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January 2021

MINDing Your Business

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How to stay on top of your mental game in tough times

By Doug McPherson

The pandemic hit Don Rea at the worst possible time. “March is our busiest time of the year,” said Rea, who owns Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona and was recently elected as Secretary of the PGA of America. “We immediately lost three weeks of business and that hurt because we actually lose money in the summer.”

Cathy Harbin, owner of Pine Ridge Golf Course in Paris, Texas, feels Rea’s pain. “Every day for four weeks we didn’t know if we’d get shut down,” Harbin said. “Employees were coming up and asking about their jobs.”

If there’s one thing Rea, Harbin and everyone in the business can be certain of, it’s uncertainty. Yep, par for the course. So many responsibilities and so many worries – then toss in a heavy dose of the unexpected and eventually it can weigh heavy on the mind. 

Some studies suggest entrepreneurs like course owners are twice as likely as the general population to face mental health problems.

Why? Aleya Littleton, a licensed mental health counselor in Colorado who works with small business owners, said in addition to all the uncertainty and responsibilities, being the final decision maker with success riding on your choices can get exhausting.

Harbin agrees. “When the pandemic hit, I felt like I was making a major decision every hour.”
Both Harbin and Rea admit 2020 was a tough test, but they endured with help from others – family, friends, colleagues and customers, too.

“We all felt like we were in the same foxhole together,” Harbin said. “Customers understood how hard we worked to stay open and to make it safe for them and they really appreciated it.”

Rea said he always thinks about people in his day-to-day life, but especially when difficulties hit. “I manage by walking around and talking to the staff and customers, too. It helps me to stay connected to everyone.”

Littleton said while there’s no foolproof way to thrive in hard times, connection and support amid life’s storms is crucial for mental health. “You want people who offer empathy and encouragement, who help you problem solve and normalize your feelings,” Littleton said.

It’s those feelings that need extra attention to stay mentally healthy. To better understand your feelings and how you respond to them and to stress, Littleton suggests developing a stress continuum, a color-coded tool that’s perfect for golf lovers because the goal is to get to the green. In the continuum, green equals healthy – it’s you feeling your best: creative, open, flexible, patient and social (add your own words). Yellow is mild stress where some of those good traits start lagging. Orange often features insomnia, irritability, cloudy thinking and depression. Red is chronic stress where suicidal thoughts can appear.

To stay in the green zone, Littleton said to focus on what you put in your body, which creates the hormones and neurotransmitters that keep you feeling healthy. Avoid sugar and alcohol, exercise, take vitamins and supplements such as Omega-3s, and consider natural sleep aids like magnesium or valerian root near bedtime to unwind.

Other tips:
Spend three minutes at the end of the day to feel your feelings. “Reflect on the day and feel the stress, cry, shake, get mad or feel hopeless. Then tell yourself, ‘I can release my feelings’ – breathe deeply and say, ‘I will release them now.’”

Adopt a mantra to improve your perspective and decision making. State out loud every day, “Everything works out for me!” 

Do a brain dump after work by writing down everything that’s bugging you to free up head space for relaxing and enjoying down time.

Start a daily gratitude practice to boost positive neurochemicals: serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. “It’s basically a free antipsychotic medication,” Littleton said. 

On the topic of gratitude and looking back at 2020, Rea and Harbin both said their appreciation for working in the world of golf grew because of what it offers people.

“We were the only place where some were going outside of their house,” Harbin said.
Rea added, “Golf itself is so good for mental health. We need to celebrate what golf gives us naturally and tell people about that. It’s bigger than making money, it’s about people.”

 

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