Disclaimer: the blog below is not meant to serve as a diagnosis, but merely a guideline on mental health awareness.
Saying you are a startup owner gives others the immediate idea that you are on track in your life and that you have it all together. People see that you are doing something great, something brave – after all, starting a business is not a walk in the park.
As Toby Thomas, the CEO of EnSite Solutions, once said in an interview with Business Insider: “being an entrepreneur is like riding a lion”. He explained what he meant by adding to his statement that people look at the entrepreneur and think “this guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” Meanwhile the man on the lion thinks “how the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”.
Many people, however, fail to recognize the mental, emotional, and physical toll that establishing a business takes on a person. With the continuing uncertainty and structural changes brought by the current global pandemic, it is not surprising that a lot of startup owners are having a hard time coping.
According to State of Startups 2019,while startup founders recognise the importance of mental health, there is a gap between male and female entrepreneurs who enlisted for therapeutic or psychiatric help – a staggering 15% vs 42%.
What is the importance of taking care of your mental health as a startup owner?
As a startup owner, your mental wellbeing should be one of your top priorities. Emotional and mental health is essential since it affects your decision making, ideas, behaviours, and emotions. Being mentally healthy can boost productivity and effectiveness in our entrepreneurial journey.
It also improves the health of your relationships and helps you to adjust to changes in your life like dealing with hardships. That is why many successful entrepreneurs have found ways to prioritise their mental and physical wellbeing.
What are the signs that your mental health is declining?
Imposter Syndrome is where despite doing great or receiving prasie, you still feel inadequate and incompetent. You feel like every success you’ve had so far in your startup is a stroke of luck and has nothing to do with your hard work and skills.
There is a significant difference between quietly questioning your skills and being made to feel as though your identity makes you unworthy of your position or accomplishments.
It is natural to get tired or feel fatigued, especially because you are looking after your business. Entrepreneurs are rarely strangers to feeling the weight of being the decision maker. However, being close to burning out is a sign that your mental health is as healthy as you think.
You can tell that you are close to burning out when you feel everything to the extreme—stress, exhaustion, and irritability. You may also feel like isolating yourself and thinking about leaving everything behind.
Constantly being stressed can result in difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, more commonly known as insomnia. You find yourself struggling to keep up with your old routine. You can’t fall asleep at the same time as you did before and even if you fall asleep, you wake up too early and have trouble falling back to sleep.
It is normal to feel anxious once in a while. In fact, it is extremely common when facing stressful situations. However, when you are constantly anxious it may mean that you are actually having a hard time coping with everything that is going on, or that you might even have chronic anxiety.
You constantly feel worried about every little thing. You are constantly tense, irritable, and unfocused. You find yourself spacing out most of the time and that adds up to your anxiety.
Founder Depression is a form of depression brought on by being a startup owner. Many entrepreneurs fall victim to this mental health issue, especially when everything feels extremely overwhelming.
Unfortunately, some of the key personality traits of startup founders may end up leading to founder depression. Entrepreneurs need to be risk-takers, goal achievers, and innovators. In business, this provides the opportunity for exceptional success. This offers a great atmosphere for founder depression when risk-taking fails, goals aren’t reached, and progress is slowed down.
What can you do to take care of your mental health?
Acknowledge your mental health issues
The first step is to acknowledge that your mental health is threatened. Being in denial about the state of your mental health will not help anyone, not yourself, not your employees and definitely not your business.
The sooner you acknowledge that you need support, the sooner you can take care of your mental health and, ultimately, get back on your feet. The first step is generally the most difficult, but once you put one foot forward, it becomes easier.
Contrary to popular belief, getting help does not equate to weakness. It takes a lot of courage to get the help you need especially when you are accustomed to doing things by yourself.
Getting therapy or talking to a psychiatrist does not mean that you have a mental illness, it only means that you are taking a step to take care of your mental wellbeing. Getting help will let you learn how to take the necessary steps and plan accordingly.
Exercise. Find time to do some physical activities. Even if all you do is take a walk as it will still help your body produce endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine.
Our body releases these happy hormones when we exercise or do something we love. Making exercise a regular part of your day or your week will not only make you physically fit, it will also let you produce these happy hormones regularly.
Take a break
Go on a holiday or just take a day off to yourself without thinking about work. Taking a break once in a while does not mean that you are neglecting your startup.
Sometimes a change of environment is just what you need. It will allow you to recharge, breathe, and feel rejuvenated. Remember that even as a business entrepreneur, you are still a human being. You must be conscious of your own mental health in the same way that you care for the mental health of your employees. Running a business as they say, is a marathon, not a sprint. You must learn to pace yourself.
Get together with family and friends
Spending time with your family and friends outside of work will help boost not only your mental wellbeing but also your emotional and physical health.
Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are greatly reduced when you spend time with family, especially when you communicate face-to-face as opposed to using technology. In addition to providing strong emotional support, being physically present with loved ones may help you overcome life’s challenges.
Trust your Startup Team
You have a team for a reason. A team that you have chosen to accompany you on your startup journey.
Trusting your team will alleviate some of the stress that comes with running your business. Give them the benefit of the doubt and hold them accountable. Communicate with your team of your expectations, your goals, and what they can do to help reach those goals.