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How to stop feeling overwhelmed – tips for small business owners

4-minute read

How to stop feeling overwhelmed
Lorna Thomas

Lorna Thomas

11 May 2023

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With one in three small business owners feeling the effects of burnout, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself. Here, business coach Lorna Thomas shares her tips for overcoming overwhelm as a small business owner.

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing.

Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our Mind Your Business initiative.

Feeling overwhelmed at work

Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. But when you run your own business, it can easily become an everyday occurrence.

Many don't realise how pernicious feeling overwhelmed on a frequent basis can be. How it can affect not only your ability to prioritise and cope, but your decision making and the outcomes for you and your business.

I speak from experience having walked away from my garden design business after seven years with a massive sigh of relief. But ultimately, what were all those years of hard work for?

Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t have to lead to burnout. But I do think that running your own business means you could be more prone to regularly feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might be experiencing...

  • short-term thinking
  • poor prioritisation/working on the wrong things
  • crushed creativity
  • micromanagement/perfectionism because it feels like you have greater control
  • procrastination in decision making and taking action
  • forgetfulness
  • worrying

You may also be feeling...

  • increasingly isolated from family and friends because they’re giving you advice that you don’t feel is appropriate for you and your business
  • increasingly isolated from your wider business community because it doesn’t feel professional to admit you are feeling overwhelmed
  • less satisfied because you don’t have the time or capacity to acknowledge or reward your efforts and achievements
  • mood swings because of your frustrations with the demands on your time
  • tired from loss of sleep, insomnia, and waking up in the middle of the night worrying about all the things you need to do

Long term stress resulting from regularly feeling overwhelmed could lead to anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It’s important to take action and speak to your GP if it’s impacting your daily life.

What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

When I’m working with my clients, I find that doing one of the following techniques can make all the difference. Which technique I use depends on how long they have been feeling overwhelmed and whether their response to this has become habitual.

1. Think bigger

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your focus is on just getting to the end of the day or the end of the week without dropping anything.

When did you last think about your vision for your business? Be honest, did you skip that bit when you set up your business? Did you go straight to the fun creative stuff: your logo and website creation? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a common pitfall. That’s what I did with my garden design business.

But when you have a vision – a clear and specific one – you can set specific goals to achieve it. It’s so much harder to aim for and achieve something that’s vague.

A vision (and the goals that will help you get there) means you’ll find it much easier to know what your priorities are to achieve it.

You are much less likely to become side-tracked or spend your time on less important but seemingly urgent things. For example, if you're excited about a new marketing or training opportunity, really think about how it could help you achieve your goals and reach your vision. Are you being purposeful with your time or is it a distraction?

2. The specific ‘do less/do something different’ goal

What if you can no longer see further than the end of the week, let alone the month to create your vision?

It can be easy to fall into the trap of getting up earlier or working more hours in the hope you'll stop worrying about your to-do list. This is not an effective long-term strategy and at some point you’ll run out of hours.

It's important to find the solution that works for you, so take some focused time out from your day to answer these questions:

Please note: when brainstorming, do not judge your answers or rule any out. Write them all down. Capture, in particular, the first answers that come to your head (they are likely to come from your unconscious mind and can often be the best).

  • what one thing could I do today/this week that would make me feel more in control?
  • what could I stop doing today/this week that would make me feel more in control?
  • what could I do today/this week that would give me back some time?
  • what could I stop doing today/this week that would give me back some time?
  • what one action am I going to take as a result that will make a positive difference to how I’m feeling?
  • how am I going to reward myself for taking that action? (Make sure you do.)

I find putting pen to paper works especially well for this, away from distractions.

What else can you do?

There are many things you can do to address overwhelm. Significantly you’ll want to use strategies and create new working habits that will stick.

Come along to my free workshop How to overcome your overwhelm and become a better business owner on Tuesday 16 May. Visit my website to find out more and register.

About Lorna Thomas, Be The Best You In Business TM

I am an overcome-overwhelm and business coach for creative women business owners with big ambitions.

And if you feel your creativity and ambitions are being squashed by stress and overwhelm, I help you make confident decisions and take meaningful action, knowing you're spending time on the right things in the right order to achieve your business ambitions without feeling overwhelmed.

I have a background in marketing, communications, employee engagement, project management and was a freelance comms consultant for many years before retraining as a garden designer – where for 7 years I learned what not to do when running your own business. Having recovered from that experience I requalified as a business coach, DISC and NLP practitioner and have developed a programme of coaching and workshops to ensure the women I work with avoid the mistakes I made.

Visit Mental Health at Work's dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing. You can also access toolkits for managing your mental health in small worksplaces here.

Mental health resources for the self-employed

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Photo: fizkes/
Lorna Thomas

Written by

Lorna Thomas

Lorna Thomas is a business coach, DISC, and NLP practioner who supports creative women business owners with big ambitions. She has a background in marketing, communications, employee engagement, project management. She's also worked as a freelance comms consultant and previously had her own garden design business.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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