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Tips for business founders to manage mental health

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

According to Forbes, 72% of entrepreneurs stated that they suffer from mental health problems and 77% of founders state that running a business has negatively affected their mental health.

This statistic doesn’t surprise me. In fact I am surprised the figure isn’t 100%. I cannot recall an honest conversation with any founder who hasn’t struggled with self belief, stress, sleep (or lack of it) and anxiety.

On World Mental Health Day, it’s a good time to reflect on the lessons that our peers have shared. A moment for honest, human, free-range and perhaps unexpected conversations. Because navigating mental health is universal.

As a solo entrepreneur, when times are tough, it’s easy to forget that you are not alone. But the challenges you are facing have been tackled by so many before.

1000's of entrepreneurs across the world have been generous and open about their own personal stories, recording the roller coaster of high days, low days and how this affects motivation and self esteem. Steve Bartlett’s ‘Diary of A CEO’ is a great example of this new era of open sharing.

As a founder myself, I’ve now accepted that worry and fear are all part of a growth journey - whether that’s business or personal. I think the trick is to acknowledge the feelings and still keep moving forward. And yes I do meditate!

Here’s a roundup of the best advice I have been given, read, listened to or indeed shared myself. I hope it helps many early stage business owners on their path to self belief and success.

1. Be Honest

How many of us are great at dealing with what’s going on in our heads? For most people, showing vulnerability and asking for help is uncomfortable. Being open and honest takes courage but you cannot really connect with others properly unless you’ve learned to be honest about yourself.

People at the top of a business are often the worst at recognising their own strengths, weaknesses and mental health challenges. But once you take the first step and get over that first hurdle, you’ll recognise it’s one of the best personal change steps you can make.

Start with accepting - you don’t know everything! But you can build a team around you who can help find the answers you need. But of course that only happens with you asking for their support in the first place. In the old world of business rules, this may have been viewed as a vulnerability but it's far from it.

A CEO I recently worked with had a ‘No need to talk. Let's just get on and do it’ approach. That kind of stoicism wasn’t useful for his team or helpful to him. He subsequently recognised that sharing his infallibility, showing compassion and empathy was actually a great show of strength. He explained how by changing his approach, it led to open conversations with colleagues and a bond that was hugely valuable for everyone.

Lottie Whyte, co-founder of recovery tech brand, Myomaster is revelatory about exposing the raw highs and lows of managing a fast growth business and a family too. Her Linkedin page shares regular insights into the hard lessons she is learning and how her mental health is work in progress.

Opening up and asking for support from your team (whether salaried or advisors) unlocks a huge spectrum of opportunity and helps you build stronger relationships. In the workplace, it creates a foundation of work culture that pulls people together and in doing that, fosters much greater communication and collaboration.

2. Curate connections

Although I love my new remote working freedom, my own sense of isolation increases when I don’t feel a valued part of a team or community. I believe that building your own personal support community (your own power team if you like) is invaluable. Not only do you get to share contacts and network, you’re able to share experiences and recognise that many of the issues you are facing are shared and understood by so many others.

For business owners, this could be about joining fellow business co-founders in a collaborative co-working space. There are so many available spaces to join and meet like-minded entrepreneurs. Equally this could just as easily be about joining online business communities or listening regularly to podcasts from business leaders you admire. For freelance consultants like myself, @Leapers is a brilliant Slack group that blends humour and humanity to help all freelancers feel supported.

As a business leader, be clear about goals and regularly celebrate individual and team successes. Equally, in a remote work setting, team members need to be available and involved to help curate positive team spirit.

Countless studies have shown that a sense of belonging is crucial to our happiness, mental and physical health - even longevity.

3. Support Others

We’re all facing personal challenges and in that shared experience, we’re all the same. It's likely that everyday someone in your organisation, network or family is going through some sort of challenge. And the greatest personal high is being able to help.

There are a huge number of pressure factors that everyone is influenced by irrespective of position. These issues are then further compounded by stress and pressure at work. So remember if someone isn’t quite themselves or they are making things tougher than they need to be, it’s most likely they are dealing with their own mental health challenges and it’s important to get them some support.

That often just starts with asking if they are ok. We’re all dealing with a whole spectrum of negative influences that can bend us out of shape. And no matter what people look like on the outside, poor mental health impacts everybody at every work level.

4. Take Time Off!

As business owners are facing a period of significant disruption, the thought of taking a holiday may feel completely ludicrous. In a Metro article, Michelle Ovens from Small Business Britain, explains that this perception has been in play since the pandemic experience. More entrepreneurs than ever feel they cannot take a break because they’ve already faced a whole series of stressful situations.

And yet research shows that not taking a holiday break can damage mental health and productivity. One study shared by Alertness Solutions, found that taking a holiday can increase performance by 80% and reaction times by 40%.

Annual leave is not just a benefit but a health requirement for all employees including the leaders! Remind everyone of the importance and health benefits of time away from the workplace. Founders and business leaders must set an example by taking breaks (regular small ones also count!) and communicate the value of holidays in employee on-boarding and handbooks.

5. Be Kind
Yup I know. The word, kindness has become an Instagram cliche. But it’s popularity in use is no doubt because it’s true. Being kind is about being kind to others and to yourself. In a recent YouGov poll, 63% of people responded saying performing an act of kindness was positive for their mental health.

According to psychotherapist, Dr Helen Gaynor in a recent Stylist interview, when you’re feeling low or anxious, it’s easy to become consumed by your own worries or concerns. Turning your attention towards someone else – whether that’s a friend, family member or complete stranger – is often the perfect antidote.

“If you’re feeling low, it may feel counterintuitive to want to go out your way to do something kind for someone else,” Gaynor acknowledges. “However, there is a plethora of academic research that shows being kind to others has a positive impact on your own wellbeing. If you’re short on time or energy, you don’t need to do something big or bold, either".

And kindness goes both ways. Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t easy for everyone, but sleep is a vital gift of self care for any busy entrepreneur. One 2021 study, which examined sleep data from 273,695 adults, found that people who averaged six hours of sleep or less per night were around 2.5 times more likely to report frequent mental distress than those who averaged more than six hours of sleep.”

On World Mental Health Day, It’s great to scan the digital headlines today re-sharing tips on better wellbeing for all humanity across the world. It’s this kind of global movement that will help all entrepreneurs build better businesses empowered by self awareness, compassion and kindness.

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