This article was originally published in The Edge: A Leaders Magazine.
Entrepreneurs are known for pouring themselves into their businesses. Long days, hours spent alone and making tough personal sacrifices are not uncommon for entrepreneurs. They often put their businesses before themselves which negatively affects their mental well-being. Several studies have shown that entrepreneurs experience high rates of stress and mental health issues like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. 72 percent of entrepreneurs have reported mental health concerns compared to 7 percent of the general public. On top of that, every year one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness. These instances cost the economy more than $50 billion. Mental health issues have a huge economic and emotional toll, here are some tips for managing your mental health.
Mental Strength is Good Mental Health
Don’t fall for the “never-not-working” mentality. It shouldn’t be a point of pride, and it does more harm than good. According to Fortune magazine, 30 percent of startups fail due to “founder’s blues.” If a business’s founder loses their passion, focus, or suffers from burnout, the business won’t succeed. The mental and emotional state of an entrepreneur is vital. It’s important to balance your work with eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
Your business might be time-consuming, but it shouldn’t consume your personhood. Avoid thoughts like “I don’t know who I am if not the founder of ____” or equating your value with your business’ success. Both these notions are manifestations of perfectionism which can damage self-esteem, cause anxiety and emotional turmoil.
Be gentle with yourself, and remember, your thoughts should motivate you. Mental exercises like reciting positive affirmations and doctrines like “The Four Agreements” can strengthen your mental resolve.
Repeating these words regularly makes the beliefs easier to internalize and call upon in moments of doubt.
Shift Your Thinking to Regain Focus
Entrepreneurs often have a lot on their minds, both business-related and personal. It can be difficult to focus on your work—or perform at your best—if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Especially if your work is what’s causing you to feel anxious or depressed. Shifting your focus can get you out of a low-mood situation and help establish better mental health practices.
The 23-minute routine is a mindfulness technique meant to be done shortly after waking to ensure a positive start to the day. The routine consists of writing about a positive experience from the previous day, expressing gratitude via text or e-mail, writing about three things from yesterday that went well and why, 5 minutes of cardio, and taking two minutes to breathe. The routine is supposed to calm you, centre you, and turn your focus away from stressors. By recalling what brings you joy you’re forcing your brain to think positively. Thinking deeply about what makes you happy will also make you more likely to pursue those things.
Inserting purposeful breaks into your work schedule can also be beneficial. The Pomodoro method is a popular productivity technique in which users work in 25-minute intervals followed by 5-minute breaks with every third break being 15-30 minutes. Working in short sprints trains your brain to focus quickly and can help improve your concentration and attention span. Also, regular breaks bolster motivation and increase creativity.
Research shows that exercise is effective for treating mild to moderate depression. A 20-minute walk or jog can improve your mood for 12 hours. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that reduce one’s perception of pain and trigger a feeling in the body. Regular exercise has been proven to: increase energy levels, improve sleep, reduce stress, boost self-esteem, and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.
Exercising with people or joining a sports team can be even more beneficial. Social support and interaction are good for our health, particularly if struggling with depression. Making time for friends and hobbies is important too, even if you’re busy.
Entrepreneurs often engage in networking and sales-focused conversations. Neither ideal for genuine connection nor vulnerability. Many entrepreneurs pride themselves on appearing to “have it all together.” This is known as impression management. Impression management contributes to isolation, insecurity and identity confusion.
Surround yourself with people you can truly be yourself around. Use your network to connect with other entrepreneurs and people with non-traditional careers.