According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, with many also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. Research shows that entrepreneurs and small business owners are particularly prone to depression. What does this mean for the businesses they serve? Higher healthcare costs, lower employee engagement and as much as a 35% dip in team productivity. Employee burnout and mental health are often two of the most overlooked components of small business strategy, and usually, the problem starts at the top. To truly address mental health at work and make positive steps towards a culture of wellness, small business leaders must invest in their self-care.

“Understanding what self-care is and isn't is truly valuable,” says Judy Prokopiak of Judy Prokopiak Coaching. “Most people go and go and go, then they drop and say, I need a mental health day or I need a massage. What they don't understand is they need to incorporate self-care opportunities into their everyday life.”

But it’s often difficult to know where to begin. This blog post will help set the record straight about what self-care is and isn’t while offering up practical advice for prioritizing workplace wellbeing. The payoff? Increased productivity, a more positive culture and a higher chance for longterm prosperity.

Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is self-care?

PsychCentral defines self-care as "any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health."

So, why does self-care matter and why is it relevant to small business leaders? Jill A. Rodgers, President and CEO of JRogers Consulting LLC, thinks of it this way.

“Self-care is personal and unique to everyone. I let my employees determine what they need and how to get it. As a woman-owned small business in the professional services industry, client billable time is at the core of what we do. This doesn’t always lend itself to scheduling your own self-time. However, my team knows the client service expectations and they are free to balance that with their own needs. Even short periods of time – whether crossing errands off my never-ending to-do list or getting my heart rate up – count as self-care activities in my book. They lighten my mental load and sharpen my overall focus.”

And according to Alisha Hawrylyszyn Frank, an NYU certified life coach and owner of Fiercely Optimistic, creating a culture of self-care starts at the top. Meaning, leaders must model the behaviors they want to see.

"Self-care is essential, especially for those that are leading the pack. The number one thing I tell the entrepreneurs I work with is to make sure to shut it down. Think about it this way: does your phone continue to work without recharging it? Absolutely not. When we create a bit of space between ourselves and our businesses, we are allowing for fresh ideas to come through."

Convinced that it's time to take action? We've searched high and low for unique ways you can make self-care a part of your daily routine. We enlisted the help of other small business leaders who've been in your shoes. Here are ten of their best tips.

10 Simple Ways Small Business Leaders Can Make Self-Care Part of Their Daily Routine

#1: Meditate

As small business leaders look for ways to better focus their time and energy, more and more are turning to the ancient practice of meditation. Zach Hendrix, Co-founder of GreenPal (best described as Uber for Lawn Care), says he carves out 15-minutes each day to meditate.

“It's amazing how these 15 minutes act as a fulcrum for the rest of my day. Taking the time to clear my mind gives me better focus and clarity,” he says.

For Evan Mendelsohn, Co-Founder of Tipsy Elves, his meditation practice is more about micro-moments throughout the day.

"I ascribe to the concept of 'short moments, many times.' You can have small meditative moments throughout the day. It doesn't necessarily need to be long sessions on a cushion," he says.

At SelectSoftware, meditation has become a group activity. Founder Phil Strazulla says he's instituted a daily calendar invite for 3:00. Every afternoon, his small team gathers together for a 15-minute meditation.

New to meditation and ready to give it a try? Tasha Holland-Kornegay, Ph.D., LPCS and founder of recommends using the free app, Calm. Zach Hendrix says his go-to app is headspace.

#2: Eat Real Food, Drink Plenty of Water, and Get Enough Sleep

Tip number two is really three tips in one--but they’re all related, as they focus on fueling overall health and wellbeing. Peter Shankman, the host of the Faster Than Normal podcast, says he stays in the best mental and physical shape by keeping his diet clean and drinking lots of water. “Detoxes are ridiculous,” he said. “ You know what does a great detox for you? Your liver and kidneys. It's literally THEIR JOB. Also, eat real food. Chips aren't real food.”

If drinking enough water is a struggle for you, you might find this tip from Joey Daoud of New Territory Fitness useful. "I'm terrible with remembering to drink enough water, so I keep a foldable Nalgene canteen with me. If water is in front of my face, I'll drink it. The fact that it holds more than 1.5 liters means I'm much more likely to keep drinking water throughout the day," he says.

The final piece of the trifecta? A healthy dose of sleep. That means at least seven hours each night for Kevin Padillo of Warrior Leadership. He says he's better able to close sales deals and train employees when he's gotten plenty of rest.

#3: Block out Smartphone Distractions

How many times have you been deep in thought, only to have a Tweet interrupt your flow? Or how many times have you picked up your smartphone instead of working towards your deadline? Part of self-care means being proactive and cutting out unnecessary distractions that can take away time for more meaningful activities. For many of us, that means putting down the smartphone. It may sound counterintuitive, but Joey Daoud has enlisted the help of an app to do that.

“I use Downtime on my iPhone to block out distracting apps during the day,” says Daoud. "This feature was designed to disconnect at night, but if you adjust the hours in your settings, it's great at blocking distracting apps during the times of day when you want to focus."

#4: Ban Email Outside of Working Hours

Speaking of smartphones, these devices have made it possible to stay connected, but tempting to take it too far. More and more leaders are recognizing the value of taking time to unplug and refresh. At The Slumber Yard, this means no emails after 7:00 pm.

“We ban work emails from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am. We want our employees to relax at night and spend time with their friends and families,” says The Slumber Yard founder, Matthew Ross. “We've found that employees come back to work refreshed and recharged every morning when they have time at night for other activities.”

Alina Liao, Founder and CEO of Zenit, agrees. “It's not enough to just tell employees, ‘If I send an email at 9:00 at night, you can just ignore it.’ The mere act of sending an email at 9:00 can create an expectation that people are checking and responding to email after hours. Even hearing that email notification ping can interrupt someone's off-hours, which is important to hold sacred so people can unwind and rejuvenate for the next day. That’s why we’ve made it a collective agreement and policy, no emailing/online communications after hours.”

#5: Set Aside 20-minutes Per Day to Read

Reading offers up a slew of benefits--from improved writing skills to a lowered risk of Dementia. For small business owners, it can also offer up a free and accessible form of self-care. Jill Sylvester, Mental Health Counselor and author, tries to spend 20-minutes reading every afternoon. For Brittany VanDerBill, Founder of Classy on the Outside, reading has become part of her morning coffee routine.

"I grab my coffee, then read a chapter from a book that's focused on self-improvement. It could be anything from You are a Badass by Jen Sincero to The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren," says VanDerBill. "I'm calmer, I'm less anxious and a happier person when I take time in the morning for myself."

#6: Institute a “Leave When You Need to” Rule

Everyone has days when they feel "off," or they struggle to hit a productive stride. In these cases, Jake Lane, Director of Growth at NuBrakes, thinks it's sometimes best to walk away. Which is precisely what he encourages his employees to feel free to do.

"Anyone at the company can get up and leave if they're not feeling productive that day - no questions asked. It's super unconventional, but we've also built a team of unconventional employees that are dedicated to building the business, he says. "Typically, people will leave and head to the gym for a mental refresh and hop back online, so nobody has abused it yet. If work is completed on time, and growth projections are on target, we're not concerned."

#7: Outsource the Tasks You Don’t Love

No job is perfect, and not everyone enjoys every part of their day--at work or home. Thankfully, there are plenty of affordable ways to outsource tasks you'd rather not do. For Erin Austin, owner of Erin Austin Law, this has made all the difference.

“Small business owners, especially solopreneurs like me, have little separation between their personal and professional lives. I find time for self-care by evaluating how I spend my personal time with the same value-based eye that I use to evaluate business activities, says Austin. “As with business activity, I ask myself, is this an activity that I must or should do myself or one that is best outsourced? For instance, can I cook? Yes, I can. Do I love to cook? No. I have decided that time otherwise spent cooking is better spent on activities that I love to do. So I outsource as much cooking as possible and use the time saved for self-care activities. This does not need to be budget-busting. It can be as simple as buying bagged salads kits (which I happen to love).”

#8: Schedule Time to Be Alone

Small business leaders typically wear plenty of hats, meaning they have pretty full calendars. Felicia Y. Kelly, who’s a speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, says you have to include time for yourself on that full calendar--even if that’s just a couple of hours each month.

"Because I tend to have a full plate balancing the home and business, I intentionally set aside at least two days per month to hang out alone. One day for pampering (hair, nails, massage, etc.) and another day to take myself out to eat," she says. "I refuse to subscribe to overwork and overwhelm that is known to come with entrepreneurship, and I've noticed a significant increase in revenue since I've committed to self-care."

#9: Take the Time to Help Other People

When was the last time you stepped away from your desk to help someone else? According to science, volunteering may be one of the most effective forms of self-care out there.

"Physical acts of service, such as unloading boxes for a food bank, building a treehouse for the kids, or helping a friend renovate the kitchen, reduce the most stress," says author and mindset coach Sarah Nadler. "Putting your attention on the problems of another can help put your frustrations in a better perspective.”

#10: Turn to Automation to Simplify the Workday

Above all else, sometimes self-care comes in the form of simplicity. This a principle on which Paul Anderson, Co-Founder of OxfordSteels, runs his business and his life.

"The more simple a task, the easier it is to accomplish it. We have a rule. If our workload can't be done in eight hours or less, either we need to eliminate some tasks or find ways to automate," says Anderson. "This idea initially stemmed from us starting this business part-time. The more tasks are completed automatically, the more productive individuals can be. Having employees completing mindless tasks adds no value to the company. We'd rather have them focus on selling products, which makes us money."

Bringing it All Together

Self-care isn't selfish. It's critical. Whether you take a few minutes to read or meditate or institute guidelines that protect your employees' personal time, remember that self-care is about investing in your people. Sometimes, the best way to do that is just by listening.

Powerblanket President Brent Reddekopp sat down with each of Powerblanket's 49 employees last year to learn about their struggles. Some said they were fine, but would like more time with their families due to a new baby in the home or a chronically sick relative, and those needs were addressed. Others revealed battles with addiction. Reddekopp helped those employees find counseling and recovery resources, and in doing so, he sent a message. Wellbeing is the most important resource anyone can bring to the company--more than skills and experience.

What can you do to send that same message to your team? 

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