Frances “Biba” Lee, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Houston who understands both the rewards and challenges of owning your own business. After receiving her master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston, Lee worked in psychiatric hospitals in both inpatient and outpatient settings before transitioning to her own private practice 20 years ago.

She never imagined doing anything else.

“What I love about this business is that I have this incredible opportunity to be on these journeys with people and watch recovery and self-discovery,” Lee says. “It's an incredible experience and a gift that I can't even imagine not being able to have. I love being a part of people's experiences.”

But it’s not without its difficulties. As the owner of her own therapy practice, Lee has to be her own scheduler, accountant, and bookkeeper, as she processes her clients’ payments herself.

Inconsistent income is her biggest challenge.

“You might have a really good month and then you'll have a slow month, just naturally,” Lee says. “Or you may have something like a hurricane, a natural disaster, or currently, a virus, something like that that's unexpected that affects your income.”

As the coronavirus pandemic upends all sense of normalcy across the country and the world, shuttering many businesses while leaving others to struggle to make ends meet, we wondered, how can entrepreneurs cope emotionally? Lee shared her tips with Hello Alice about how small business owners can stay mostly sane during this stressful time of unexpected and unprecedented change.

Don’t panic.

“When we're in crisis mode, we usually don't think very clearly,” Lee says. “We have a hard time concentrating, we have a hard time remembering, we have a hard time hearing things properly. And we also tend to have a hard time sleeping, a hard time relaxing, a hard time eating properly.

“Our whole system is out of whack, and we're not operating at our best. It's very easy then to tip into panic mode, because our body is primed and ready. It's really easy to panic as you see business decline and bills stay the same. And when we panic, we don't make good decisions.

“As hard as it is, remain calm. You have to work with the here and now, what you know this week to work — rather than getting too far ahead and projecting into, when will all of this end? When can I resume back to business? Will my business stay afloat? Will I ever be able to have the same kind of business I had before?

“Those kinds of thoughts clog up your ability to make good decisions. My recommendation would be to stay in the here and now and work with what you know today. Ask yourself: Am I doing okay today? Is there a threat right here and right now? Is my business still afloat right at this minute? Am I doing okay this week?

“If we're not too focused on the panic, it clears up our thinking, so that we can actually manage what we need to do. We might be able to then say, I really do need to come up with a game plan of how I can stay afloat for the rest of this week, or the rest of this month.”

Be flexible and resourceful.

“Be willing to try something out and see how it works, and be flexible enough to know if it’s working or not. Don’t get caught up in the idea of, I have to make the perfect decision while moving into an arena that I don't know anything about. If you give yourself permission to be flexible and experiment, that helps. Look at what resources might be applicable to you, to help keep you afloat.”

If you have to lay off an employee, don’t beat yourself up about it.

“When you have to lay someone off, you feel responsible for the financial impact on them and their family. If you're a small business owner, you know your employees, you know their families, you know their responsibilities. There's a more personal connection and it's very, very challenging. Be kind to yourself. This is not anybody's fault. Be as compassionate and understanding and as kind to them as you can be. But don't beat yourself up.”

Practice self-compassion.

“One of the tenets of self-compassion is to hook into a common human experience. This is sort of perfect right now because this virus is world-wide. All of us humans are experiencing the same thing right now. This isn't anybody's fault. We're all responding the best that we can.

“If you're a small business owner right now, you have to make some really hard decisions on how to salvage your business, or how to salvage your own livelihood — maybe at the expense of some employees or some customers. Be very kind to yourself and understanding, rather than beating yourself up or pushing yourself to a limit — where you won't be good for yourself or for others.

“If we are kind to ourselves, some of that kind self-talk can be, This is really scary. This is really overwhelming. And I will be able to make it through this. Or, I'm going to hook into my strengths. Or, I'm so overwhelmed right now. I need to take a mental break and take a bath or go take a shower or go for a walk. Or maybe call or FaceTime with a friend and take my mind off my worry.”