UEL’s Series Focusing on Health & Wellness for Entrepreneurs
The Unhealthy Entrepreneur – a Cautionary Tale with a Happy Ending is a four-part series focusing on the health and wellbeing of an entrepreneur
8 Tips Even You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health — Third in the Series
While entrepreneurs—Minnesota-based startups in particular—are enjoying widespread successes and recognition for their contributions to the local and global economies, much of what goes into these accomplishments are not caught by the spotlight, but have been hidden in the shadows – our failure to raise awareness of the impact that mental health disorders have on the micro well-being of founders.
We continue to hear without our physical health we can become stuck and lose drive, but still the mind is with us. But, without good mental health the results can catastrophic. Emotional and cognitive darkness can expand and influence many aspects of one’s profession as well as one’s life.
What research says about the entrepreneurial mind:
A study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A. Freeman focused on the mental health crisis that is raging, acknowledged but ineffectively addressed, among the men and women who comprise the entrepreneurial community.[i] Freeman specializes in working with mental health issues and illness in business and entrepreneurship, showed that 49 percent of the 242 entrepreneurs reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions. Also, entrepreneurs were more likely to report a lifetime of depression (30 percent), attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (29 percent), bipolar spectrum disorder (12 percent) and substance abuse (11 percent).
Freeman’s research has shown that start-up founders are:
- Twice as likely to suffer from depression
- Six times more likely to suffer from ADHD
- Three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse
- Twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts
- 10 times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder
- Twice as likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization
According to Dr Paul Hokemeyer, an expert in elite identity constructs: “Given the extraordinary impact entrepreneurs have on our world economy, it’s critically important they operate in a state of optimum emotional and relational health.” Hokemeyer contends Freeman’s findings are actually conservative in his clinical experience: “In my clinical practice, I see percentages in the range of 80% of entrepreneurs who struggle with a host of personality disorders such as narcissism, sudden wealth syndrome and the impostor syndrome.”
“These conditions erode not just the effectiveness of start-up founders; they also have a negative impact on the endeavors that these highly intelligent human beings have risked their financial, relational, intellectual and emotional capital to pursue.”
When asked to explain why he thought that is, Dr Hokemeyer explained: “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, ROI and profit.
“For these highly intelligent individuals, quantitative returns trump qualitative. Unfortunately, in this paradigm entrepreneurs crumble, struggling to calibrate the dissonance between their internal awareness that their physical and emotional distress compromises their performance with the industry standard of cutthroat competitiveness that has defined the field for centuries.”
Too many entrepreneurs struggle privately for far too long and end up feeling stuck, or worse, spiraling downward. For too many reasons, they don’t give enough credit to the incredible strength it takes to reveal your inner concerns and ask for help or counsel. Today there is ample research to support the facts that entrepreneurship is negatively correlated with mental health. The short list of common causes:
- Social Isolation
- Identity becomes tightly tied to the company
Fortunately, all is not lost – at this year’s World Economic Forum, thought leaders and luminaries have begun discussing mental health issues in a curative and non-stigmatizing light.
So, what can a busy entrepreneur do to improve their mental health along with all the other demands they have on their time and brain? Let’s take a look – and this is not the complete list.
- Take Time to Talk – talking with a good friend, mentor or family member is a good way to get out of your head and express your thoughts and concerns, but sometimes talking with a professional therapist can be invaluable to your mental health. A therapist offers a safe space to share, breathe and gain perspective. This is time to verbalize some of the load you have been carrying on your own. If you are exhausted and cannot sleep, a good therapist can help determine a course of action to help with this key to your overall good health.
Some of the benefits of talking with a therapist:
- Can help break procrastination behavior
- Can help you be better able to say “no” to those requests for your time and knowledge
- Can help you stay in touch with the authentic you
- Can help you let go of your need to be perfect
- Can help be comfortable with delegation
- Can help you manage yourself as the priority
- Can help you see yourself as others see you
- Being Grateful Can Help Improve Positivity[ii] – being grateful is a life attitude, and can offer us many benefits in health, satisfaction with life, and the way we relate to others. When we feel and express gratitude to others, it turns our mental focus towards the positive. It is this feeling that overrides the brain’s natural focus of negativity in life, worries or threats. It is gratitude that gives us feelings of contentment, love, and joy which alleviates negative emotions, such as anxiety. Embracing gratitude can create positive thought trains and allow us to behave in healthy, positive ways. Randy A Sansone MD, conducted a study on Gratitude and Wellbeing and the effects on thankfulness and appreciation. Individuals who are always grateful are less likely to be envious, depressed, or lonely.
- Turn that Frown Upside Down – if you aren’t familiar with that little ditty, the basic message is to choose to be positive, to focus on the upside rather than the negatives that may find a home in your outlook. Adam Hoffman[iii] shares “…A growing body of research suggests that negative emotions and thoughts may also have links to other serious health problems, like heart disease.” Research indicates a biochemical connection between the brain and the body. According to the National Institute of Health at Georgetown University, positive thinking plays a huge part in helping us to maintain healthy bodies. If a person has the ability to control good health through positive thinking, even a little bit, it’s worth finding out more about it don’t you think?[iv] So, keep it positive. A positive attitude increases your energy, strengthens your belief in yourself, and you become more inspiring and motivating to others.
- Don’t Let Stress Get in the Way of Your Mental Health[v] – stress is a constant state for a budding entrepreneur.
Try these powerful tips for managing your mental health:
- Increase your mental resilience
- Identify triggers
- Manage your workload effectively
- Create your network and support system
- Carve out time for yourself
- Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others – there is only one you. You are distinct and as an entity have knowledge, experiences, talent and skills uniquely yours. In most cases there is more than one way to reach any objective. Your way is not right or wrong, it is simply put your way and others have there way. Comparing yourself and your progress is as futile as is comparing apples to oranges – both fruit, but nothing alike. In addition to adding useless baggage to your already full load, you may be creating competitive tension between you and your colleges where none need exist.
- Be Realistic – set goals that are manageable, achievable and measurable. If “goals” feels too corporate think of them as milestones. These touch-points will keep you and your company on track and identify your accomplishments. Keep your end-goal in mind, but focus on one-step-at-a-time. That old adage “Every journey begins with the first step”, applies to your progress too – one step at a time.
- Avoid the Drama – minimize time spent with the dramatic characters in your life. You have enough to deal with so be aware of and stay clear of those people who demand their drama needs to include you. My favorite way to keep this one in mind … “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
- Treat Yourself to a Treat Weekly – think of the joy you feel when you are surprised with a little treat. Now you cannot surprise yourself, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t earned a treat. Go to a movie, get an ice cream cone, drive around the lakes in Minneapolis, sit by the river in St. Paul, watch a pee wee football game, hang out in a flower store… whatever tiny distraction you prefer that will make you feel happy.
An entrepreneur has been described as one who passionately and creatively pursues an idea from concept to actualization as a result of a discovered need or challenge in the market. Or in the words of Steve Jobs, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Keep in mind – Jobs was speaking figuratively.
Entrepreneurship can take its toll, and feelings of anxiousness, depression or stress aren’t signs of weakness. That’s just how your body and mind are responding to the demands you are putting on yourself. Take time to see where you can modify your routine and behavior in order to take better care of your mental health