Lennard Taylor gets routine flashbacks of dark clouds hovering over his head.
Faced with the uncertainty of keeping his business running during COVID-19, the Winnipeg designer fell into a deep depression for weeks.
"I thought everything — my whole work of 14 years, all that I'd put in it — was all over, just like that," Taylor said Wednesday. "It took everything in me to pull myself out."
A certain amount of stress comes with the territory of running an independent enterprise. But several local business owners say the uncertainty of making ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on their mental health.
Recent figures from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business suggest 46 per cent of owners across the country are worried about the overwhelming stress of running their companies.
That's why the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce focused its annual small business forum Wednesday entirely on mental health and wellness, inviting leading experts to deliver live webinars to entrepreneurs in the city.
"I thought everything ‐ my whole work of 14 years, all that I'd put in it ‐ was all over, just like that. It took everything in me to pull myself out." — Lennard Taylor, Winnipeg designer
"The one thing I want everyone to know is that you're not alone," keynote speaker Dr. Bill Howatt told dozens of virtual attendees. "And the reason why I'm here today is because I personally experience several mental-health challenges every single day myself."
Howatt, who runs a top human resource consulting practice in Ottawa, is widely recognized for his expertise in providing strategies to manage the direct impact of mental health issues in the workplace.
His address Wednesday provided advice on coping mechanisms to ensure that independent business managers are not "falling prey to deep, regrettable burnout."
His tips include making mental health an open topic among co-workers and employees, asking and actively seeking help "whenever needed, instead of when necessary" and making daily "micro-decisions" (such as going for a run instead of staying indoors after work).
He also talked about the pitfalls of "workaholism."
"It's easy to start measuring your personal worth with the amount of work you put in," he said.
"I certainly don't want you to believe that workaholism is the answer to solving these issues, because it's not — it's about taking the time to know that you're a human and that it's OK to struggle."
Chamber president and CEO Loren Remillard said one of Wednesday's attendees called afterward to thank him.
"They said thank you, not just for providing this information," he said, "but for doing our part to remove this stigma around such concerns that, really, we all face."
Remillard said it has become clear how traumatic life has become for business owners during the pandemic.
Wolseley Wool owner Mona Zaharia, who runs a yarn shop in Winnipeg with her son Josh and business partner Odessa Reichel, has had a tough few months.
"It all took a big mental toll on us because we hadn't ever faced anything like this before," she said, recalling several weeks of anxiety before moving their shop online to continue operations.
"Having my son to boost morale for our employees and the community of our customers calling us day in and day out to check in on us, really just saved us in the end."
Amanda Deroy Sheriff, who runs the Beauty Box by Sheriff on Ellice Avenue with her sisters and mother, said she worries the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg and new restrictions might mean "a second wave of mental-health issues that are still unresolved from the first time around."
"Honestly, the only thing that's been saving us has been our faith," she said. "It's the idea that no matter what, we will make it through this — that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
"Because even in our worries and our fragile mental state, we're not alone."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.