The Psychological Impact of Coronavirus Shutdowns on Small Biz Owners

One in four small businesses have shut down temporarily due to COVID-19. Research reports one in 10 say they have less than a month before closing their doors completely.

Small Business Trends spoke with Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H. a Board-Certified Psychiatrist with a Master’s in Public Health. She talked about the psychological impact these shutdowns are having on small business owners. And what they can do about it.

Psychological Impact of Shutdowns

“Small business owners are usually people that created their businesses from a dream they had,” she says. “You put your heart and soul into your small business and it’s not like you can get over it and do something else easily.”

She says part of the psychological problems come from being called non-essential and forced to shut down.

“Others have lost work because we’ve all been told to isolate so there are no customers.”

Some of the initial emotions business owners feel are guilt. They feel like they’ve failed themselves and their family. There is also guilt about the employees that they’ve had to let go.

Another Common Emotion

Lieberman says there’s another common emotion involved.

“They’re also going to feel angry at the authorities who made the rules impacting their businesses,” she says.

These emotions can have consequences that are serious. They include things like taking out their business frustrations on the people around them.

“They might say things they will later regret,” she says. “Then of course there’s even domestic violence and even child physical abuse.”

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There’s another darker side to what can happen when a SMB owner loses the business. Lieberman calls it Covicide. That’s suicide related to the fear and desperation around the virus.

Stages of Grief

So, what can small business owners do who are suffering?

Working through the stages of grief can help get them back up on their feet again.

“Different people can experience different parts of these stages and they can also repeat them,” she says.

Denial is usually the first stage. For small business owners they may have underestimated how long the virus would last and the toll it would take. Anger over losing customers comes next.

Working through the stages can help small business owners get a new perspective. Bargaining comes next followed by depression. Lieberman supplies a clear definition.


“Depression is anger turned inward. Basically, you’ll feel sad about what has happened to your business.”

She also says business owners need to recognize many of them are workaholics. They need to give up all of their free time to make sure their business stays running. If it shuts down temporarily or permanently, they can be left in a void.

Keeping busy helps to corral in negative thoughts and emotions. Small business owners need to remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Confiding in someone like a trusted friend or relative can be a good step towards maintaining mental health.

Lieberman supplies the final word.

“We need to stress the psychology involved because stress weakens our immune system and makes us more vulnerable to the virus.”

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