It is often said that without our physical health we can become weak and stagnant, but we have the benefit of our minds still being sharp and responsive. We can communicate and take rational decisions even in circumstances of body fragility. However, without good mental health, the consequences can be catastrophic. Emotional and cognitive darkness can proliferate into a black fog that pervades several areas of life, not just the professional. A man who has lost his mind is a liability to himself, his family and society at large.
According to the World Health Organization, good mental health is related to mental and psychological well-being. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Mental health is the foundation for the well-being and effective functioning of individuals. It is more than the absence of a mental disorder; it is the ability to think, learn, and understand one’s emotions and the reactions of others. Mental health is a state of balance, both within and with the environment
An entrepreneur can be described as someone who passionately and creatively pursues an idea from concept to actualization as a result of a discovered need or challenge in the market. According to Dr Paul Hokemeyer, an expert in elite identity constructs: “Given the extraordinary impact entrepreneurs have on our world economy, it is critically important they operate in a state of optimum emotional and relational health”. Unfortunately, “Entrepreneurs are trained to ignore the qualitative needs of their well-being measured in meaningful and authentic relationships, overall life satisfaction and happiness. The message they have internalized from the field’s most celebrated entrepreneurs is the outdated prescription of ‘no pain, no gain’ and a pernicious message that success is purely measured in quantitative returns, return on investment and profit”. Entrepreneurs tend to be independent, driven and overworked. Unaddressed mental issues can easily lead to burnout, and finding help can be next to impossible in an increasingly stressful world.
Entrepreneurs are especially sensitive to the stigma of being labeled. They often try to deal with their problems alone and wind up sinking deeper into despair, a condition that affects business success, family and quality of life. Friends and family often have no clue and are surprised to learn of major challenges that even highly successful people are facing.
Common Mental Health Challenges Entrepreneurs Face
1. Depression: This is probably the mental health challenge most entrepreneurs are susceptible to. The unpredictable nature of life and the business environment does not guarantee success therefore, after investing time and money, if progress is too slow or there is a meltdown, it can trigger depression.
2. Anxiety: When an entrepreneur has an idea, the thought of what must happen to make that vision a reality can be massively overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, especially if all those he approaches tend to remind him how hard and unpredictable the journey is. The entrepreneurial journey is filled with anxiety which is often crippling and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. Addiction: Recent research has found that habitual entrepreneurs display symptoms of behavioral addiction similar to other traditional behavioral addictions, such as gambling or internet usage. Symptoms can include obsessive thoughts and sometimes there are negative emotional outcomes such as guilt, high levels of strain, and abuse of foods, alcohol or even drugs.
4. Hypertension/Heart Disease: It’s no secret that being responsible for the financial prosperity of others as well as the overall success of a business can be quite stressful. High stress has been shown to temporarily heighten blood pressure and can trigger habits such as unhealthy eating which can lead to heart disease.
5. Social isolation: Particularly in the early stages – when oftentimes working alone – entrepreneurship can be incredibly socially isolated because there is no time to meet friends or even attend to the immediate family.
6. Rejection: In an attempt to raise capital for his business, an entrepreneur may approach lots of clients who may be unenthusiastic about the idea. This could lead to feelings of rejection and dejection.
7. Sleeping Disorders: With a large percentage of founders working at least 52 hours per week (with some even working a whopping 70 hours), there’s not much time left for sleep. Experts recommend 6 to 8 hours of sleep a day, but entrepreneurs working long hours are getting more like 4 to 6 hours. Also issues like insomnia and jet lag are common with busy CEOs.
8. Vision-Related Problems: The average adult spends 11 hours per day on gadgets, and entrepreneurs are more than attached to their smartphones, laptops and computers. And there actually is a such thing as computer vision syndrome, also referred to as digital eye strain.
9. Stress: There is a natural tendency for an entrepreneur to overwork himself because so much depends on him at the start-up stage. Many of the triggers for stress have been found to be a weekly norm for ambitious startup stars.
10. Sexual Health: Stress, anxiety and depression have all been linked to issues such as erectile dysfunction and hormone suppression in women. They can also have an opposite effect, leading to unsafe sexual behavior which can lead to risk for STDs.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
1. Make connection a priority.
As an entrepreneur, you may be tempted to choose singledom, thinking you’re “too busy” to date, and experience resultant loneliness and dissatisfaction. You may think your relationship would distract you from your goal, so you keep people at a pole’s length. But this assumption is not healthy.
Social connection increases happiness. Though working might seem more productive than say, spending time with friends, you can trust you won’t be productive when depressed. If entrepreneurial communities seem sparse in your area, consider joining one online or starting your own.
2. Notice where expectations are ruining your life
Holding inflexible, unrealistically high expectations is just one of the ways perfectionism can make you miserable. The disparity between your expectations and your reality is at the root of your stress. Make room for mistakes, failures, challenges, and uncertainties – they are inevitable. when you expect everything to go perfectly, you will set yourself up for disappointment, shame, guilt, frustration, anxiety, and more.
3. Make self-care (and vacation) non-negotiable
Do not underestimate the importance of self-care. Many entrepreneurs lament that they don’t know what makes them happy outside of work. If this relates to you, you’re missing out on the fun and rejuvenation that vacation brings. In addition to exercise, I recommend healthy forms of self-care such as
• Reflective and contemplative practices like meditation and journaling
• Nurturing your creativity outside of work, such as learning a musical instrument, drawing, or cooking
• Setting boundaries by saying “No,” to invitations/appointments that increase pressure on you.
4. Work with a coach or therapist and get to know yourself
It is advisable you work with a coach or therapist to proactively optimize your mental health and resilience. In addition to healing traumas that are holding you back from success, you can get creative in working within the limitations of your mental health predispositions.
Finally, coaching or therapy is a safe, confidential space where you can gain emotional intelligence, develop assertiveness skills and boundaries, and experience authentic connection — mitigating that mental health-sabotaging shame.
Being an entrepreneur is often viewed as a glamorous lifestyle, but many fail to recognize the long hours and mental toll it can take. Our goal is to help successful entrepreneurs achieve new levels of freedom and growth. We strive to increase entrepreneurs’ health.