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.