As an entrepreneur, you already know how easy it is to drive yourself crazy. You have to juggle multiple roles and tend to millions of tasks. You live in ambiguity, unable to predict when and where your ideas will pick up and turn into sustainable businesses. You keep questioning the value of what you offer. You have to embrace negative feedback and pretend it doesn’t bring you down. You are constantly faced with small failures. Funding doesn’t come through, prospective clients don’t call back, focus groups aren’t receptive to concepts and family vacations have to be canceled.
And while failure is an integral part of success, dealing with mistakes, complaints and rejection on a regular basis could make even the strongest self-esteem crumble. Especially when self-esteem becomes synonymous with being successful.
Entrepreneurs make huge emotional investments in their ideas. They become one with their concepts, their services and their products. Their business becomes their identity. Any loss or failure is no longer just about time and money. It is about self-worth.
And that kind of investment can be a slippery slope. The multiple demands, the relentless ambiguity and the unforeseen failures can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Research shows that entrepreneurs are prone to several mental health issues, including: depression, anxiety, hypomania, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One out of five people each year are diagnosed with a mental disorder. How will you make sure that this year you will not become part of this grim statistic? Below are the most effective strategies to protect your most valuable asset: your mental health.
Related: How Successful People Manage Stress
1. Mind your body.
The first step to guarding your mental health is to take care of your body. The mind-body connection is strong and reciprocal. Your physical state affects your psychological state. When you have a nasty cold, you feel unmotivated, distracted and irritable. Similarly, your own thoughts and emotions can have an impact on your physical well-being. When you are worried about making payroll at the end of the month, you may start getting severe tension headaches. Body functions known to contribute to a healthy mind include the quality of your sleep, your level of physical activity and your nutrition. All of which will have different effects on your mood, your motivation and your cognitive performance.
2. Leverage your emotions.
Emotions are not signs of weakness to be eradicated. They are indispensable, internal signals created to keep you in line with your goals. They are your evolutionary allies in your quest for success. Emotions such as: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety are non-verbal, non-cognitive ways of assessing the environment for risk, tracking progress toward a goal and evaluating the outcomes of your actions. Learning to interpret them can protect you from stress, boost your motivation and keep you more focused. Ignore them, and you have lost a valuable resource.
3. Examine your self-talk.
Self-talk is what you tell yourself in the privacy of your own head. It is the sub-vocal speech you use to operate day to day. You use it to keep yourself in check, to make decisions and to judge yourself and others. When the content of your self-talk is filled with messages about how you don’t have what it takes, how no one cares about what you have to say and how difficult it is to have the life you want, your motivation will shrink, your creativity will dry up and your mood will deteriorate to alarming levels. Be mindful of what you tell yourself about yourself. If it’s not helping you solve problems and make progress, change your tune.
4. Foster connections.
The stress and isolation that mark the entrepreneur’s life can easily turn to serious mental torment. When you are so immersed in the life of your business, it is easy to neglect your own social life. Social support is one of the most effective natural buffers against depression and anxiety. Surrounding yourself with people who can understand what you are going through and respect your work and ambition is paramount. Having frequent contact with people you can trust and rely on provides a strong antibiotic against emotional distress.
5. Seek professional help.
Entrepreneurs are used to solving problems on their own. When it comes to mental health, however, it may be wise to get an opinion from the experts. Therapy is a good option if you are looking to expand your self-awareness, gain a different perspective and share your "craziest" ideas without worrying about being judged.
But in some cases, therapy becomes a necessary option. For example, when you can’t fall asleep at night because your head is pulsating with worrying thoughts about the future of your business. When you can’t get out of bed in the morning because you feel unable to deal with the world. When you can’t get any work done, you miss deadlines, or you have to often have to apologize for being behind schedule. And definitely when you start thinking that the world would be a better place without you in it.