Combating COVID-19 Anxiety in the Construction Industry

The coronavirus has put tremendous pressure on small business construction contractors across the country. Whether their state has deemed construction “essential work” or not, business owners are grappling with tough decisions. Some of these challenges are human — balancing the need to keep a business solvent against the very real pain of letting good people go right now. Others are purely practical, but no less stressful. How will I pay rent and utilities if there is no new work coming in?

Training yourself during this extraordinary time will make the other side of this crisis feel like a breeze in the wind. Getting strong now during this time will allow you to get through it and thrive on the other side.

We have launched a YouTube series to help inform your decision making during this pandemic. We interviewed experts from across the business spectrum and are continuing to add new videos as often as possible. .

Our own leadership has been having these same conversations and making the same tough choices. We see you out there. Being a business owner is a challenging job under ideal circumstances, and things are far from ideal right now.

This article isn’t about finance, payroll, insurance or SBA programs. Those are all important, but there’s something else equally important — your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your crew. That’s what we want to talk about today.

The struggle (and the stress) is real. How you manage and overcome it will determine where your business stands at the end of this crisis.

The first step is simple: admit that you are worried. It is OK to do that. Once you do you can focus on what you are going to do about it – that is the most important thing!

Acknowledge Anxiety

According to a National Small Business Association survey, 77% of small business owners are “very worried” about the economic impact of COVID-19. Here’s the bright side of that statistic: You Are Not Alone.

Anxiety can be an incredibly isolating emotion, especially in business leaders and entrepreneurs. You are used to solving problems, answering questions, and relieving stress from others. Acknowledging that things ARE uncertain and that you DON’T have all the answers can feel uncomfortable, but you need to do it anyway.

Refusing to acknowledge negative emotions is actually harmful to your health and the health of your business. It can lead to physical ailments like insomnia, indigestion, and headaches, and can make conditions like cardiovascular disease worse. There’s also the mental side of emotional avoidance. When you don’t confront stress, you can’t let go of it. Those bottled-up emotions become toxic over time and can lead to depression and other mental health conditions.

How does avoiding stress and anxiety hurt your business? One of the cognitive side effects of prolonged, unresolved stress is a decline in cognitive thinking. It can also lead to forgetfulness, an inability to focus, poor judgement, and overly pessimistic or “doomsday” thinking.

It is harder for you to make the good decisions you need to save your business because of how stressed out you are about saving your business.

So, let it out! But before you start venting to your team or your spouse, keep reading.

Find Your Peer Support Group

Finding a safe, supportive space to talk about your fears, challenges, and frustrations is critical. You want to keep morale up within your team, and you don’t need to compound any stress at home with work stress. You and your partner or spouse have your own challenges right now (groceries, kids at home, concerns over your health and that of your loved ones). You need an audience that can listen with empathy without being emotionally invested, which would add to their stress.

One option is to find a network or community of business owners — on social media, email, or a text chain — who share your concerns and can offer you encouragement and support.

Another is to hire a professional e-counselor or tele-counselor. Psychology Today has an index of counselors who offer virtual conferences.

Take a Break

Turn off your phone. Walk away from the television. In fact, go outside and take a walk. Or, skip your usual news broadcast and watch something that will make you laugh. (Digital Trends has a few Netflix suggestions.)

“I have too much to do to relax,” you’re saying. The reverse is true: You have too much to do, and the work is too important, for you to do it at anything less than 100 percent.

Business owners tend to be “always on” people, and when they feel stressed about their business push even harder. That’s great — that drive is what made your business successful in the first place. But, when facing the stress of a global pandemic, a national recession, the health and wellbeing of you, your family, and your team, AND the financial future of your business …. Yeah, it’s a lot. You need to disengage from that overwhelming pressure every now and then. It allows your brain to reset.

Start a Manifestation Journal

This may sound a little woo-woo, but stick with us. Part of what drives performance is mindset, and part of what establishes your mindset is your thought patterns. A manifestation journal is a simple way to train your brain to think more positively. Write down your anxiety or fear, and then write out the best possible conclusion you would like to see. For example,

  • I am worried about making payroll next week.
  • I will find a financial advisor who will help me get a PPP loan and make payroll.

Your specific anxiety leads directly into an action item — something you need to do in order for the positive conclusion you want to occur. It gives you a focus point, and it trains your brain to speak in “I will” statements instead of “I can’t” or “I won’t.”

Take Care of Your Health

Mental health is part of your overall health. What you eat, how much (or how little) you exercise, and how many hours of sleep you get all contribute to your overall mental health. Now is the time to start forming healthier habits that will help you stay mentally and physically strong during the crisis.

  • Eat whole foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Things like berries, citrus fruits, whole grains, and plenty of lean proteins.
  • Set a sleep schedule that allows you to relax in bed — no tablets, TVs, or phones — and sleep for a full eight hours … or as close as you can get to it.
  • Find an exercise activity that works for you. It can be a low-impact workout like walking, yoga or swimming, or turn up the heat and go for a run or a fast bike ride.

Talk to Your Team

Now that you have your own mental well-being plan in place, it’s time to spread that energy out to your team. Your team needs you to ease their anxieties, and a great way to do that is by first acknowledging your own.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but a leader who models vulnerability feels more confident and trustworthy than an aggressive bright-sider. Your team knows the situation; they need you to tell them how to feel about it.

Start by acknowledging the uncomfortable reality and your own response to it. “I know times are scary right now. I’ve been worried, too.” Then, lay out your plan. Tell them how you are going to weather this storm.

If you are furloughing employees, laying off staff, or reducing hours, make sure that conversation is in-person (or at least a phone call) and upfront. Start by stating the news directly. Ambivalence, while it feels easier for the speaker, is much harder for the receiver to process. Explain how the decision was made. Let the employee share their thoughts, but don’t debate with them. Stay positive and offer help when and where you can.

Give Your Team Resources to Cope

It’s important to remember that the construction industry has the highest male suicide rate in the country AND the highest rates for alcohol and drug use. As the leader of your team, you can help them survive and thrive right now by offering them resources to deal with their own depression, anxiety, and stress. We recommend checking out the resources available from the Construction Industry Association for Suicide Prevention.

Put Your New Positive Outlook to Work

When we are mentally healthy and thinking positively, we are able to process new information and make smarter decisions. Our ability to plan and strategize increases. All of these skills are critical to your ability to keep your business going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exercise your mental outlook every day, and just like a muscle it will gain memory and grow stronger. You will arrive at the end of this long, strange, stressful journey with a toolbox of stress-busting techniques and a powerhouse of positivity to face the future.

More on COVID-19 and Construction

We created a COVID-19 and Construction page on our site that curates the best construction-related resources and information from across the internet. We add to the page often (this blog just became part of it), so bookmark it and check back often!

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