There’s a mental health crisis among entrepreneurs. And, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Being an entrepreneur is stressful, full of uncertainty, unhealthy comparisons, and social isolation. It’s gotten so bad that research conducted by Michael A. Freeman has found that start-up founders are:
- Twice as likely to suffer from depression.
- Six times more likely to suffer from ADHD.
- Three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse.
- Ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder.
- Twice as likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization.
- Twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.
These are concerning stats for all businesses. It’s time that we begin to remove the stigma around mental health so that we can address the struggles that entrepreneurs are facing. But, until we reach that point, here are twelve ways that founders can begin improving their mental health.
1. Boost your resilience or walk away.
The level of stress and the weight of uncertainty and anxiety are nearly unbearable to many entrepreneurs and founders. It’s always the company’s responsibility to hire talented individuals who fit within the company culture. It’s challenging to work with all levels in your company, but you’ll have to let an employee go if they don’t work out — this is a business fact. The fact is also a deep stressor. A CEO and founder has to stay on top of market shifts. You have to identify the trends in your space — and keep track of what the competitors are up to.
Not enough? There are also late nights, putting out fires, traveling, and constantly worrying about failure. Each entrepreneur has to walk a different path. Today, that path has to include taking care of mental health. An entrepreneur has to look inside and see that not everyone is cut out for being a founder. Not everyone can live through the pressure or face what the stress and tension begin to make out of you.
You’ve got to know that it’s okay to walk away if you need to walk away. Allow yourself that thought, and you’ll handle the “now” better. Watch for ways to boost your resilience and reduce pressure.
2. Remember your “why.”
Whenever you feel overwhelmed or don’t want to get out of bed, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and remember your “why.” Obviously, this is different for everyone. But, usually, it’s by answering a simple question, “Why did you get out of bed this morning?” You can also ask, “Why does your company exist,” and “Why should anyone care?” when you’re really in a bad place.
When you remember you “why,” it injects passion back into your life. It also pushes you to be your best and put things in perspective. And, it helps you keep your eyes on the prize whenever there’s a setback.
3. Limit social media use.
Don’t think that I’m hating on social media. It’s actually a great way to network, engage with your audience, and market ourselves and companies. But, it can also be distracting and can negatively affect your mental health. You likely can’t go completely off the grid, but there is a compromise here. And, that’s to limit the amount of time you spend on social media.
Personally, I check all of my notifications right before work, after I’ve eaten lunch, and before I leave the office for the day. If you’re crunched for time, you can check social during your commute on when you’re sitting in a waiting room. The idea is to block out specific times throughout the day so that you’re not continually getting sucked into social media.
You could also use tools like Buffer or Hootsuite to manage your accounts and schedule content in advance. Or, if you want to take a step back, you can delegate your social media responsibilities to someone you trust.
If self-discipline is a concern, I suggest deleting the apps from your phone. Not only will this prevent notifications from interrupting you, but you’ll also be able to check your accounts by logging in. That extra step may ease the temptation.
4. Focus on what you have.
Early on in my career, I fell into this trap. I would see other entrepreneurs, friends, or family posting social media updates from their travels all over the world. They would talk about the new house or car they just purchased. And, they would boast about how their business was crushing it.
Sometimes they were putting on a facade or trying too hard to impress others. But, as someone who was struggling to get their business up and running at the time — it stung. Even worse? It made me feel pretty crummy about myself.
It’s taken time and self-discipline, but I no longer worry about what I don’t have. Instead, I focus on what I do have. The easiest way to focus on what you have is to be more grateful. Start by writing a list of the awesome things in your life or keep a gratitude journal and write down the people and pleasant surprises you’ve experienced.
While you can make a gratitude list daily, research has found that those who do this at least weekly are happier and more optimistic about the upcoming week.
5. Ramp up your self-care routine.
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health,” writes Raphailia Michael, MA. “Although it’s a simple concept, in theory, it’s something we very often overlook.” And, that needs to change. Self-care can improve your mood, reduce anxiety, and manage stress.
But, as a busy entrepreneur, how can you possibly have time for self-care? Well, start with the basics. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Take breaks throughout the day and use that time to meditate, journal, or go for a walk outside.
During downtime, like after work and the weekends, spend time with loved ones. You can volunteer (nothing helps me more than volunteering) read, pick-up a new hobby, clean your house, play with your kids, go out with friends, or learn something new. Find ways to laugh daily.
6. Strike a pose.
Did you know that you could reduce anxiety, boost your confidence, and help you better deal with stress in just two minutes? That may sound too good to be true, and maybe it is — but perhaps it works somehow through body language.
Body language can increase testosterone, which makes you feel more confident. It can also lower the stress hormone cortisol. But, that’s only possible if you position yourself into “high power” poses, which are relaxed and open.
Some have said that striking a pose doesn’t really work — but stand in front of the mirror and laugh. Pose for a friend and tell them you are boosting your confidence, and you’ll both laugh. Strike a ridiculous pose — for sure, this will reduce anxiety.
7. Create a worrying time.
For some, this may seem counterintuitive. However, as Kim Pratt, LCSW, explains, “employing this cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) tool can help you develop control over the frequency and timing of your worry.” Also, when designating specific times to worry, your mind will be free to focus on the present.
If you want to give this exercise a try, here’s how you can get started:
- Set aside 15-30 minutes per day. Ideally, this should be in the morning or afternoon and not before bed.
- Jot down all of your worries during these sessions.
- If you begin to worry at other times, let them go.
- At the end of the week, look at what you have written so that you can spot patterns.
- Repeat this until you feel that you have more control over your thoughts.
“Compartmentalization is not about being in denial,” says Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.
Instead, “it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life.” In other words, your problems won’s disappear if you ignore them, “but obsessing on them won’t help either.”
For example, when my first business failed, I went to Disneyland. It was a good distraction from how I was feeling. And, when I returned, I was refreshed and ready to start my next venture.
Another useful tactic would be to speak in the third-person. Researchers from Michigan State University have found that speaking in third-person is helpful because it distances yourself from painful situations that happened in the past.
9. Put a stop to catastrophizing.
Catastrophizing is irrational thinking, also known as “cognitive distortion,” where you believe something is worse than it is. I don’t actually “believe” something is worse — I like to recreationally gripe about stuff. But I’ve noticed that my fun in spinning a horrible situational story can start others looking poorly at issues — and sometimes my viewpoint can become jaded, too.
You may have lost a client or had a weak financial quarter. You then tell yourself that because of these obstacles — both you and your business are failures. Stop it. We all experience bad days. But, instead of going down the rabbit hole, remind yourself that just because today sucked doesn’t mean that every day will be the same.
Other techniques you can try would be to recognize when thoughts are valid and irrational, repeating positive affirmations, and practicing self-care. I’ve also found it helpful to tell my mind to “stop.” When I’m particularly anxious, I may even put my hand up and make a stop sign.
10. Avoid wearing all-grey clothing to work.
Grey is associated with passivity and a lack of energy. It’s also usually worn by people who want to remain neutral or invisible. Sometimes that’s not a bad idea. But, because colors can influence everything from your mood to decision-making, it wouldn’t hurt to add some color to your wardrobe.
Take red, for instance. It’s the color of power, and it can make you appear more attractive to others. Blue is calming and exudes trustworthiness. Green is connected to positive emotional health. And, colors like orange and yellow are warm and can lift spirits.
11. Be productive, not busy.
As entrepreneurs, we idealize those founders who put in 60-80 hours per week. Having a strong work ethic is critical if you want to succeed. But, you can only work for so long before getting burned out. Besides, no matter how amazing you are — your brain still needs time away from work to rest and recharge.
One way to reduce the amount of time you spend working is to be more productive instead of just being busy. You can do this by:
- Identifying what’s essential and necessary. These are your priorities, and everything else can wait.
- Optimizing your organization by only listing three items on your to-do-list and using systems like “mise en place.”
- Minimizing distractions.
- Not sweating the small stuff.
- Only saying yes to time requests that bring you closer to your goals or that you’re excited about.
- Weighing the pros and cons before jumping on the latest trend.
12. Seek help.
“While many entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of seeking help through an employer, they do have many other options they can use should they suffer from depression,” notes John Boitnott. Exercising, eating eat, taking breaks, and practicing gratitude are all ways to help. But, they also need a reliable support system.
“Due to the nature of the entrepreneurial journey, there is additional job isolation, and long work hours are all too common,” adds Boitnott. “Surrounding yourself with like-minded people, who stay in your corner through your ups and downs — is extremely important.” Also, this can help make you realize that you’re not alone, “even if your depression wants you to believe you are.”
And please, if you’re struggling — please speak with a mental health professional or join a support group. If it’s an emergency, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) and The National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline (800- 950-NAMI).
“Most importantly, as an entrepreneur, don’t neglect your feelings and thoughts,” says Boitnott. “The sooner you search for a diagnosis — or at the very least, seek help — the better your chances of fighting and winning.”