There’s this saying about sports, that they are 90% physical and 10% mental. The same can be said about being an entrepreneur. Today, I’m going to talk about mental health for entrepreneurs.
Over the years, a good fraction of what we do here at Macaulay Gidado has always entailed identifying our clients’ needs, having them walk us through their struggles, and listening to their tales of perseverance. And I can, with absolute certainty, say that entrepreneurs struggle on two fronts.
- On one front resides the day-to-day activities of running a successful business.
- On the other resides the mental turmoil facing the person behind the business.
Entrepreneurs are often perceived to be resilient, self-sufficient, invincible, and sometimes fearless in the face of risks and competition. But what if I told you it’s all a lie? That just like everyone else, entrepreneurs are humans, vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
In fact, according to a 2015 study by the University of California, nearly 50% of people that start a business say they have battled with one mental illness or another, while 33% say they suffer a lifetime illness.
The big question is: why isn’t mental health for entrepreneurs getting as much attention as the physical hurdles involved in doing business? It doesn’t make any sense, given that a CEO with poor mental health can break a company quicker than an operational snag.
Think about it. Everything begins with an idea. Before any part of your business can be made physical, it must first be conceived in your mind. And if your mind isn’t healthy, how can you trust your ideas and business decisions?
Why entrepreneurs are vulnerable to mental health issues
The doubts. The stress. The anxiety. The pressure that accompanies competition and maintaining a desired public image. The dread of failure. All these sum up to make the life of an entrepreneur a living hell.
Let’s look at these factors one after the other.
Stress or failure to manage stress
Life is stressful. The life of an entrepreneur is no different. In fact, being an entrepreneur means you push yourself harder than everyone else, your partners, your employees…
The typical mentality is: my business is my life’s work, and I will do whatever it takes to keep it afloat. So we drown ourselves in caffeine, tell sleep to go to hell, and heavy-lift our way through work as if we are Superman. But then we forget that even Superman needs the sun to recharge his Kryptonian cells, and we need a break to recuperate.
Eventually, stress sets in. It’s every entrepreneur’s kryptonite. It subdues your mood and overall wellbeing, hampers your concentration, alertness and performance, and makes getting through your daily work activities a Herculean task.
Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty
The life of every entrepreneur is riddled with so much uncertainty. Doing business is all about envisioning the future, working towards that future, and trusting that there’s a place for your brand in it.
Unfortunately, from the moment you conceive that business idea, uncertainty follows you, a myriad of “what ifs” poking holes in your confidence and efforts. Eventually, anxiety sets in as it dawns on you that very little is under your control. And if that anxiety isn’t treated, you risk it breaking you and your entire business.
Isolation from the rest of society
The early stages of building a company are often lonely. This is when an entrepreneur is trying to build their original idea into something they can pitch to potential partners and investors.
At this point, no money is coming in, the stakes are pretty high, and the pressure from unsupportive friends and family asking the entrepreneur to get a real job compounds everything. This eventually pushes the entrepreneur off the precipice and into isolation, frustration, shame, and then depression.
When an entrepreneur is depressed, how can they find the enthusiasm to successfully build a business?
Marriage to your work
This is a trait popular among entrepreneurs. Often we lose ourselves in our business so much that everything else, everyone else, becomes a passing blur. We forget that there is a balance to everything.
That balance is there to keep us sane. As an entrepreneur, you need support from family and your friends. You need to be aware of your own needs outside of work. You need a break sometimes…
There’s this saying: “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” A boring or bored entrepreneur is never good for business. The negative energy will most likely influence everything you do so much that even your business ideas and decisions become dull too.
Then anxiety sets in, and you find yourself going through an emotional roller coaster.
Neglecting your mental health
Optimum mental health is a key requirement for entrepreneurial success. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are unaware of this. Or maybe they are aware but just don’t care. It’s one of those things we take for granted. We often fail to factor mental health therapy into our budget until it’s too late.
Predisposition to Mental Illness
Let’s face it. Some of us are more predisposed to mental illness than others. Of course, this is dependent on a number of factors like your lifestyle, past experiences, and family.
- Your lifestyle: Do you drink a lot? Do you smoke? What type of friends do you keep? Where do you stay? Do you keep late nights? Do you party a lot? Are you abusing any substance?
- Your past experiences: Have you ever suffered abuse in the past? Were you ever an addict? Have you ever attempted suicide before? Have you experienced any trauma in the past?
- Your family: Is there a history of mental illness in your family? Is your family supportive of what you do? Are your responsibilities in your family weighing your down?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you might be at a high risk of suffering from one mental illness or another as an entrepreneur.
Branding is all about managing public perception. So it’s not surprising that entrepreneurs would be so absorbed in showing everyone that they have it all together, if only that makes them appear competent before stakeholders.
Unfortunately, in reality, we are all actually losing our minds every day on how we can keep our business afloat and maintain growth.
This disconnect between reality and the false perception we parade ends up subduing our courage to get help, while encouraging shame, insecurity, and even identity confusion. The result is depression.
How to maintain optimal mental health as an entrepreneur
Identify your triggers
What triggers your depression? What triggers your anxiety? Do you know what stresses you out? Are you not getting enough sleep? Could the painkillers and caffeine be worsening your situation? Are you eating well?
To properly manage your mental health, you need to first identify what triggers your mental issues, and then take positive steps toward transcending them, getting rid of them, or avoiding them.
Get help. You need it
It’s okay to admit that you are stressed. It’s also okay to talk to someone about your depression. Help can come in many forms. Professional help, for one, is the right place to start. Call up a helpline. Go see a therapist. Talk to a trusted friend or relation. You might find that simply talking about your problems alleviates what you are going through. Alternatively, if your mental health is being strained by overworking, it’s perhaps time to hire an assistant or outsource some tasks.
Make out time for yourself
A wise man—I believe it’s the British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee—once said, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”
Dedication and hard work are splendid. But then, too much of everything, they say, is bad. Try and make out time for yourself. Once in a while, take a break from work and do something that makes you happy. Trust me, this will immensely help you deal with anxiety. And after the break, you will feel refreshed and energized to tackle work head-on.
Structure, prioritize, schedule
Sanity is all about order. And you can certainly promote a healthy state of mind by establishing an order in the way you approach your work as an entrepreneur. Break your tasks into manageable chunks, create a priority checklist, schedule each mini task for execution, and work your way down the list at a reasonable pace. You will find that you would be less likely to overexert yourself that way.
Follow healthy workout and dietary regimes
Regular exercise can have an immensely positive effect on anxiety, ADHD, depression, and many other mental health issues. In fact, it relieves stress, helps you sleep better, enhances your memory, and boosts your overall mood.
A healthy dietary regime can also be a positive impact on your mental health. Just as certain food can improve your overall health, so can they boost your mental health. According to Mental Health America, people on diets high in whole foods like vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, fish, legumes, and unsaturated fats are 35% less liable to depression than those that consume less of the above mentioned foods.
By any means if you are uncertain of what to include in your diet, you might want to find yourself a nutritionist.
Network, socialize, and join a support group
There’s this old saying: “No man is an island.”
We are social beings. To retain our sanity, we need to associate with people. While isolation has its benefits, too much of it can break us. Go out there and meet like minds. Maintain or join a support community, where you share your goals, struggles, and tales of perseverance. Trust me, just knowing that there are people out there going through similar things as you can boost your morale.
Take a break from it all
Sometimes, we find sanity is being alone. We want to shut out the noise and enjoy a little peace and quiet. Taking a step back from socializing, from social media, and from people can also be helpful to maintaining a healthy mental stay. But be careful not to over do it. Find a balance between socializing and enjoying a simple ‘me’ time.
Being an entrepreneur means you are more often than not under stress and pressure. This translates to a higher liability to compromised mental health. But that doesn’t mean you have to let mental health issues break you and your business. My hope is that you will learn from the warning signs and helpful tips I have detailed above on your way to overcoming whatever mental health issues you may encounter as an entrepreneur.