According to the mental health charity Mind, one in every four people experiences some type of mental health problem each year, with anxiety and depression being the most commonly reported conditions.
Although it has been established that work is generally beneficial for mental health and well-being, stress in the workplace can lead to problems.
Research shows that business entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to mental health issues. For example, according to one study, they are 30% more likely to report a lifetime history of depression compared to non-entrepreneurs. But why is this the case – and what can entrepreneurs do to protect their mental well-being?
Why entrepreneurs need to be particularly aware of their mental health
The nature of starting a business is full of uncertainty and often considerable financial risk. Anyone who has been accustomed to employment, receiving a set monthly wage and annual holidays, will often find self-employment quite stressful, at least at the start when they are trying to get the business off the ground.
The lack of certainty that they will break even and be able to pay their bills can cause significant anxiety.
But aside from having to ensure their personal financial security, business owners may also have employees who rely on the success of the business for their own well-being.
Employers are also responsible for protecting the health of their workers. So, as well as looking after their own mental health, entrepreneurs will also be tasked with preventing mental health issues arising with employees.
The requirement to spin many plates at the same time can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s perhaps no wonder that entrepreneurs are at a heightened risk of suffering from mental health problems.
It has also been suggested that individuals who decide to start their own business are often naturally more prone to certain mental health issues. This may be due to a flipside of their personality traits which also give them an entrepreneurial spirit.
How can entrepreneurs improve their mental health?
Common sense dictates that too much stress – whether at work or in one’s personal life – can lead to a degradation of mental health.
But what exactly is stress? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.” It has outlined six main areas which can lead to work-related stress:
- Demands – if there are too many demands in the workplace, this can lead to becoming overloaded with work, which is ultimately detrimental for both productivity and mental health.
- Control – fortunately, entrepreneurs generally have a sense of control, and this is often one of the reasons they start their own business.
- Support – an entrepreneur may be able to seek support from a business partner or mentor. Otherwise, they should consider working with a business coach or bringing in a non-executive director (NED).
- Relationships – a harmonious environment in the workplace provides a framework for effective team working. In a business partnership, it’s important that all the partners are able to get on together – and similarly with company directors on a board.
- Role – although this is more applicable to employees with a vague role, an entrepreneur who is spinning too many plates can also suffer from a lack of clarity. In this case, it may be necessary to bring in an additional director or business partner to divide up the roles.
- Change – properly managing change within organisations is an important part of minimising overall stress levels. Entrepreneurs will generally be directing the change, but any significant changes to their working day or lifestyle also need to be managed.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
Maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life is generally considered to be important for mental health and well-being.
Although entrepreneurs are generally more likely to enjoy their work, the lines between work and personal interests are often blurred. It is nevertheless important to ensure that other key aspects of life are not being compromised.
Many business owners neglect their personal relationships, avoid taking holidays and even suffer from a lack of sleep. This can lead to various mental health problems arising in the long run.
Some of the ways in which entrepreneurs can help to maintain a work-life balance include:
- Office – many people who are starting up a business that does not require physical premises will initially work from home. This can be fine if temporary, but working from home long term can create mental health problems if not managed properly. It is generally a good idea to separate a home environment from a workspace, so creating a home office is ideal for anyone who has the space. But many people simply do not have a spare room, in which case they should consider renting an office or a co-working space or work from a coffee bar.
- Phone – most people now have a single phone which they use for both work and personal calls, messages and email. Although having one device can make things more straightforward, it means that work is always at your fingertips. This can make it more difficult to relax and unwind, which is crucial for protecting your mental health.
- Social media – entrepreneurs will often promote their businesses via various social media channels. Whilst this makes sense in the case of LinkedIn since it is designed purely for work, other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can lead to a blurring of lines between work and personal life. It is therefore often a good idea to create a separate business account for social media channels.
- Time off – many people starting a business will ignore weekends and neglect to take any holidays while they are setting things up. But the lack of downtime can affect mental health in various ways. So it’s vital to take at least one or two days off each week. A holiday once a year can also help to gain some perspective and keep things in balance.
Self-care and counselling
As well as avoiding stress and maintaining a work-life balance, there are certain ways entrepreneurs can directly tackle mental health challenges, including:
- Mindfulness – there are lots of self-help books on how to manage stress and remain calm by applying techniques such as mindfulness and meditation, as well as apps, e.g. Headspace.
- Exercise and diet – physical activity, in general, can help improve overall mental health. There are also specific activities such as yoga which combine exercise with meditation. And there is a link between mood and diet, so good nutrition is important.
- Counselling – regular visits to a counsellor or psychotherapist are a staple part of mental health hygiene. You can search for an accredited mental health professional on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website