Small business owners’ mental health takes a hit during cost-of-living crisis – but help is at hand
  • 9-in-10 small business owners or decision makers (91%) have experienced business ‑related stress over the past 12 months
  • Lack of sales (34%) and time pressures (33%) are the leading stressors
  • 1-in-3 report a lack of time for relaxation and exercise (34%) and insomnia or poor sleep (32%)

New PayPal research shows small business owners are taking a hit to their mental health during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

The study reveals that 91% of small business owners or decision makers felt work-related stress in the past 12 months, with a lack of sales (34%), time pressures (33%), poor work life balance (28%), keeping up with technology (28%) and managing cash flow (28%) cited as top contributors.

This stress is taking a toll on well-being, with a third of business owners saying they lack time for relaxation and exercise (34%), or to spend with family or friends (27%), and a quarter (23%) are suffering from insomnia or poor sleep. One-in-five even say the stress of business is causing strain on their relationships (22%), and that they are feeling depressed about business (20%). Unfortunately, two-in-five (38%) say taking time off to relieve their burnout was not possible due to work pressures.

These insights resonated with Tom Adam, who has grown his small business, Canberra Martial Arts and Fitness (CMA&F), into a place of empowerment and community over the past 15 years. Tom went full time with his business in 2018 and the stress caused anxiety issues that led to depression. He overcame that challenge and many since, including the COVID 19 lockdowns. This year he feels the same pressures, but is using the strategies he learned to persevere.

“The best advice in challenging times like this is to focus on what you can do,” Tom said. “Don't do more with less. Figure out what makes your business unique, what has the greatest value, and then lean hard into that. Let the rest sit on a shelf until it's time to expand again."

While many factors are beyond their control, there are steps small business owners can take to help protect themselves to reduce the risk of harm.

Dr Marny Lishman, a health and community psychologist based in Perth, works with many startups and small business owners to help them reach their potential and overcome psychological challenges, including burnout. Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion usually caused by chronic stress or prolonged negative emotions.

“Small business owners are susceptible to burnout because of their excessive workloads, financial pressures, lack of resources and lack of time allocated to looking after their own physical and mental wellbeing. Owning a small business is inherently stressful, right from the development phase, so it’s important that business owners make sure they have adequate support in place from the beginning,” says Dr Lishman.

“It’s crucial that they make time for their own self-care to mitigate the stress they are likely to feel. This means making time for physical activity, socialising, sleeping, resting, and relaxing, spending time with family or doing hobbies, and delegating work-related duties to other people when they can.”

Dr Lishman said that while it can seem impossible to take time away from the demands of running a business, good mental health is a prerequisite for business success, not a nice-to-have.

“It’s also important to have a psychologist, coach, mentor or trusted friend to debrief with throughout the challenges of owning a business.”

A range of mental health and wellbeing resources are available at including free and confidential coaching, tools, resources, and communities. Help with financial stress can be accessed by calling the Small Business Debt Helpline at 1800 413 828.

A list of mental health helplines, including crisis support, are available at, including Lifeline on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“I’m not a mental health expert, but I’ve spoken to enough small business owners to understand how isolating it can be,” said PayPal Small Business Success Expert Vanessa Patrizi. “The good news is, support is out there, and no one needs to do it alone. I encourage all small business owners is to find the people and partners that can help you, and reach out before it becomes urgent.”   

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