When you set out on the journey of starting your own business, you don’t stop to think about the impact it may gave on your health – mental or physical. What we hear are the jokes about being able to stagger from our beds to our desks in the morning, coffee in hand and still on our pajamas’s. The joy of having your own hours and being your own boss. Being able to fit your personal life around your business and not the other way around. The personal satisfaction of working on something that you are passionate about and being able to be the one that really make it happen.
I am not going to explode the bubble of wonder about being self employed, a start up or fresh entrepreneur, many of these things are true for some, but I am going to have a look at the impact of the reality on our mental health.
The reality is closer to getting up at 6am to get to just one more email and going to bed after midnight because you just need to get one last thing out today. Running around to meetings, networking events and various other types of events to try to connect with people who might want to do business with you or know someone who does.
Being the Managing Director, Finance Director, Marketing Director, Communications Director, PR Director and Sales Director all rolled into one – add a little R & D and we might have the picture going.
If you are lucky enough to start with another person on board with you – it is sharing those responsibilities out and the added measure of not letting the other person down. I am sure that I can list many other things. I am also sure there will be people out there that this is not an image of what it is like.
I want to focus on those who can connect to this feeling on being on the hamster wheel. That feeling of overwhelm of inadequacy that can sneak in at times.
Don’t get me wrong the passion and excitement is still there – this is what helps you through everything else.
If you are doing all this and trying to balance a family as well, there are most likely days where you wonder what sort of parent you are turning into, or even if you are ever going to get to sleep again.
The overwhelm and mental health
You see one of the first things to go when you enter that world of overwhelm is looking after yourself. You will tell yourself you are but if you really step back you will likely find a very different picture.
When we get to that stage that we cannot see the end of the list of things we need to do, and the pressure on keeping on top of it because it is our income source we are playing with, we start to work longer and longer hours to get things done.
When we do this we start to take short cuts with our diet and with our physical activity.
I have a good friend who is running a successful business. A one person show, no personal assistant, virtual assistant or others working with them. They also volunteer in a couple of professional organisations and community groups. The other day I received a message from them at 2 am saying that their list of things they needed to get done in the next 24 hours had 59 items on it.
This is an all too familiar story. The life of this person on the surface looks great, travelling around the UK and the world doing business, a seemingly endless list of clients coming in and yet…the business is only just making ends meet, they have periods where they are happy when a job suddenly gets canceled because it claws back time, and they are constantly fighting a battle with physical and mental health.
Amy Morin in her 2015 Forbes article, There’s A Hidden Dark Side To Being An Entrepreneur, mentions some of the areas this can reek havoc – depression, anxiety, self-worth and addiction. I want to have a look at the first three again today.
Depression can show is many ways and if often well masked by those of us who are on the ‘entrepreneurial journey’. It does show up in small ways to begin with. The lack of sleep I mentioned above can be one of them, on the flip side, it could be running your hours out of wack with what your business really needs – getting up late because you struggle to get up in the morning and then working late because the pressure to meet deadlines kicks in and overrides the need to just go back to bed.
It is so much more than this. If you are in the early stages of your business journey, or maybe even one of those where you are your business – this is particularly pertinent for those who are trainer, speakers and coaches – you can often go days where you don’t have contact with any one at all during your business day. This can be even more isolating if you are living on your own as well.
When in this type of situation, a withdrawal from the networking events, or even having that coffee with a friend, on one to many occasions can be some of the first signs that depression may be taking over.
It can also show up in your weight and fitness. I personally have struggled with my size for the last 4 or so years. It has been a bit of a roller coaster due to various reasons. In the last year though the very thought of trying to put energy into maintaining a healthy food regime just shut me down. I gave myself permission to let it go, as it was just too hard to find the time to cook dinner or make breakfast, so I would head for the easy options – prepackaged foods full of sugars. Let’s not forget the sugary soft-drinks to go with that! Boom, with excuse in hand, I was able to comfort eat my way through the depression. The extra 30 or so kilograms that I now carry is not making me feel very happy about that choice!
This goes hand in hand with the depression and overwhelm often. The constant worry that you won’t get the work in that you need to make it work. The stress of meeting deadlines without someone to share it with. Financial pressures and the constant worry about how you are going to pay the bills. This is a big one if you are self financed, as you then add the worry of how you pay yourself back, and if you are unfortunate in how you handle it the dive in your credit rating along with it.
There is the constant nag, that you are not being professional enough, missing deadlines (many self imposed) and trying to do it all.
This then leads to bout of serious and almost crippling anxiety and the self-sabotage that may come with it. Anxiety in itself can became a real personal monster in that often the only way through it is to work the thing that is causing the anxiousness through to the end!
As entrepreneurs our self-worth often becomes tied up with the businesses perceived success. If it is all going well we will feel better about ourselves, although many of us still have our doubts and will work the anxiety of it all falling around our heads back into our self worth ‘talk’. If it is not going well, the self talk turns to failure, how we are doing poorly, how it could’ve have been done better, what we do wrong, and how it is because of us personally that it is such a failure.
It is also perception that can feed into this.
The perception that your business is doing well, even if you know that it is not can start self talk about being an impostor or fraud.
This is one that women in particular will work into their internal dialogue to a point that it can potentially take them down in itself. It is also a place where the mask goes on and the world sees one face, whilst the ‘real you’ struggles with this self sabotaging self talk behind closed doors.
What does this all mean?
At the end of the day the biggest difficulty for those of use which are in a business situation which often has us working in an office from our own home or just on our own, it is not that we are likely candidates for depression, anxiety, low self esteem and even addiction, it is that we cannot as readily access people with which we may be able to talk about it or even seek help.
This means that as entrepreneurs we need to be mindful of the impact on our health and especially our mental health, we need to program in time with others, time to ourselves and importantly find a way to keep track of our mental health and where it is at in order to help prevent the ill health where we can and if it cannot be prevented, make sure we have the tools in place to help when we do become depressed, anxious or otherwise to help reduce the negative impact on ourselves and our businesses.