For today’s post, I wanted to focus on a topic that is extremely important but, sadly, often neglected among entrepreneurs: mental health.
But if there’s one group that should be discussing mental health it’s entrepreneurs! That’s because research shows that we are at high risk of experiencing mental health issues at some point in our lives.
In fact, according to a study conducted by Michael A. Freeman, a researcher at the University of San Francisco, approximately one half (49%) of entrepreneurs have one or more lifetime mental health conditions.
Furthermore, entrepreneurs are:
- 30% more likely to suffer from a lifetime of depression
- 29% more likely to suffer from ADHD
- 12% more likely to suffer from bipolar spectrum disorder
- 11% more likely to abuse substances
If these figures aren’t enough to get people in the entrepreneur community talking about mental health, then I don’t know what is!?
My personal experience
Because I started my own business in a new country, a new city, a new environment and a new economy, I had to make sure that it would work (and fast). At the time, I had no one close to me that I could talk to, lean on for support and generally express my feelings to. It was tough.
I also knew that if my business was going to be a success, I had to get out there, start networking and make a name for myself in the professional circles that would eventually benefit my business. But as an introvert, this was easier said than done.
I really like being on my own. My happy place is on the top of the mountain with a book.
Love or hate networking
Nevertheless, through running my own business and being forced to network, I’ve learnt how to deal with big groups of people; how to manage being social (a lot); and how to thrive in very busy places.
Now, I love networking! I can handle very big crowds and I can pretty easily connect with strangers. I’m still not amazing at it, but it doesn’t fill me with horror and fear anymore – which, believe me, is a huge step forward.
I’ve learnt how to thrive in high-energy groups, how to work the room at networking events of tens and hundreds of people, how to go out a couple of times a week and still feel energise the day after. But it’s been a long journey of figuring out what works for me and what I need to stay sane, happy and healthy.
And this will be different for everyone! No matter if you’re an introvert like me or if you naturally thrive around people, knowing how to manage your own energy is crucial for success (especially if your success depends purely on you and your business).
Do it on your own terms
While motivational speakers and hustlepreneurs will tell you that you need to be bringing your A-game 24/7 and always ready to seize an opportunity, the reality is that it’s not always possible (and that’s okay).
It’s perfectly okay to be busy and get stuff done on your own terms – as long as those terms suit your clients too. You don’t have to be burning the candle at both ends and working yourself to burnout. I used to think that, but now I realise that it’s because I didn’t know any better.
Say no more often
One of the keys to achieving a better work-life balance and protecting your mental health is learning to say “no”.
Whether it’s telling your friends that you really aren’t in the mood to socialise, or advising a client that you won’t be able to meet their super-demanding deadline, saying no can feel so relieving.
In addition to this, I’ve also learnt how to balance social times and high-intensity networking with spells of peace, quiet and solitude to recharge my batteries.
How to have a life?
One thing that I’ve found particularly challenging was balancing my business social life with my personal social life.
As mentioned above, I like being on my own, but for my business’s sake, I’ve learnt how to be social. I regularly go out and network with people, keep my appearances and to strengthen my relationship with like-minded entrepreneurs. But that means that when it comes to my free time, I prefer to be alone.
This becomes a challenge when you’re trying to have a life, if you’re trying to meet new people, spend more time with friends and maybe even date a little. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I realised what little capacity for socialising I have and how careful I need to be not to overdo it with business networking, otherwise I won’t be able to go out and see people who are important for my personal life.
I think that this is a big challenge – especially for young starting entrepreneurs who don’t have a family or a partner to lean back on and help ground them. I know from my own experience how easy it is to just live and breathe your business, especially in the early days when it requires a huge amount of your time and attention.
This is compounded if you truly love what you’re doing and you’re passionate about your new venture. It’s very easy to just blindly focus on the goal and ignore the world around you. That was me for a long time.
Work hard, play hard
Work hard, play hard meant intense periods of working in the business and networking to work on the business and then taking myself away on a trip to recharge my introvert self. But when I was travelling, I was always alone.
For a couple of years, I completely isolated myself aside from building business relationships. I put all my personal relationships on hold. As long as things were going great, it wasn’t a problem. But once life and business became challenging, I soon realised that there was no one in my personal network who I have a really close relationship with and that I could lean on if needed.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some amazing people and a lot of my business friends are there for me no matter what. But as a shy introvert, I find it hard to open up and be vulnerable with people. And it’s twice as hard when I’m also trying to have a professional relationship with these people too.
Taking time away from your business and really listening to your body and mind to give them what they need for you to be 100% is the most important thing that you can do for your business. Instead of spending one more hour responding to emails, writing more blog posts or going to every networking event you can find, take some time to grab a coffee with a friend or go out to a theatre.
The best thing I’ve learned to do over the past couple of months is saying yes to more social and creative stuff, be it a laughter yoga workshop, hula hooping taster or outdoor theatre. I’m slowly getting better at being proactive with building more meaningful friendships with some of my colleagues, as well as getting more open to the world of dating.
And you know what?! I’m still able to do all the work that I need, I’m still working hard and delivering amazing results for my clients. I just procrastinate less, I’m more focused and sharper!
Find what works for you
For those of you who aren’t introverts and don’t need the frequent downtime, a great way to boost your mental health is through going out and doing things you enjoy with friends and family. Whether that’s socialising, exercising, playing sports, whatever, by simply taking some time out from the hustle and focussing on you, you’ll feel better mentally (and probably physically, providing you don’t drink too much during those social gatherings).
Over to you… If you’re an introvert, what has helped you overcome your networking anxiety? And regardless of whether you’re an introvert or not, what do you do to get away from the entrepreneurial hustle once in a while?