-19 crisis has shaken us all up.

We’ve had to adapt to a topsy-turvy world where we rarely venture out of our own backyards, where working from home is the new norm and brunch dates with friends are a distant memory.

It isn’t easy, but we’re making it work.

For small business owners though, the weight has been heavier as they’ve helplessly watched their livelihoods – their passions – trickle to a halt.

Sarah Reynolds is the director of The Resort Store, a women’s clothing boutique in Brighton, 10 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.

The impact of the pandemic was swift, with her store closing as soon as lockdown was announced on March 23.

“Revenue dropped like a stone, but I had just taken delivery of all my winter stock,” Sarah tells Mamamia. “Suppliers were waiting to be paid.”

The only sales channel left was online, so putting herself in front of the camera via social media was the only way Sarah could stay in touch with shoppers – even though it was “way out” of this businesswoman’s comfort zone.

“I have always got my energy from interacting with customers in-store, and initially was really missing that,” she says.

“There’s been a couple of days when I’ve felt very ‘blah’ and couldn’t bring the right energy to film a video, but I allowed myself that break, sometimes confessing it on my socials.

“There’s financial stress, but without all the support and encouragement from my customer community, it might have got the better of me.”

As businesses start to reopen, there’s one lesson many small business owners like Sarah will carry forward as they step into the next stage: mental health is everyone’s business.

New research from business platform MYOB reveals two thirds (66 per cent) of small businesses feel COVID-19 has impacted their mental wellbeing, with 58 per cent revealing the pandemic has negatively impacted their business.

The research, conducted with more than 1200 small business owners and operators, has been released by MYOB to coincide with the launch of their partnership with leading Australian not-for-profit in the preventative mental health space, Smiling Mind.

In partnership, MYOB and Smiling Mind have produced a free small business program within the Smiling Mind app, with four dedicated modules – Mindfulness Foundations, Stress Management, Relationships and Resilience, designed to help small business owners take proactive steps to manage the stressors and challenges they regularly face.

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The top five factors that have impacted wellbeing in the last 12 months are COVID-19 (55 per cent of respondents), finances (51 per cent), work-related stress (45 per cent), lack of sleep (41 per cent) and relationships (22 per cent).

It rings true for Sarah, who at night sometimes needs to steer her thoughts away from panic.

“When my head hits the pillow… my mind can get sucked towards what feels like panic, and I recognise it, and consciously manage my thoughts away,” she says.

“During the day, I’ll almost always do a big morning walk with great music on the headphones and with all the sunshine and activity I am really energised when I get back.

“I find I get very uplifted and motivated if I’ve ‘dressed for work’, put on makeup, and set forth on my to-do list.”

MYOB Chief Employee Experience Officer, Helen Lea, said the launch of the Small Business Program has come at a time when small business owners really need it.

“This research shows that 67 per cent of respondents have experienced feelings of stress or anxiety trying to work around the new restrictions put in place in relation to COVID-19,” Helen says.

“We have been talking to small business owners about their mental health and wellbeing for the last couple of years…we could not have known how important these conversations would become.”

Helen said partnering with Smiling Mind has enabled the creation of dedicated content as a resource for the 2.4 million small businesses in Australia.

smiling mind
Go to the free 'Small Business Program' in the ‘At Work’ section of the Smiling Mind app for mindfulness meditations specifically for small business owners. Image: Supplied.
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Jane Martino, Smiling Mind Chair and Co-Founder, says that stress, anxiety and uncertainty have been common during COVID-19, especially for those concerned about how their business will be able to survive.

However, as we move closer to a return to a more 'normal' life post-isolation, small business owners will need to evaluate the best ways for the business - and employees - to rebuild and move forward.

“A great way for business owners to ensure they are taking care of themselves during this stage is by setting up regular mental health breaks and daily habits,” Jane tells Mamamia. “Meditation is one of the simplest to adopt and is a great way for owners to bring mindfulness into both their work and personal lives, and the great thing is, you can practise anywhere, anytime, you just need to find what works for you.”

It goes without saying that taking a little time for yourself will be especially important for workforces right now.

“Mindfulness reduces anxiety levels and helps people better regulate and manage their emotions,” Jane says. “It is a form of attention training so assists us to focus and be more productive, improve our management of stress and assists us in clearer decision making.”

As Jane explains, supporting employees to set up a mindfulness practice has multiple benefits for small businesses.

“It shows that you care about their wellbeing, understand the difficulties they might be going through as a result of COVID-19 and demonstrates that their mental wellbeing is important to you,” she adds.

As life slowly returns to some sort of normal and businesses start to reopen, it is important to still find some ‘me’ time amid the hustle and bustle.

“No need for hours sitting cross-legged on a cushion, it can be as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths before going to your next meeting. The meditations in the Small Business Program range from one minute to 13 minutes, so there’s something for everyone,” Jane says.

“If you ever feel like a situation or your workload is becoming overwhelming…try to stop working for a few minutes, get a glass of water or a cup of tea and listen to another short meditation session to reset before returning to your desk. It’s these simple things that make the difference.”

Try the free Small Business Program under the 'At Work' section in the Smiling Mind app today.

Feature image: The Resort Store.

MYOB and Smiling Mind

This article is brought to you by the MYOB and Smiling Mind Small Business Program
With mindfulness meditations for navigating stress, building resilience and finding balance, it’s here to help business owners thrive.
So, let’s make mental health everyone’s business.
Try the free Small Business Program under the ‘At Work’ section in the Smiling Mind app today.

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