2020 has been a bad year for mental health. Around every corner lurks an issue that appears hopeless and it is easy to get caught up in this hopelessness. As the president of Burgers and Bands for Suicide Prevention, this hopelessness worries me and I spend a good portion of each day trying to find ways to give hope back to those around me. Today, as I was on my mental health break taking a quick 20-minute walk between meetings, I started thinking about the tools I use every day to take care of my own mental health and I was surprised by a tool that came to mind, networking.
I have been a fan of networking my whole life, but I have most often thought of it as a tool for creating relationships and building my business. So, I spent the rest of my walk thinking about why it popped into my head. Is it really a mental health tool? Is it something anyone can use as a means of self-care? The short answer is yes.
Used correctly, networking is an incredible way to protect our mental health.
Being a business owner can be lonely. Whether we are solopreneurs or we have employees, most small business owners are assuming the risk for the business’s success or failure without the support of a partner. This can be incredibly lonely. If we network with the idea of building relationships instead of going out to bring in that next new deal, we are protecting our mental health from one of the most pervasive dangers to our mental well being, loneliness.
For the past 4 years, I have been a member of BNI, I have attended events like LinkAnnapolis, Networking In Annapolis and MoCo Connect regularly and have even created a small networking group for women. When I first started networking, my plan was to use it as a way to build my business. Almost immediately, I saw the benefits of making relationships my primary focus. Sure, I get business from these relationships, but more importantly, I have mentors and friends who I can turn to when the world of entrepreneurship seems too lonely.
When a person is struggling with depression or anxiety, coping skills are one of the first suggestions the professionals will make. A coping skill is designed to help you through tough patches. They are often specifically designed to help you stop ruminating on your worries. For example, if like me you take up a hobby like knitting as a coping skill, you will find it difficult to focus on your worries if you are trying to keep up with the pattern you are creating.
As business owners, we may find ourselves worried about 1000 things at once. Networking is a great way to give yourself a break from the constant ruminating. When you walk into a room or join a Zoom networking event, it is very difficult to focus on our own worries. Because we are with others and we have to take the time to greet people, listen to what they have to say, and build real relationships with them, we are able to let go for a few minutes. Sometimes this small break is all our brains need to relax.
In the age of a pandemic, this is even more important. It is so easy to get caught up in work, family, and quarantine and forget that we are not alone in our struggles. Being surrounded by other business owners is a great way to realize that you are part of a bigger picture. You are not alone.
In our post, Networking, A Different Point of View, we suggest looking at networking in a different light. Instead of heading into a networking event with the idea of walking out with a new deal, we suggest heading in with the idea of making introductions that will help other participants.
In a similar vein to using networking as a coping mechanism, we believe that using networking as a means to give back is good for your mental health. When you take the time to think about and help others, your body and mind will thank you.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, giving back is good for your health. The benefits of giving back include lowering your blood pressure, increasing self-esteem, lessening your depression, lowering stress levels, living a longer life, and achieving greater happiness and satisfaction.
Whether you join a BNI chapter and attend weekly meetings, attend monthly events like LinkAnnapolis or MoCo Connect, or attend your chamber of commerce events throughout the year, you will find that you become part of a bigger community.
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, being part of a community provides many elements that are critical to mental health including a sense of belonging, support, and purpose. During this time, it is easy to see how much these elements are missing in many of our lives. Belonging to a networking organization is a great step towards normalcy again.
To truly feel like you are a part of a community takes commitment. This is one of the reasons I like BNI. I have to attend meetings weekly. During these meetings, I am creating relationships, building bonds with not just individuals but with an entire group of people, and developing a sense of belonging. It takes time but it is worth the effort.
We do know that networking is not always easy. Many of us have to work up the nerve to step into a networking event. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cheryl Cage of MyCore who is one of the most prolific networkers I know and she reminded me that, “Networking takes practice. It’s a muscle you have to exercise.”
Considering the benefits to not just your business but your mental health, don’t you think it is time you started exercising that muscle?
This content was originally published here.