Seven ways to maintain your mental health while running a business

August 10, 2018
5 minutes read

This article is part of our Complete Guide to Health for Entrepreneurs, which covers topics like work life balance, eating healthy, taking vacation and avoiding burn out.

Being an entrepreneur seems exciting on the surface—pursuing a passion, setting your own schedule and, hopefully, making lots of money. But the responsibility that comes with getting a business up and running can cause immense pressure, and having to project a confident image to investors, customers and your friends and family can take its toll: Entrepreneurs are more likely to experience mental health issues than the general public. We’re hoping that with these seven tips you’ll be able to nurture your mental health, no matter how hectic your days may be.

Understand that you’re not alone

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (about 43.8 million people) experience some form of mental illness in any given year. Here’s another shocking stat: 32 percent of entrepreneurs struggle with two or more mental health conditions.

As more and more people decide to ditch their nine-to-fives and follow their dreams, they’re met with the harsh reality that comes with it— entrepreneurship includes an immense amount of work, commitment and pressure. For the millions of people going through this, organizations like Impact Founder—an independent social impact media company—are trying to help by creating a community where people can read real stories from their peers to help them feel connected to one another. So, if you’ve found yourself worried, anxious, or unable to sleep, one of the most important things for you to realize is that you’re not alone, and support is closer than you think.

Put your mental health above everything else

Running a business is a full-time job—with emphasis on the full-time. Startup environments regularly include scenarios that every mental health expert would tell you to avoid; taking on too much responsibility, neglecting your health, and overworking yourself. To run a successful business, you need to be at your best mentally, physically and emotionally. Mental health issues can have debilitating side effects on your business, not to mention your life: We don’t make good decisions when we’re burnt out or stressed out.

Finding at least a small amount of time for yourself every day is an important part of self-care. It could be as simple as gardening, drawing, reading a good book, taking a hot bath, or going for coffee with a loved one—anything that relaxes you. Remind yourself of all the things you love to spend time doing, and the people you love doing them with and then insist on setting aside time every day to engage in at least one. Not only will this make you happier and relieve some stress, but knowing you have that time to look forward to will also make your days easier to get through.

Learn how to ask for help

This is one of the simplest acts, but one that can require a lot of courage. Letting someone know you’re unable to manage your workload or that you’re struggling emotionally could make you feel weak. As a business owner, the last thing you want your employees (or investors) to know is that you’re feeling overwhelmed, but the longer you try to cover it up and overcompensate, the worse it will end up. As cliché as it sounds, asking for help is one of the strongest things a person can do. Acknowledging your limits and taking the right steps to overcome them is a sign of a strong leader, and will make you a great example to your peers.

With the stigma surrounding mental illness and the effects it has on our society, taking a stand and being open and vocal is necessary, especially in the startup environment when the risk of mental illness is so high. Learn to ask your colleagues for help when you need to offload some of your work, and more importantly, learn to ask friends and family for help when you need to offload some of your feelings.

Avoid unhealthy comparison

Social media would have us believe everyone is living their best lives; travelling, buying property, running successful businesses. The line between reality and perception is becoming increasingly blurred, and when you’re having a bad day, this can make you feel incredibly bad about yourself. Comparison on social media is unavoidable, and psychological research has shown that this kind of comparison leads to a list of mental health concerns. Thinking you’re the only person struggling with your workload or not having reached this [often imaginary] level of success can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and even depression.

Because social media also allows us to network, connect with our peers and customers, and take our businesses to a global level, it’s impossible to disconnect from it altogether. Managing the amount of time you spend on it and the type of things you do while online is crucial to your mental well-being. Keeping email to your work computer, turning off your phone or tablet after a certain time, and taking breaks from social media (aside from business purposes) can be very helpful for both your mental health and your focus and productivity.

So next time you’re wondering how your neighbor is running a business, running a charity, and running marathons, remember that you’re seeing a highlight reel, not the full picture.

Create a support network

Working alone is one of the most commonly cited reasons for stress and anxiety amongst small business owners. Spending your days working at home can be lonely and isolating, and after a while, leaving your house could become increasingly harder to do.

While you may feel isolated, the reality is that there are peers, mentors and other business owners out there who are going through the same frustrations, problems, and challenges that you are. You can connect with like-minded individuals in person at networking events or through online communities as a way of building collaboration and for a positive effect on your day-to-day well-being. Creating a business social life not only removes the burden of feeling guilty every time you’re being social (because you’re technically working simultaneously!), but you can talk about your issues and connect over the similarities you’re all facing, which reduces the stress of facing them alone.

In the same vein, it’s important to maintain your relationships outside of your business as well. Use your friends and family as a support system, and as much as you can lean on them for advice about your work blues when necessary, make sure to spend quality time with them where you don’t talk about your business at all.

Sleep well, eat well, and exercise

This one may seem obvious, but sleep deprivation, poor diet, and lack of exercise are just as bad for your mental health as physical. Though it may be difficult in the fast-paced startup life, committing to these important daily activities can be the deciding factor in whether your business fails or succeeds.

According to Fortune magazine, 13 percent of startups fail because their founders have lost focus, 9 percent fail because they’ve lost their passion, and 8 percent fail due to founder burnout, meaning 30 percent of startups fail due to the emotional state of their founders! As we mentioned earlier, entrepreneurs are more prone to mental illness, and one of the many reasons is that they’re also more prone to neglecting their health. Pushing yourself to your limits can trigger mood vulnerability, making stress and anxiety even harder to manage.

Force yourself to go to sleep by a certain time every night so that you’re getting the right amount of sleep and also getting your body into a healthy habit. Make sure to set aside even 30 minutes of time a day to get in some quick cardio or a short one-hour class at the gym. And don’t neglect your diet! It doesn’t take much effort to take care of yourself, and the benefits are quite literally life-saving.

Don’t be afraid of therapy

If the stress of being an entrepreneur becomes overwhelming, get professional help from your family doctor, counselor, psychologist, or other mental help expert as soon as possible. You’ve hired accountants, lawyers, and other professionals for things you can’t tackle on your own, so what makes this any different? Think of it as the most important investment you could make. Practicing self-care as an entrepreneur is beneficial to your personal well-being and makes good business sense.

Another way to deal with mental health challenges is to find other people going through the same things and connect with them. There is strength in human connection! There are many online communities, like Hacker News or Reddit Entrepreneur, that can be helpful for those struggling with issues specific to being an entrepreneur.

Running a business can take its toll, and feelings of anxiousness, depression or stress are signs that you’re neglecting your mental health. Remember to follow these steps so that you can run a successful business without worrying about letting your happiness or well-being fall by the wayside.

By Vanessa Bruno

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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