Let’s face it. We have a lot on our plate as entrepreneurs. We are creating, strategizing and growing our business, navigating relationships with investors and stakeholders, supporting and collaborating with our team, keeping a close eye on our financials and providing services and/or products to our clients.
Does anyone have time to take care of themselves, in the midst of that workload and emotional labor? Well, if you are one of the many founders who find themselves chronically putting their needs at the bottom of the list, don't go anywhere. I want to bring you back to a few essential practices that you might've forgotten along the way.
Rather than trying to find an opening in your schedule for that month long sabbatical (although that does sound pretty nice!) let's take a moment to bring it back to basics and explore some mental wellness strategies that you can put into practice right away. As an entrepreneurial psychotherapist who specializes in mental health for founders and entrepreneurs, I encourage my clients to embrace a lifestyle that includes these 7 essential practices.
1. Treat Your Body Well
Your body is one of your most important resources, period. What you put into your body is what you will get out of it. Now, in all transparency, I must confess that I relied way too heavily, during my first year as an entrepreneur on coffee and mint chocolate chip ice cream. But it didn’t take long for that to catch up to me as one can’t run a marathon on caffeine and sugar bursts. The unpredictable schedule, financial risks, high stress on the mind and body as well as the pervasive “hustle culture” can lend itself to neglecting our basic needs, including sleep, movement and nutrition. Therefore, it is vital to fuel your body with a well balanced diet, slowing down and sitting down to eat meals and making sure your water intake exceeds your caffeine. You can also treat your body well by adopting a daily practice of movement that not only acts as a form of exercise but also supports and heightens your awareness of your body and it’s needs. The more connected we are to our sensations and bodily experience, the better able we are to adjust our behavior to meet the essential needs of our body.
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Humans need 8 or more hours of sleep to function optimally. Most entrepreneurs are sleep deprived because they are burning the midnight oil, too often, trying to get it all done. The problem with this approach however is that chronic sleep deprivation is stealing your creative energy and productivity and seriously compromising your mental health. A long term sleep study has shown that people who sleep less than six hours at night have a decline in brain function equivalent to aging four to seven years. So, the bottom line is that sleep matters a great deal and if you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, it might be time to make some changes to your evening routine committing to a bedtime that ensures you will get those eight hours of sleep in before it’s time to rise and shine. If you experience chronic sleep disturbances, this could be a sign that a more serious underlying mental health condition is present and, in this case, seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
3. Join a Support Group or Community of Your Peers
One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is a sense of isolation. A contributing factor for this experience is a lack of focus on meeting your own emotional needs for care and belonging. As a leader, you can become overly focused on meeting the needs and expectations of your team, clients and stakeholders, and lose sight of your own need for emotional support and connection. In addition, the unique work demands and schedule of entrepreneurship can place additional stress on personal relationships, creating conflict or separation from friends and family. Therefore, it is vital that you seek support with peers who can understand your experience, destigmatize mental health issues and normalize the social/emotional needs that are specific to being a founder. A rising number of therapists and organizations, including Herd, Econa Wellness, ReBoot, Zen Founder, Conscious Ambition and Founders First offer peer support and therapeutic groups for entrepreneurs. And coworking communities and small business incubators such as Women Who Cowork and The Un.Inc are also a great place to find your people. Community is an essential need for entrepreneurs.
4. Slow Way Down
When was the last time you simply put everything down and took a moment for yourself? Experiencing exhaustion, overwhelm and anxiety is a common cluster of symptoms I hear from entrepreneurs seeking mental health support. This is often a result from over stimulation in the nervous system, resulting from high engagement with technology as well as pushing past our energetic tipping point. Founders can find themselves caught in the “hustle at all costs” culture, overcommitting and overfunctioning, which can leave us feeling chronically overwhelmed and depleted. One effective way to address overwhelm is to unplug and slow down, regularly. Slowing down our mind and bodies involves adopting new strategies such as practicing mindfulness, walks in nature, a digital detox, scheduling downtime, setting boundaries to allow for more time and space and developing a daily meditation or reflection practice.
5. Go Green
Plants, plants and more plants is my recommendation for your workspace (and living spaces, too!). Research shows that there are numerous benefits of plants on our mental health, including lowering stress levels, improving memory and attention span by 20 percent and increasing concentration. I always recommend getting out into nature as often as possible, however, if you don’t have easy access to the great outdoors, simply bring a few plants into your indoor workspace. And if you don’t have a green thumb, not to worry, you can shop online at Desk Plants, and choose from a variety of resilient and beautiful plants that can be shipped directly to you with a detailed plant care card.
6. Develop a self-compassionate mindset
I really can’t emphasize enough the importance of a self-compassionate mindset for everyone, especially leaders and entrepreneurs. With high levels of responsibility comes a higher chance of making mistakes, experiencing regret and succumbing to the inner critic. The inner critic is a term in psychology that refers to an inner dialogue that criticizes, judges and demeans a person and can run amok inside our minds when we feel that we have underperformed, dropped the ball or made a mess of things in some way. It can include thoughts such as, “You will never be good/smart/attractive enough” or “What a joke, you can’t ever get it right.” The truth about self-criticism is that it will only worsen your mood and perception as it elicits a biochemical reaction in the brain that activates the “fight-flight-freeze” response. This occurs because the brain is likely to perceive this negative emotion (inner verbal attack) as a threat or danger. Yet, when we shift our inner voice from critical to compassionate (loving/kind/understanding), we can elicit a biochemical reaction that activates a self-regulating and healing response. Therefore, adopting a self-compassionate mindset can improve mental health, increasing resiliency in response to stress and a more optimistic outlook on yourself and your business. If cultivating a more loving and supportive voice feels challenging, I recommend beginning your exploration with guided meditations such as the Loving Kindness Meditation from Kristin Neff, psychology professor and researcher on self-compassion at The University of Texas in Austin.
7. Ask for Help
One of the consistent personality traits observed in entrepreneurs is the trait of independence. This, of course, should come as no surprise since most entrepreneurs are setting out to undertake daunting projects in the name of social change, innovation and/or financial success. The risks are often greater than the majority are willing to take on, therefore, it can often feel like a solitary effort from the start. Asking for help or showing vulnerability around a need can feel out of reach for many entrepreneurs. Honestly, delegation is often a skill that challenges every entrepreneur, even in the operations of their business, so when it comes to asking for emotional help the resistance and discomfort is high. This resistance can also be due to the current stigma surrounding mental health.
Yet, I am here to remind you that it’s not only ok to ask for help, it can be one of the most important actions you can take for your personal health and for the health of your business.
In my opinion, we can only be as successful in our business as we are healthy in our mind and body. Therefore, each of these essential practices are rooted in increasing our self-observation and self-awareness. Are we inhabiting our bodies, and if so, how do we feel? Do I need more sleep, movement, food, time in nature, reflection, or help? The journey of conscious entrepreneurship is the development of self as much as it is the development of new business ideas and creative solutions. Therefore, it is vital to prioritize one’s mental health and well-being throughout the process. And often that means that we need to seek outside support from a therapist or wellness professional.
But don’t just take it from me. In a recent podcast interview on Mental Wealth for Entrepreneurs, I heard Dr. Michael Freeman MD, DMH, a psychiatrist, serial entrepreneur, executive coach, and entrepreneurship researcher echo this sentiment. He shared his recommendation that every founder make their wellness a priority and create their own personal advisory board, consisting of a few people such as a best friend, a loved one or a therapist whose primary role is to keep the founder well and a few people such as an executive coach or mentor to help with the business. He goes on to say that you should be speaking as frequently with your wellness advisory as you speak to your business advisors. I couldn’t agree more and I look forward to the day when this becomes common practice in the world of business and entrepreneurship. So, please ask for help, as this change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem can start with you.
For the time being, I encourage you to bring it back to the basics with these 7 mental health preventative practices. And if your mental health issues are currently interfering with your functioning and daily responsibilities, please reach out to a mental health professional or call a hotline for support and guidance.
You do not need to lead alone. Book an complimentary consultation to learn more about how I can support you with individual and/or support group offerings. The #AloneTogether Support Group for Entrepreneurs is now enrolling for Feb 2021 and I would love to have you join us!