According to Aristotle, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” This sentiment may still ring true today in the business world. Did you know that 2 in 3 entrepreneurs suffer from mental health illnesses?
Many entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the success of the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks of the world. But many of the most accomplished entrepreneurs harbor secret demons: Before they made it, they struggled through periods of nearly debilitating anxiety, stress, and depression–times when it looked like everything was falling apart.
If you run your own business, this might sound all too familiar. Entrepreneurship is a stressful path that can increase your emotional turbulence. For one, there’s a high risk of failure. Three out of four venture-backed startups fail. Likewise, one Harvard Business School lecturer found that over 90% of startups fall short of their initial projections.
But it’s likely more than a stressful role that pushes some entrepreneurs over the edge. According to researchers, many founders share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mental issues.
“People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” says Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist who specializes in entrepreneurship. Those emotional states can include despair, depression, hopelessness, loss of motivation, and even suicidal thinking. Ironically, the same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can also consume them.
What Can We Do?
Today, we have ample research to support that – despite all its glory– entrepreneurship is correlated with mental health struggles.
Until recent years, even admitting mental health struggles was seen as a weakness. Rather than expressing vulnerability and triumph over impossible odds, many business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call “impression management”–more commonly known as “fake it till you make it.”
Thankfully, there are ways you can break the cycle. Here’s how you can avoid burnout as an entrepreneur. (Trust us, your brain and your bottom line will thank you.)
1. Prioritize Your Health
Entrepreneurs have a reputation (that hardly precedes them) for being sleep-deprived, undernourished, over-caffeinated, and financially constrained. By neglecting their health, they’re making themselves less resilient and more susceptible to mood vulnerability. Your business cannot succeed without you, and you cannot succeed if you’re burning the candle at both ends.
While self-care is a buzzword, many business owners don’t fully grasp the concept. True self-care is more than just bath bombs and spa music. Finding healthy coping mechanisms for your stress, like exercise and social events, are as crucial to your venture’s success as your own.
2. Combat Uncertainty Through the Present
As humans, our brains are wired to seek certainty. We like to create an illusion of future certainty to manage our anxiety around our ventures. Envisioning a future filled with huge mansions, international fame, or world travel can seem appealing, but it’s not where your focus should remain. It makes sense since high levels of uncertainty result in anxiety, sleepless nights, and chronic overthinking. But by trying to predict the future, we ultimately set ourselves up for failure. The truth is, you never really know where you or your business will be a year from today, no matter how much you worry.
That’s why it’s essential to look at the things that are right in front of us. Take a look around at the present. If you face life openly and without expectations, you’re more likely to find new ideas and inspiration. This approach stimulates your creativity, which actually helps you and your business succeed in the long run. Finding joy in the present allows us to be thankful for what today looks like, as opposed to staying hyper-fixated on the “what ifs” of tomorrow.
3. Take Advantage of Free and Discounted Mental Health Resources
Mental health resources are limited for most Americans, but entrepreneurs often opt for basic (or no) insurance without much coverage for mental health issues. Since most of us are unaware of just how important mental health is for success, many bootstrapping entrepreneurs don’t factor therapy into their budget.
Many therapists who are taking on new clients but not insurance will adjust their fees to match your financial resources. “[We often] ask the patient how much they can afford, and try our best to make it work,” explains Dr. Laura Chackes, the founder of The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. “Most of our therapists who do a sliding scale will slide down from $120 to about $60 per session.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a confidential crisis hotline that is available to anyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This free, national resource connects callers to their nearest crisis center in a national network, providing crisis counseling and mental health referrals to those in need. Their number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
In a similar vein, the Crisis Text Line serves anyone over text messages in any crisis. The Crisis text line also connects users with a crisis counselor who is available to provide support and information.
4. Nurture Your Support System
Many entrepreneurs lose themselves in building their businesses. We can become disconnected from friends and loved ones when we pour all of our resources into our businesses. By sacrificing other sources of meaning like parenting, romantic relationships, and even travel and play, we risk alienation.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to separate yourself from your business when you can. Even if your business features a personal brand, it’s essential to make a distinction between your true self and your professional presence.
5. Learn to Accept Help
We all need a helping hand sometimes. But when you feel like the world is on your shoulders, it can seem impossible to disconnect. Identifying which tasks are “busywork” and which can only be done by you is a great place to start. Ask yourself: do you really want to be managing your billing or marketing or taxes over watching your kid’s soccer game or taking a date night with your significant other?
No amount of entrepreneurial success is worth it if you’re miserable. Improving your mental health is one of the smartest things you can do for your business and, more importantly, for yourself. Start using these strategies today and get closer to the connection, joy, and fulfillment you deserve.