Guest post from Shay of ShadyApe.
Entrepreneurship is hot right now. Search the hashtag #entrepreneur and you’ll see more than 58 MILLION results: inspirational quotes, fast cars, private jets, and strangely, many shirtless men. But the reality is that entrepreneurship is hard. Really hard at times. So, how do entrepreneurs fare when it comes to mental health?
According to a study conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) earlier this year, not very well. The study sought to understand what mental health issues entrepreneurs report; the impact of mental health concerns on business objectives and entrepreneurs’ personal lives; what strategies and/or supports entrepreneurs use to manage these issues; and what barriers they face in accessing service and support.
Key findings from the study include:
- Three of five (62%) entrepreneurs felt depressed at least once a week.
Nearly one in two (46%) entrepreneurs felt that mental health issues interfered with their ability to work.
- Entrepreneurs reported high degrees of stress in both their business and personal lives; Nearly seven in ten (67%) were stressed about their business’s cash flow.
- More than half reported depressed mood (50%).
- About three in five (66%) entrepreneurs face difficulty in maintaining work-life balance due to entrepreneurial stress.
- More than half (54%) of the entrepreneurs reported that stress impacted their level of concentration at work.
These findings are far from shocking when you consider the demands of entrepreneurship and owning a small business, especially during the early stages. Entrepreneurs typically work extremely hard for long hours to overcome the challenges associated with launching new ventures. Working long hours can take away from time that would normally be spent with family and friends. Not ideal – according to Positive Psychology researcher Shawn Achor, social support was the greatest predictor of happiness during periods of high stress.
The risks of failure are high, with 41.3% of businesses started in Canada not making it past the 5th year; the stress associated with potentially having a business venture fail can be daunting. Owning a small business is also often accompanied by limited time off, a lack of stable income, and the absence of extended health care benefits
Entrepreneurship is unavoidably stressful, and stress can lead to an array of negative physical and psychological consequences. So, how can entrepreneurs deal with the stress of owning a business?
Meditation and Mindfulness
There is a growing body of research that supports the use of mindfulness and meditation in achieving better mental health. Harvard has shown that mindful meditation can change the brain of people with depression and anxiety, both commonly reported by entrepreneurs.
In addition to being an effective tool for improving mental health, meditation and mindfulness can confer a number of other benefits for entrepreneurs:
- Research shows that a long-term mindfulness meditation practice promotes improved executive functioning (working memory, flexible thinking, inhibitory control)
- Improved ability to focus and think with a sense of clarity that leads to improved decision making
- Decreased sleep disturbances and improved quality of sleep
- Increases resilience to stress
- Decreases reactivity
- Increased awareness of emotions and increased ability to ‘tune in’ to the body so as to identify when stress is increasing in order to take preventative steps before it becomes overwhelming
It’s clear that meditation and mindfulness can be helpful for entrepreneurs, but where to start? There are a number of great apps: Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer. Each of these apps offer several different types of meditation and are perfectly suited for beginners. The increasing popularity of meditation and mindfulness has also coincided with an increase in the number of accessible and well-trained meditation teachers in communities across Canada. All it takes is a simply google search (don’t forget to look at reviews, testimonials, and credentials).
Get quality, adequate sleep
Running a business can require long hours and sleepless nights, especially in the early days. But, it’s important to consider that getting enough sleep is critical in giving you the full mental capacity needed to effectively lead. According to a study out of Binghamton University, sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression. Another study showed that a lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s memory, ability to perform simple daily tasks, and attention span.
So, though you may feel like you need to stay up later to get everything you need done for your business, trading in those extra hours for sleep may be a better option because you’ll ultimately be more effective and productive when you are working on your business.
Tips for getting a better sleep:
- Stick to a relatively consistent sleep schedule
- Evaluate your sleep environment: your bedroom should be cool (a few degrees cooler than you would keep it during the day), free from noise that could disturb your sleep, free from excessive light and blue light from electronics
- Avoid screens in the hour before you go to sleep
- Avoid heavy meals in the 2-3 hours before bedtime
Try achieve work-life balance
As mentioned above, social connections are one of the strongest predictors of happiness and mental wellness. It’s important to balance time at work (or ‘on’ work) with time spent with loved ones. When you’re spending time with family and friends, practice presence – avoiding your phone or other work-related tasks that would take you away from the interaction.
You can also practice scheduling non-negotiable ‘down-time’. For example, book your Sundays or an evening a week off to spend time with friends, family, or to do nothing at all, leaving that time for spontaneity. Commit to keeping this time free, even going as far as blocking it off as ‘busy’ in your calendar.
Ask for Help
Mental health struggles can be detrimental to your business and to your overall well-being. Humans are inherently social creatures – we aren’t meant to do everything alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities and expectations of running a business (self-imposed and external), ask for help. Open up to those around you and share what you’re going through so that they have an understanding of why you may not be ‘yourself’ and can offer support.
Speaking to a professional through more traditional methods of therapy can also be helpful when you feel like it’s all too much to deal with on your own. A therapist can help you to maintain boundaries in personal and professional relationships, redefine your relationship with the inner critic, provide new perspective on what you’re going through, help you to work through cognitive distortions, and equip you with new coping strategies. In addition to in-office forms of therapy, you can also access a counsellor or psychologist through web or app-based platforms.
Prioritizing your mental health is important for the long-term health of your business. In addition to the recommendations above, if you are going through a crisis or thinking about suicide, you can call the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (1-833-456-4566).