There are many reasons why people choose the path of entrepreneurship. For some, it’s the freedom to create your own routine. For others, it’s the ability to work on projects you really believe in. Another is being in control of your own professional and personal development.
But on the other side of entrepreneurship are long hours, unpredictable workflows, and a sink-or-swim attitude that can make running a business one of the most stressful experiences of your life.
Know that you’re not alone if you’ve battled feelings of worry, stress, or anxiety on your entrepreneurial journey. It’s normal and healthy to have these emotions when you care deeply about something or you have a fear of losing it. Sometimes these feelings can drive an entrepreneur to success – but not if they are sustained and unrelenting.
As entrepreneurs and business owners, how do we manage our mental health effectively and lead the growth of a business at the same time?
The key is gaining mental health awareness and developing a plan to overcome these obstacles if they appear.
Common Causes of Mental Health Issues For Entrepreneurs
There are a number of factors that can impact your mental health as the founder of a business.
Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you have an established team in place, it’s likely you need to put in very long hours to keep your business on the right path. Too many long days and not enough time away from work can take its toll.
Becoming your own boss means stepping away from regular employment, and often going at it alone. Being responsible for every decision is a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
Lack of structure
On top of potentially being the only person in your company, you may find yourself without the day-to-day structure of an office and the camaraderie of co-workers.
Many people dream of being an entrepreneur but not everyone takes that leap. If you’re one of the few who did, there’s a certain pressure to make it look like you’re living the dream, that everything’s going great all the time even when it really isn’t.
You can be funding your business yourself, you could have received grants, you could rack up loans. How the numbers add up is one of the top concerns for any entrepreneur, which is why worrying about how your business stays afloat can be a significant stressor.
As a founder and business owner, so much of who you are is linked to what your business is. So if your business doesn’t do well, not only can you feel the effects professionally, you also feel it personally.
No one starts a business only to think it’ll fail at the very beginning. Realistically speaking, not all entrepreneurial ventures will be successful. While what it means to be a successful CEO is a whole other topic, in this instance, when a business fails, it can seem like the end of the world as you know it.
With many events and sessions for entrepreneurs often providing free drinks, when and how does indulging in social drinking become too indulgent?
Lack of discussion
There’s plenty that can be done to promote mental health awareness, but unfortunately, there aren’t actually enough opportunities in the entrepreneurial community to create a dialogue for discussion.
And with social norms such as “putting on a brave face” very prevalent, we don’t seem to be at the stage where an entrepreneur’s mental health can be discussed as freely as it should.
Ambitious, creative, eccentric, and solitary are some of the most common words you can use to describe a stereotypical entrepreneur. However, you can also connect these words to some elements of mental health conditions that could manifest as anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental issues.
The Entrepreneurial Mind and Mental Health Awareness
Dr. Michael Freeman is a psychiatrist who specialises in working with mental health issues and illness in business and entrepreneurship. Out of the 242 business owners who took part in his research, 49% reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions. The study also showed that 30% of entrepreneurs were more likely to report a lifetime of depression, 29% with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, 12% with bipolar spectrum disorder, and 11% with substance abuse.
Dr. Freeman’s results alone should make us realise that a remedial approach towards our mental health is outdated. An entrepreneur who’s climbed so high just means you have further to fall. And that means you can no longer afford to just be reactionary.
Remember that you are the key asset. You have the power to increase your mental health awareness. You have the authority to engage strategies to help improve your mental health and meet the challenges of running your business and leading a team to success.
This then leads us to the question… how do you optimise your mental wellbeing?
Prioritising Your Mental Health
Knowing the reasons for your stress and anxiety is just the first step. The real challenge is learning how to manage them.
It’s important to have a heightened sense of mental health awareness, specifically when your mental wellbeing is being compromised. If it is, here are a few actions you can take to help prevent a negative impact.
1. Talk about your feelings
Join professional networking sessions, chat with your co-workers, attend a gathering. It can be helpful to have other people around you who understand the demands of running your own business and can help you gain better insight on how to deal with your emotions.
2. Keep active
Your mental health can also be connected to your physical health. Exercising causes a reaction in your body that releases endorphins, hormones that make you feel more positive and energised. Physical activity is thought to help mild anxiety and stress.
3. Eat well
Eat well and eat healthily. We’re not advising anyone to make an extreme change to their diet, but rather choose healthier options. What you put into your body can affect your energy and mood.
4. Take a break
Whether it’s having a full hour for your lunch, taking a mental health day, or going on a holiday, make taking a break from work non-negotiable.
Running your own business can be all-consuming and can be difficult to separate yourself from it. This is one of the things The Entourage Founder and CEO Jack Delosa talks about in his book, The 8-Figure Blueprint, which helps entrepreneurs optimise their business so it can continue operating even if they’re not around.
Taking time off can be difficult, especially if you work by yourself or run a tight operation. But whether you’re physically ill or not in your best mental state, be sure to take the time to allow yourself to get better. So when you do get back, you’ll feel like your best self.
5. Drink sensibly
Networking drinks can be tempting, but be aware of your limits and your mental wellbeing. Alcohol use can cause or worsen symptoms of mental health issues.
6. Keep in touch
Running your own business can be all-consuming, but don’t let this get in between your relationships. Be sure to prioritise having dinner at home and talking to your family about things other than work. You can also catch up with friends, even if it’s just a short phone call or a quick brunch over the weekend.
7. Do something you’re good at
Find something you’re good at that has nothing to do with running a business. Find meaning and self-worth in something other than being an entrepreneur.
8. Accept who you are
There’s a difference between who you are and what your business is. Identify where that distinction lies and accept that you can’t be everything and you can’t do everything. Redefine success and failure.
If you’re defining success solely by revenue and short-term growth, you’re only setting yourself up for frustration, disappointment, and anxiety. But if you focus on self-awareness, personal growth, learning, impact, and experience, you’re always successful even in the face of failure.
9. Ask for help
Improving your mental health awareness is a way of helping yourself. However, there are issues that may need specialised knowledge. If you feel like you’re not coping well, seek a professional for expert advice.
10. Care for others
In terms of our mental health, success comes in giving.
Turn your focus outward, without your own agenda, to help someone else in need as this can return benefits for your own mental wellbeing.
At The End of The Day
No amount of “traditional” success is worth it if you’re miserable. Prioritising your mental health is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your business. Try to identify your stressors and what strategies can help you get closer to the happiness and fulfillment you deserve.
If you need some help figuring out what it is that lights you up inside and that will fulfill you, check out our podcast episode with Australia's leading fitness expert and entrepreneur Michelle Bridges on how anyone can live a life of purpose and passion here.
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