The stresses and challenges of startup culture can burn you out and bend your frame of reference. Get ahead of the curve by making mental health a top priority and putting strategies in place.
Founder and president of E2M Solutions Inc.
9 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
It’s no secret that the entrepreneur lifestyle is a hectic one, to put it lightly. These days, businesses operate around the clock, and as an owner, taking your eye off the ball for a second can potentially result in missed opportunities and lost revenue.
This existence of having your head on a swivel 24/7 is not healthy. In fact, a study by Michael Freeman found that entrepreneurs are 50 percent more likely to experience mental health conditions. To get more specific, founders are:
Two times more likely to experience depression.
Six times more likely to develop ADHD.
Three times more likely to have substance abuse problems.
Ten times more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder.
Two times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.
Two times more likely to end up in a psychiatric hospital.
This is scary stuff.
Unfortunately, many business schools erroneously promote the mindset that you have to work, work, work, all the time, and that your mental state is irrelevant to your bottom line. As an entrepreneur, the truth is you are going to be faced with challenges to your mental health, which can impact the rest of your organization.
In order to maintain your sanity throughout this grueling journey, here are a handful of things to keep in mind.
Develop a set of non-work-related interests.
As an entrepreneur, you surely know that turning off your “work brain” is not always easy. Even in the rare moments that you can, there is always a chance you will need to jump back in at any moment.
To maintain your sanity in this chaotic lifestyle, it’s incredibly beneficial to have one or more hobbies that give you separation from your work every once in a while. Try to have at least one interest that involves exercise. This is critical for maintaining both your physical and mental health.
Related: 8 Ways a Hobby Makes You Better at Your Day Job
Now, if you’ve been working endless hours for years, it can certainly be a bit tough to take up a new hobby. The key is finding ones that make you a better entrepreneur. This typically includes activities that keep your mind stimulated. It could be anything like learning to play an instrument, wood working, traveling, even playing video games.
Trying new things is crucial to personal growth. While non-work-related interests can come and go, the important thing is that they are giving you a degree of separation from the intense lifestyle of an entrepreneur.
Mindfulness, meditation, yoga.
I have recently been reading a lot about Paramahansa Yogananda, a yogi who introduced much of the western culture to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga. While living in Southern California, I often visited the Self-Realization Fellowship’s Meditation Gardens, a sacred place Yogananda founded.
The meditation Yogananda promotes is meant to improve cognition, accelerate spiritual growth, and develop inner peace. In my own practices, I have found this technique to be incredibly beneficial in boosting feelings of well-being, which has led to a number of positive effects within my own life, as well as in business.
Additionally, throughout the past year, I have been following the yoga and meditation programs of Sadhguru. Since I started this discipline, I have seen a huge boost in both my mental and physical health -- both of which have translated to my business. University of California has done scientific research on effects of Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya.
As an entrepreneur, developing a strong practice for mindfulness and meditation will do wonders to help you become more aware of your emotions and how to leverage them to your advantage. Many of the top leaders in Silicon Valley are taking mindfulness and meditation very seriously. Jack Dorsey, full-time CEO of both Twitter and Square, recently did 10 days of silent meditation. He shared his experience in this thread.
Related: 5 Health Habits These Successful Entrepreneurs Swear By
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is also invested in yoga and meditation. The New York Times recently asked him about how meditation has influenced his leadership style. His response was that it has helped him keep an attitude in which he can listen closely to those around him before making decisions.
“Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style,” said Benioff. "I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.”
Always remember, the culture within your company is dependent on your well-being. If you cannot control your emotions and mental health, this will flow throughout your organization.
Seek out a mentor.
One of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is there is no shortage of mentors and more experienced business folks out there. Chances are they have run into many of the same issues you are. In terms of mental health, seeking out a seasoned mentor can be a great way to get some insight on how to manage the chaos of running a business and to work through the challenges of startup culture.
Now, you don’t have to restrict yourself in choosing mentors only to within your industry. There are many options out there for professional mentors specialized in helping people like you manage stress and overcome mental health challenges. In fact, there are people out there who are dedicated to improving the state of the business world and offer their help for free.
Remember, the diverse road of entrepreneurship doesn’t need to be traveled alone. Don’t be afraid to look for help along the way.
Do not define work hours.
The reality of being an entrepreneur is that you are not restricted to a 40-hour week, 80-hour week, or even a 120-hour week. People will tell you all kinds of time requirements for being successful. As much as I love Elon Musk and everything he’s contributed to the business world (and mindset), he has promoted the idea that you must work at least 80 hours a week to change the world. He has even been known to work upwards of 120 hours per week!
As great as Musk is, defining your work schedule in this way and believing you must to work X number of hours can wreak havoc on your mental health. The body needs time to wind down and decompress. This type of unrelenting stress can impede your body’s ability to repair itself, which in turn, will cause both your professional and personal life to reach a breaking point.
Related: Why Working Overtime Is Never A Good Idea
So, try not to get in the mindset that you must work a certain number of hours to be successful. Burning yourself out will have you never are.
Do not compare yourself to others.
We live in a business era where personal branding is part of our lives. We are bombarded by quotes and words of wisdom from celebrity-status business people every single day.
In this world of social media and constantly connection, it can be hard not to compare yourself to others. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to truly appreciate your own accomplishments and feel fulfilled. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.
While it’s great to have role models, being an entrepreneur is about making an authentic difference. If you want to sustain your mental health, you need to focus on being you, not trying to be like others. Start by developing your own internal compass. When you wake up, ask yourself: What difference will I make today? How will I better myself and those around me?
Once the day is over, ask yourself: What did I accomplish today? How did I improve my business and those involved? Entrepreneurship is not a popularity contest. Be the best you, and don’t live your life in the shadows of others.
Trust your leadership and employees.
In a growing business, releasing control of certain aspects of your operation can be tough. After all, when you get to a point that you need to hire other leaders and employees, you have been doing something right.
If you have the mindset that you need to micromanage everything within your company, you are creating all kinds of unnecessary stress for yourself. Your business is your baby; there’s no denying that. But, growing a successful business is not achieved single handedly. You need to develop a strong level of trust in your leadership and the people you bring onboard.
Making the shift from managing every part of your business to depending on others can certainly be difficult. However, this is critical to maintaining your well-being and scaling your operation into the future.
Learn to let things go. Your employees will make mistakes, just as you did at one point or another. You hired people to help you; offer your guidance and trust that they know what they are doing.
Running a business is hard work, nothing is ever going to change that. Keeping the entrepreneurial mindset is crucial; however, there is a fine line between being a business person with a spark and working yourself into the ground. Always remember, your mental health is way more important than your bottom line. If you succumb to mental health challenges, both your professional and personal lives will follow suit.