Emotions and Entrepreneurship: Mental Health in Europe

Here are three tips entrepreneurs can use to stay positive and calm during any emotionally charged situation.


In Brave New World Revisited, author Aldous Huxley quotes German philosopher Erich Fromm: “Our contemporary Western society, in spite of its material, intellectual and political progresses increasingly less conducive to mental health, and tends to undermine the inner security, happiness, reason and the capacity for love in the individual; it tends to turn him into an automaton who pays for his human failure with increasing mental sickness, and with despair hidden under a frantic drive for work and so-called pleasure.”

Modern times bring modern changes that affect entrepreneurs more than most. Globally, the world is more connected than ever before, thanks to the internet, but the benefits of larger markets and instant communication are shadowed by the baggage of more emotional turbulence than ever before. Politics in Europe have become more divisive lately and more extreme causing friction in the workplace. In the news and on social media, we see a daily update on every single crisis going on around the world. In spite of this, people in many countries are optimistic.

There is good reason to be happy, as the middle class is expanding, and extreme poverty is declining across the globe. Business leaders are also highlighting the power of positive thinking via mental health and wellness initiatives. However, even with the modern focus on compassion and sensitivity in the workplace, individual entrepreneurs, who may lack a human resources department, must forge their own policies for personal positivity and emotional management, in a modern global environment.

Here are three tips entrepreneurs can use to stay positive and calm during any emotionally charged situation.

1. Just breathe.

This may sound simple and even obvious, but it’s also true. There are clear benefits almost instantly, from taking a few deep breaths. In mere moments, the body relaxes, the mind calms and turbulent emotions become more navigable, but only if done correctly. Remember that a deep, calming breath will inflate the belly, whereas panicked breathing common in emotionally charged situations will inflate the chest.

When done correctly, deep calming breaths help you trigger focus and can even guide you closer to your natural intuition and divine inner strength. It can be helpful to practice deep breathing in private so that when faced with true emotional adversity, the behavior becomes natural and clarifying. The power to instantly banish emotional negativity helps an entrepreneur balance emotion with logic and be ready to act when opportunity knocks.

2. Bite your tongue.

Or, more precisely, think before you speak. This can be done during and after your calming deep breaths. Think of your words and their impact on others. Think of the people involved. And most important, think of your own narrative. With practice, a few deep breaths can eliminate angry “knee-jerk” answers and late-night tweets. A few deep breaths can build personal emotional awareness. And a few deep breaths can give strength to choose words wisely, carry on through difficulties and attend that meeting or close that deal.

Especially in the European market, where there are so many more diverse cultures and practices so close together, emotional awareness is critical for understanding ourselves and other entrepreneurs. Mindsets differ from country to country, region to region. Perhaps the south of Europe, as in Italy and Spain, focus on living well, as opposed to northern nations like France or Germany being more business and security oriented. These mindsets affect emotional norms and perceptions of others and add another layer of complexity. But, just as one dresses for success at a business meeting by wearing a suit instead of a bathrobe, the entrepreneur can also choose positive words and tell a positive narrative.

Emotions are real and affect people, but they do not tell the story of the whole person. So, take a deep breath, tell your story and be genuine. Context is everything.

3. Dig deeper.

Always start by asking questions. And then, listen to the answers. Dig below the surface to get a larger context, that may help explain any emotional situation in the workplace. This is especially important for team leaders or managers or any other entrepreneur without HR resources. Learn to separate the person from the emotion.

Just as a person can use a deep breath and think of her own story and positive narrative, any entrepreneur can help draw the story out of others and guide them to craft their own narrative. Is this colleague normally very calm and suddenly very atypically angry? Simply ask if the person is OK or if you can help.

Most Europeans are just too inside their own heads, blinded by the problem, not seeing the solution and never finding their inner voice or using intuition. The art of telling one’s story has been lost. Asking questions helps achieve a larger understanding. Did this colleague just suffer a loss or a personal setback? Emotional responses are normal and can be one-time situational or even symptomatic of a larger ongoing behavior, but it takes the right questions to draw out the answer and get to know the reasons that trump rationality. Remember, if you must actively paint your own narrative then good questions help paint the narrative of those around you.

Take a moment each day to think about your mental health. Take time to consider the stress you are under and most of all reach out to experts when needed. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount or stress and conflicts you can encounter. When running a business, the tendency is to avoid taking care of yourself. Ultimately, entrepreneurs have always had to do several jobs. They are the accountant, sales force, inventor, lawyer and more. I think we need to add HR to that list because even if you are a business of one, you still need to take care of that employee as your greatest resource.