When we think about what constitutes a healthy individual, we tend to focus almost exclusively on physical health – someone who eats healthy foods, exercises regularly, and avoids bad habits like smoking. Unfortunately, this perception ignores the fact that even the most physically fit individuals can suffer from debilitating mental health issues.
In today’s article, we look into some of the reasons why entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges.
1. Stress (and lack of self-care to manage said stress)
We are all well aware of the fact that the life of an entrepreneur is stressful. We’re easily trapped in a “never-not-working” mentality, forgoing opportunities for fun and connection and thinking about work even when we’re not actually working (remember all the vacations where you ended up working most of the time). We’re hopelessly sleep-deprived, undernourished, over-caffeinated and financially constrained, with little emphasis on self-care and adaptive coping strategies such as (healthy) exercise and fun. Many of us live with a predisposition to addiction, vulnerable to developing unhealthy relationships to substances or other numbing tendencies.
As humans, we like to create an illusion of certainty to manage our anxiety around our ultimate powerlessness. The ability to envision the future and anticipate job-security is an avenue to this experience of certainty, one less accessible to those of us working for ourselves. Thus we’re susceptible to higher levels of uncertainty, anxiety, and responsibility for what’s truthfully out of our control.
3. Social isolation
Particularly in early stages, when oftentimes working alone. Entrepreneurship can be incredibly socially isolating, a precursor to (and outcome of) depression. Additionally, even when not experiencing colleague-less aloneness, the interactions we do engage in are often networking or sales-focused, preventing the vulnerability necessary for an authentic connection.
Yet another way we stand to experience isolation is if we feel unsupported or isolated in taking a nontraditional path. If we’re surrounded by “Nine-to-Fivers” or have loved ones telling us to get a “real job”, we experience further loneliness, frustration and shame.
4. Impression management”
Contributing to our isolation is what’s known as “impression management” – the idea that in order to have a perception we have to come across as “having it all together” and not show weakness. Many entrepreneurs believe that, in order to be considered competent by stakeholders, we need to be perceived as infallible – an absolute contrast to the stigmatised stereotypes of a person with compromised mental health. This propagates shame and disconnection (which both cause depression), and discourages help-seeking behaviours. There’s also evidence to suggest that impression management prevents the development of a ‘sense of self,’ contributing to insecurity and identity confusion.
5. Barriers to mental health resources
Mental health resources are limited for most, but we entrepreneurs tend to have very basic (or no) insurance without the “premium” coverage for mental health support. And unaware just how important mental health is for success, many bootstrapping entrepreneurs don’t factor therapy into their budget.
6. Predisposition to mental health challenges
The typical accompanying lifestyle notwithstanding, entrepreneurial types have a higher prevalence of mental health challenges than comparison populations. The qualities that make a great entrepreneur like creativity, empathy, adaptiveness, humour, independence, risk-taking, multi-tasking, and crisis-management skills, come from the same roots of trauma of a person as possible experiences of shame, anxiety, perfectionism, ADHD, and discomfort with stability. Fortunately, through self-awareness, psychological support, and emotional intelligence we can learn how to harness the gifts of our trauma and support ourselves through areas it’s created limitations.
7. Identity and self-worth become fused with our company
“I don’t know who I am if I’m not the founder of X” is what most of the entrepreneurs may find telling themselves. Many of us lose ourselves in building our businesses. We become detached from our own needs, disconnected from friends and loved ones, and sacrifice other sources of meaning such as relationships, parenting, travel and play. The looming existential void (and self-worth tied to our company’s success) is a manifestation of perfectionism that causes both anxiety and an emotional roller coaster, dependent on our ever changing company forecast.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, it is important for you to reflect upon these points and take the necessary measures. Once physical health is prioritised, the focus turns to self-management. Everything in a business is time blocked and assigned to an employee. We meet regularly to discuss what tasks we have to complete and ensure we all meet our deadlines. If an employee is struggling, the team works to redistribute the work to ensure he or she stays on track. Finally, the company should encourage taking time off regularly so team members can recharge their batteries. Encouraging time off is more of an investment than a cost.
It might not be easy to give employees this time, especially if your business is young, and your team is small. But when it comes to policies that can make mental health issues more bearable, treat others as you would want to be treated. At the end of the day, your employees and consequently your bottom line will thank you.
If you would like to know more about how to maximise one’s mental, physical and holistic health, do join us in our next “Let’s Talk Health” event on 26th June.
For more information, visit our event page @ https://herhealth.peatix.com/
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If there’s a particular topic that you’d like us to talk about, please feel free to leave a comment!