Managing Your Mental Health as an Entrepreneur

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Mental health, if not addressed, can have debilitating side effects—some of which may be detrimental to your business.

When people talk about entrepreneurship, most of the discussions revolve around the sense of fulfillment or satisfaction they get from building something out of nothing. While this may be true, there’s another side to going into business for yourself: the price you pay.

That “price” is a psychological one. According to a recent survey, 30 percent of the entrepreneurs participating reported a lifetime history of depression. Another 29 percent said they were dealing with ADHD; 27 percent revealed feelings of anxiety.

Mental health issues, if not addressed, can have debilitating side effects — some of which may be detrimental to the business itself. Take anxiety, for example. When you’re dealing with a choice, the anxiety involved may cause you to overestimate or underestimate the outcome of your selection.

Depression can have a similar effect on decision-making; it can lead to a more pessimistic point of view, one that renders you unable to use the information available to make the best decision.

What’s more, feelings of apathy can lead to a lack of self-confidence, causing you to feel less valuable or validated by your work. Your employees don’t just expect a salary from you; they want a reliable leader and exemplary role model to learn from and follow.

It’s hard to give anything your all if you’re not healthy — mentally and physically.

Taking Stock of Stress

Eighteen percent of employed respondents to the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, a study of 15- to 54-year-old Americans, said they had felt some sort of symptom of a mental health disorder within a month of the survey. Although the signs that stress is affecting mental health vary from person to person, there are a few things to look out for — one of which is your temperament.

How do you react to unexpected news? If you’re quick to be moody, become angered or become irritated, there could be cause for concern.

The same is true for constructive criticism. You may normally be receptive to this type of input. But what if, of late, you’ve been unable to accept it, or you find yourself arguing over seemingly negative comments? That may be a sign you’re under too much stress and it’s now affecting your mental health.

You may also find yourself changing your mind with greater frequency or have an increasing level of difficulty making decisions — so much so that you start to neglect your responsibilities or drag your feet when faced with a choice.

Other signs can include a newfound paranoia about others around you (including trusted partners and investors), resistance to establishing relationships and enough oversensitivity to others’ opinions that it clouds your business and managerial decisions.

Shouldering the Load

Managing your workload is often the first order of business. But this is easier said than done for many entrepreneurs, and you might want to try the following to help:

1. CLASSIFY YOUR WORKLOAD. A CareerCast survey labeled unpredictability and deadlines as No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on its list of the biggest contributors to work-related stress. Both issues can play a big part in an employees’ daily capacity.

Your workload will generally fall into one of two categories: physically loaded or psychologically loaded. Make the latter a priority. The more psychologically loaded work you do, the stronger you’ll get — no matter whether this work is successful or not. Increased amounts of this kind of work build a solid mental base and help you gain perspective on how to prioritize tasks during hectic or tenuous periods.

Steven Handmaker, chief marketing officer of independent insurance broker Assurance, noticed that his employees were struggling to manage their workloads and were bogged down with too many meetings, emails and interruptions.

After Handmaker spoke with a consultant, he had his Assurance employees block out a certain number of hours each week for priority-work time. Employees subsequently reported being happier, and Assurance subsequently received positive recognition from Fortune, the Chicago Tribune and other publications.

2. AVOID COMPARISONS WITH OTHERS. Thinking you’re the only person who can’t handle a large amount of work without feeling pressure is a recipe for disaster. CareerCast tabbed workplace environment — including interactions with colleagues, bosses and customers — the second-biggest reason for employee stress.

Facebook, like a number of companies, is a competitive, sometimes stressful work environment. To combat those tensions, the company uses an open office space to cultivate flat organizational structure while inspiring creativity and ambition without the stress of employees being right on top of one another.

Constant, immediate comparisons to your co-workers can only complicate those relationships. Although each one of us has the same autonomic stress system, what makes any one of us feel anxious won’t be the same as what affects even our closest colleagues.

3. RESPECT THE TIME AVAILABLE. Time moves at the same pace for everyone. Use it wisely, and understand that it’s better not to procrastinate on a task just because you feel that you’ll handle the rest of your work without pressure or stress.

Instead of fixating on tasks and checking off each subsequent box, take time to reflect on the value of your work over your lifetime. Look at the impact your work is having on those around you — or even the community at large.

Meditation can help with work stress. Companies, including Google, Nike and Yahoo, encourage meditation among their employees. It’s a great way to reduce tension and provide the mental reprieve necessary for employees to be productive and take better stock of work-related responsibilities.

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 a particular stimulus. As long as you know the signs, you’ll be better equipped to maneuver the daily comings and goings of worklife.

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