The numerous tasks and sleepless nights entrepreneurship makes you face on a daily basis can take a huge toll on your health. Your mental health is at risk of being affected by the isolation and immense pressure that is distinctive of it.
According to a study by Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, a third of entrepreneurs have a history of depression.
“Our research found that 49 percent of the entrepreneurs we surveyed report having one or more mental health conditions. Among the entrepreneurs, 30 percent report having periods of depression, 29 percent report having ADHD, 12 percent report having substance use conditions and 11 percent report having bipolar spectrum conditions. These are all higher than the comparison participants.” Freeman, who is also mentor at the Entrepreneurship Centre UCSF, tells me in an interview.
In view of the huge pressures faced during the early days of starting your business, coupled with fact that the chances of a start-up succeeding are slim, it's not surprising that a lot of entrepreneurs suffer from depression.
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The life of an entrepreneur is often fraught with frustrations and worries which can stress you out. Insomnia, anxiety and irritability for extended periods of time can mean you're suffering from chronic stress. Chronic stress results in a host of adverse physical health issues like high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and weight problems.
“Many successful entrepreneurs have a touch of OCD, which actually can work in their favor to a certain degree. They are hyper-focused on getting things exactly right, and that an help their company to stand out.” Chloe Carmichael Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, told me in an interview. “The OCD tendencies can flip from being an asset to a liability as the company grows, and the entrepreneur is no longer able to personally make sure that every nook and cranny of the business is done exactly according to their standards. It's usually when entrepreneurs are at this tipping point that they seek my help for proactive approaches that will reduce stress while also increasing efficiency.”
Here are five practical tips on how to reduce or completely do away with these health effects:
Getting sufficient sleep is one of the simplest ways to improve your health and hold stress at bay. Although there's no one size fits all, the recommended amount of sleep you should get in order to be at your most productive is seven to nine hours. Don't be fooled by those who say they get just four hours of sleep daily and are healthy. They're probably not, and just haven't been diagnosed yet.
2. Improve the quality of your support system.
A strong support system is invaluable to you. Isolation increases your vulnerability to mental health issues. Talk about your successes, fears and worries with people (friends and family) who care about you. Merely having trusted people listen to you and give you advice can help you feel immensely better. It's important that you surround yourself with only positive people. Having "negative Nancies" around you will subtly influence your psyche for the worse, so start cutting them off now.
Simple aerobic exercises like jogging, walking and swimming have been proven to help depression and anxiety long term. Make it part of your routine to jog or take a stroll after stressful work days and watch your mood improve. Exercise can't be overemphasised because it's the one thing that helps with both your physical and mental health at the same time. It's no wonder many successful CEO's have prioritized it.
4. Manage your staff effectively.
When the inner workings of your company are going on satisfactorily, your worries dissipate and your workload will reduce. “Entrepreneurs need to learn how to hire the right people and then manage them effectively,” says Carmichael. “Finding the right balance between empowering them yet also keeping a close eye to ensure they uphold the standards of quality that helped the company succeed in the first place.”
5. Seek professional help.
Seeing a psychologist is one of the best ways to help with mental health issue that are persistent and/or long term. “Recognize the early warning signs of these issues and seek professional help if they get to the point of interfering with life and work functioning.” says Freeman.
He also advises entrepreneurs to be aware of any prior, or underlying mental health issues that have occurred in the past, or that run in the family.