How to take care of your mental health as an entrepreneur

April 3, 2020
5 minutes read

We’ll start by saying this: you are not alone. Nearly 20% of American adults experience mental illness. And 32% of entrepreneurs struggle with two or more mental health conditions. Dealing with mental illness can hurt your productivity — and you don’t want your business to suffer because of it.

In fact, 13% of startups fail because founders have lost focus, 9% fail due to lost passion, and 8% fail because of burnout. But you don’t have to become one of these statistics, especially during trying times. Below, we have 9 mental health tips for entrepreneurs to keep in mind during their isolation.

Find a supportive community

Entrepreneurism can be lonely, especially if you’re a solo-preneur. According to research, solopreneurs and folks working on small teams are more stressed, have more work, experience poor health, consume more sedatives, and say they are lonely more than those on larger teams.

That’s why it’s important to plug into a community (or a few!) to get that support network you need. “A sense of connectedness is essential for psychological well-being,” according to research, and the perception of loneliness indicates “an individual’s subjective perception of deficiencies in his or her social relationships.” Human beings are social creatures, and even introverts need the occasional person-to-person contact.

So, how do you find a community when people all over the world are being told to stay at home? Online!

Luckily, many entrepreneurs are in the same boat — and that means many are turning to existing communities as well as new ones that have popped up in response to the pandemic.

Impact Founder, for example, is an independent social impact media company. They’ve created a community where people can read real stories from their peers to help them feel connected to one another. And our very own Wave Community is a forum where entrepreneurs all over the world can ask questions, respond to posts, and connect with like-minded business owners.

If there are no communities out there that feel like the right fit, start your own! With Facebook, Slack, and tons of other ways to create and engage with groups, all you need is a few minutes and a couple of connections to kickstart your own hive mind.

Get active and outside

There’s tons of data to support physical activity and time spent outdoors. “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression,” according to one study. And sunshine increases vitamin D levels, which in turn wards off feelings of depression.

If you can, get in touch with nature at a local park. Studies show that walks among the trees have more mental benefits than a walk in your neighborhood.

Nowhere to go? Give gardening a try. It’s proven to have a slew of mental and physical health benefits, including “reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, stress, mood disturbance, and BMI, as well as increases in quality of life, sense of community, physical activity levels, and cognitive function.” Indoor plants can improve happiness too.

If you live in a place where you can’t garden and you can’t get outside, make the most of your indoor area with at-home workouts and physical activity. Many gyms are offering virtual classes to members to replace gym visits. There are also virtual programs. Beachbody Fitness, for example, has a two-week free trial. Do Yoga With Me has both free and paid yoga videos to browse on their site. You could even team up with some friends for group workouts over video chat. Whatever your workout of choice, there’s likely a video for it.

If the idea of working out makes you ache, try dancing. Turn on some music and bust your own moves, or try a dance-inspired fitness program like Zumba. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that dance improves memory.

Please keep in mind that you should be keeping a safe physical distance from others when outside (at least 6 feet) and must follow your local government protocols on leaving your household.

Exercise your brain

While it might feel like you’re hustling harder to keep things moving during this time, it’s still important to take a break from work and exercise your brain.

Reading, for example, has tons of mental benefits. In fact, researchers at Stanford examined those who read Jane Austen compared to those who didn’t read at all. They found that the former experience increases blood flow to the areas of the brain associated with focusing on tasks. Vocabulary games are also a great way to exercise your mind.

Not into words? Jigsaw puzzles improve perception, constructional praxis, mental rotation, speed, flexibility, working memory, reasoning, and episodic memory. Playing card games has a similar effect (find a partner online if you’re living solo), learning a new skill improves memory, and listening to music inspires creativity.

Eat a healthy diet

What you eat has an effect both mentally and physically. While it might be tempting to order delivery and munch mindlessly on snacks all day, it’s important to be conscious of what you eat and how it affects your mental health.

A healthy diet can help prevent depression and cognitive impairment. According to researchers at Harvard, “eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.”

So, what are those foods? Here’s a short list:

  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Salmon
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Legumes, like beans and lentils
  • Seeds
  • Fermented foods

Avoid sugars and flours if you can!

Remember self-care

We can’t go to the spa, get acupuncture, or partake in many of our typical self-care routines. But self-care is more important now than ever. And busy entrepreneurs need to remind themselves to take time out of their busy schedules and put their mental health first.

Self-care takes many forms, and it’s different for everyone. Self-care for you might involve gardening, making a fancy cup of coffee, drawing, doing your own makeup, a bubble bath, or even just a walk around the neighborhood.

One thing rings true across the board: make time for self-care every day.

Explore therapy

While therapy may have been taboo in the past, it’s now embraced as a key component to mental wellness for everyone. According to one survey, nearly half of Americans have sought out therapy in the past year. And most find it effective. Many therapists have transitioned to video chat or telephonic counseling to avoid person-to-person contact during this time.

I know when I started seeing my therapist, it made me feel less alone both in my professional entrepreneurial journey and in my personal life. I talk to her bi-weekly, and she helps me organize my thoughts, feel understood, and make a plan to address any challenges I’m facing.

To find a counselor, ask your network for recommendations, use your insurance company’s provider search, and do a good old-fashioned Google search. You can often do a free phone consultation to make sure it’s a good fit — you want to find the right therapist for you. Not everyone is going to be right for you.

Separate work from home

When you’re working from home, it’s hard to separate work life from home life — especially if you’re new to working from home. It’s important to find ways to separate the two, no matter how impossible that may seem. Many studies have proven that context influences our behavior, and environments spark mental cues for habits and emotions associated with that space.

If you have space you can use as a dedicated office, do all your work there. When it’s time to sign off, leave the room and shut the door. It’ll be easier to leave work behind if you’re in a different physical space.

Log out of your work email on your phone, turn off notifications, and resist the urge to work from your phone while sitting on the couch or in bed. Even though most are stuck at home, that doesn’t mean you need to be on 24/7 — that’s the quickest way to burnout. If you have lots of customer questions, consider setting up a FAQ page on your site. 70% of customers prefer to self-serve when they have a simple question about your business anyway.

Create a schedule for yourself and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be the same as your pre-pandemic schedule. These are unique times, so you can make a unique schedule as you see fit. More importantly, communicate that schedule — to everyone: customers, family, roommates, vendors, friends, etc.

Try meditation

It might sound a little woo to some of you, but meditation has tons of mental health benefits. In particular, it can help reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. According to studies cited by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:

  • People who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain — a process called gyrification. Researchers believe this increases the brain’s ability to process information.
  • Meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.
  • Meditation can affect activity in the amygdala, and different types of meditation can affect the amygdala differently even when the person is not meditating.
  • Some studies suggest that meditation activates certain areas of the brain in response to pain.

If you’re new to this practice, sitting in silence might sound unappealing and even impossible. Start with short, guided meditations to give you something to focus on. You can search YouTube or use an app like Calm. Remember that it’s normal for your mind to wander.

Personally, I like to meditate in bed just before going to sleep. But you can do it any time of day, as many times as you want, for as long as you want. Meditation is like any other skill or hobby — you need to practice to get good at it.

Just relax

You might be reading a lot of mental health and business advice telling you what you should be doing. But the truth is, you need to do what’s best for you. If you’re most productive and happy working in your sweatpants from bed all day, by all means, do it! Hopefully the advice above has given you a good starting point to getting your mental health in check so you can focus on your business.

Remember, we’re all in this together! What mental health tips are helping you the most during this time? Let us know on Twitter!

By Alexandra Sheehan

The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.

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