5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Prioritize Mental Health

In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, I want to discuss the importance of taking care of yourself as an entrepreneur.

Oftentimes, as an entrepreneur, taking care of your own mental health can feel like the last thing on your list. In an environment where you’re focused on creating a successful business, it’s easy to put your well-being on the backburner. Some may even see this as a badge of honor.

The numbers are concerning. A report found that 72% of entrepreneurs experience some type of mental health issue and are “significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance-abuse conditions (12%), and bipolar diagnosis (11%).” Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs feel the need to hide these issues, for fear that it will affect their business and their personal lives.

Thankfully, the conversation around mental health is shifting. Healthcare professionals are moving away from a separation of mind and body to an integration, understanding that mental health is just as important as physical health. Companies are creating empathetic policies that encourage a more open and understanding workplace. Most importantly, people all over the world are working to erase the stigma behind mental health issues, including CEOs, grad students, Greek police officers, and Florida public schools

If you’re an entrepreneur or startup founder (or just want to concentrate more on your well-being), here are my top tips for balancing your mental health with your growing business and working through the “founder’s blues”:

1. Leave space to reflect.

Throughout your week, schedule time to simply hit the pause button. Take this time to breathe and reflect on your week. What have you accomplished? Where can you improve? Ask yourself these questions, but be sure to speak to yourself in a kind way. We are often our own worst critic, and it’s important to recognize that harsh self-talk is linked to depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

This time for self-reflection is essential for everyone, but especially if your schedule is jam-packed. In a start-up world that’s focused on external factors like funding, hiring, and planning, it’s easy to ignore internal factors. When the internal is ignored, recognizing and managing emotions can be difficult. It’s important to prioritize time and stick to your schedule.

2. Pay attention to burnout.

In the world of entrepreneurship, burnout is a real issue. The World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an official disorder. Oftentimes the symptoms are ignored or minimized, which can lead to more worrisome issues down the line.

If you notice symptoms such as feeling cynical about your job or emotionally drained by your work, don’t ignore them. They are an important sign that you need a break, and you should honor that by taking some time off to recalibrate, even if it’s just for a day or two. You will come back to your work refreshed.

3. Manage and delegate.

Entrepreneurs wear several hats, especially when they’re near the starting line. Over time, you may feel like your life is a constant juggling act, so it’s imperative to find balance. Manage your time and stick to a schedule to alleviate any stress, and delegate whenever possible.

If you find that certain tasks cause you more stress than others, find ways to change the tasks to be less demanding, or find someone on your team you can delegate them to. If that is not an option, consider outsourcing to an agency or contractor.

4. Be mindful of your physical health.

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to be an entrepreneur, but it’s important to treat your body well. Is your diet giving you the energy and nutrients you need throughout the day? Are you making time for moderate exercise? Unfortunately, running from meeting to meeting doesn’t count. Physical exercise is crucial to mental health. Any type of exercise will help promote improved mental health, however the social aspects of team sports have the strongest effect.

Don’t focus on perfection. Instead, do what you can to eat nutritious foods and stay active. If you’re able to hire a personal trainer and nutritionist, do so. If that isn’t possible for you at this time, there are a plethora of resources online that can help you get where you need to be, such as Lifesum for nutrition and Fitocracy for personal training. 

5. Find support.

You may feel alone in this, but that is far from the truth. As mentioned before, 72% of entrepreneurs have reported dealing with some mental health issue. Many of them have created communities and groups that deal with these problems together and support each other. If you feel comfortable, join one of these communities and learn from others who are dealing with similar issues. Search online or ask your network for these communities or use an online service like 7 Cups of Tea to find anonymous support.

On a related note, consider finding a therapist who works for you, online or in-person. There are mental health professionals who specialize in executive leadership, and they can help you through all the ups and downs that you may experience.  

Mental health does not discriminate; in fact, it affects one in four people globally. It isn’t always easy to talk about, but that’s rapidly changing due to increasing awareness and leaders who are open about their journey. By prioritizing your own health, you can inspire and encourage others on your team and in your community to do the same.

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5 lessons I learned from the Kokoda Track

I recently completed the Kokoda Track with a group of my oldest and best friends. For those of you who don’t know, the Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. When I was preparing for my trip to Kokoda, I knew that I was in for a long journey full of challenges. An eight-day trek on difficult terrain was bound to test me. It was also bound to teach me important lessons that I could take back to everyday life. So, without further ado, here are the most important lessons I learned while powering through the Kokoda Track:

1. Be prepared.

As I previously talked about, I committed to preparing for this trip. I knew it was going to test me physically and mentally, and I wanted to give myself the best possible tools and training to get me through it successfully. I hiked long miles on weekends and did hours of research on the best gear to take and what to expect on the Track. By doing this, I made sure that I was well-prepared for the different obstacles that I might face. Training ahead of time was key to my success on the Track and researching what I was in for made sure I didn’t underestimate the difficult roads ahead.

This is a lesson easily applicable to business and entrepreneurship. When you’re vying for success, prepare for success. This isn’t always the same as making detailed plans ahead of time, plans always change, but being prepared is also key to being able to adapt to unexpected changes or roadblocks to achieve your objective. When walking into an important meeting or launching a new start-up, make sure that you’ve put in the work to be successful.

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2. Choose your team well.

I was very lucky to be surrounded by some of my oldest and closest friends on this trek, so when any one of us was struggling, we knew we could turn to each other for support and motivation. To have that support is an essential part of success in any aspect of life, so when times get tough, make sure you’re doing it with the right team.

People often say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Are you surrounding yourself with the right people? Whether it’s in business or your personal life, you want to make sure that you have a support system that is empowering.

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3. Don’t be afraid of hard times.

It’s natural to want to avoid difficult times, but it’s in those moments that you experience the most growth. Embrace those moments and use them to build a stronger, better team. Throughout the trek, each of us went through struggles and doubts, but as the trek went on, we became closer because we were able to rely on one another.

Hard times can always teach you something. When you’re going through something rough, take a moment to think about what you’re learning. How can you apply this to future situations? How can this make you a better version of yourself? Embrace that learning and use it to improve.

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4. Balance

Though our journey was extremely physically challenging, it was also very mentally challenging. It was crucial to spend time getting centered before setting off on each day’s trek. Achieving and maintaining that level of balance was a constant battle, and it’s important to pace yourself.

Do you take time each day to check in with yourself? Would you consider yourself in balance? If not, try starting your morning with a brief morning meditation or just find some quiet time during the day to center yourself. There a number of resources that can help you with this, like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. A strong, healthy mindset is important to taking on any new challenge.

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5. Celebrate success.

When we walked through the end of the Kokoda arches, it was very emotional. We looked back on what we’d accomplished and truly took a moment to reflect on what we’d just been through. It was a huge achievement that we’d managed together, and we congratulated each other on our success. Then, we got beers.

Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes, big or small. Every day is full of challenges, and with the right mindset you can crush them all. So be sure to treat yourself and your team when you reach new milestones, and then get excited for the next one!

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What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you handle it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Preparing for the Kokoda Track

 

When I look at the friendships I’ve had over my life, some of my closest friends are the ones who I’ve been through the hardest times with. If you’ve ever been through a difficult experience with a group of friends, you know how much of a bonding experience it can be. You remember it for the rest of your life. Usually, these experiences aren’t planned, but about six months ago, a group of my oldest and best friends and I decided to take on what may be the most difficult challenge we’ve faced as a group yet. Over the last 20 or 25 years, we’ve reunited in many places near and far, but this year we’re tackling the Kokoda Track.

For those of you who don’t know, the Kokoda Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. This track is well-known in Australia, as a very famous episode in Australian history took place there during World War II. It was at a time when Australia was at risk of being invaded, and this was the last point of defense before the Japanese potentially took over Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, and then from there could launch attacks and raids into Australia.  Australian troops were sent into Papua New Guinea to protect and defend the country from this threat.. These heroes fought in the most difficult conditions, and the Kokoda Track became their battleground.  For many Australians, walking the Kokoda Track is the chance to walk in the footsteps of those men and better appreciate the hardships they endured under and the  sacrifices they made for their country. It’s a personal challenge but also a walk of remembrance and appreciation. I imagine it will be quite emotional because of that, walking in those footsteps and imagining what it must have been like for them to endure the unimaginable conditions of the Kokoda Track during World War II.

 

It’s such a difficult track that I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’m still not, if I’m being honest, but the challenge appealed to me, and I’ve learned that having a really difficult goal motivates you to train hard. My friends are also extremely motivating, though not in the way you might expect. The Australian ethos between good friends isn’t so much   encouragement, but rather a playful goading. It’s perfectly acceptable, and more than that, it’s expected.

While we’re not able to physically train together since we live all over the world, we do share our progress over WhatsApp and AllTrails, an app that allows you to download maps and find trails near you. In the very beginning, one of my best friends, with whom I have a very competitive streak, posted an AllTrails update that he had walked 13.5 miles. Of course, I had to one-up him, so I went out and walked 15 miles. I could hardly walk for a few days afterward, but since then it’s been this escalation of what everyone’s doing to get ready. The next week, I saw that he planned to tackle 26 miles, and I was 20 miles into it before I realized that it was actually 26 kilometers, since he is based in Australia, and I’d done 32 of those! It’s friendly rivalry, and it’s how we’re motivating each other to stick with it and put in the hard work.

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Another weekend on the trails gearing up for Kokoda! https://www.alltrails.com/explore/recording/recording-jan-21-05-02-pm–2

Since I’m over 50 (shhh, don’t tell anyone!), I had to complete a stress test in order to have medical clearance to take on the Kokoda Track, so they’re sure that you won’t have to leave the trail in a helicopter (still a possibility, I think). It’s a big mental challenge, knowing that in 15 minutes a treadmill is going to work you to the point of exhaustion, and your only focus is to stay on it as long as you can without collapsing. You’re like a hamster on a treadmill, almost literally. When you start, you know it’s going to be hard, and part of you is excited about testing yourself to see how far you can go. The other part, however, is full of dread for the pain that’s coming.  The point is, you always have to push yourself past what you think you can do to continue to improve, and most of that is mental not physical.  I know this trek is bound to be difficult, but I know I’m more prepared now than I was when I started.  No pain, no gain, as they say.

Another part of being prepared is making sure you have all the right gear. I’m big into researching things, so I watched tons of videos and read all of these books and blogs about the Kokoda experience. Considering that the longest walk I typically did was from my house to the beach, it’s fair to say doing a 10-day backpacking trip was all new to me. I spent many hours going through the packing list, which has a weight limit, and choosing the right items to pack. I knew that hiking boots are extremely important, so I bought those nearly 4 months ago so I could wear them and break them in. I similarly went through hours of analysis for each piece of equipment to figure out which was the best to take. I researched how to purify water. It’s a science in and of itself, how to stay hydrated on a trek like this. It’s also important to learn how to prevent and treat blisters. You don’t want to overlook things like that or the trek becomes nearly impossible.  In many cases it’s the little things that matter most.

So why am I doing this and why all the hard work? I want to prove to myself that I can do this, and I want to do it in style. I don’t want to be crawling, panting, crying or struggling. I want to be looking up at the sky and nature around me. I want to really enjoy this experience with some of my closest friends. I want this to be one of the things that I look back on, like other big milestones in my life, and remember the experience and everything that went into achieving it. And when I’ve finished the Kokoda Track, I hope to pass on valuable lessons in perseverance, attitude, and working through hard times, which apply to everything from personal growth to entrepreneurship.

Let’s just hope I don’t get lost!

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