5 Practical Strategies Founders Can Use to Improve Their Mental Health
Supporting your mental health is one of the most important investments you can make in your company. If you're unsure where to begin, choose one of these strategies and focus on implementing it in your everyday life.
For decades, discussing mental health issues carried a stigma that made it impossible to have meaningful discourse on the subject. Over the past few years, attitudes have shifted, thanks to the increased availability of scientific knowledge and movements for equality and authenticity.
One of the unfortunate truths of entrepreneurship is that founders, especially younger ones, suffer from mental health troubles at a much higher rate than the general population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 72% of founders report mental health struggles. In comparison, the numbers for the average person are about 48%.
The good news is that we can finally speak more openly about these struggles and find solutions. In my experience, the five strategies below are an excellent starting point for founders to positively impact their mental health.
1. Start by taking care of your team
They say you can't pour from an empty cup, and this is true. However, taking a "bottom-up" approach to improving mental health in the workplace can actually provide a massive boost for founders.
This idea might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that a healthy team directly corresponds to a healthy leader. Founders spend the majority of their time immersed in their company culture. Investing time and resources into fostering a connected, healthy workplace for your team leads to happier employees, more efficient management and a huge stress reduction for the CEO.
Deloitte notes that the annual ROI from implementing wellness programs can be as much as 162%, which can also lower founder stress.
2. Limit your social media exposure
This sentiment is true for all areas of life, but it's especially valuable for entrepreneurs. According to Proof Factor, at least 31% of founders secretly worry they'll go out of business. However, if you look on social media, you would never know.
It's common for founders (and people in general) to only show the "successful success" moments, meaning they curate their company image to highlight positives and downplay stress or challenges. Even if we know this to be true, it's difficult to see past the bias this creates. Young founders are especially susceptible to this, because they often feel alone in their struggles and aren't sure how or where to reach out for support.
Some studies show that limiting social media time to roughly 30 minutes per day decreases feelings of loneliness, pessimism, anxiety and depression in the general population. The same is true for founders.
3. Make sure your partners and VCs are a good fit
It can be hard to say "no" to potential investors or seemingly qualified business partners. However, letting the wrong partners into the company can significantly drain a founder's mental health.
Before entering into a partnership, be sure to do a thorough reference check. There are plenty of horror stories about demanding partners calling CEOs at all hours, disrupting board meetings and pressuring founders for constant updates.
Not only does a bad partnership cause tension in the workplace, but it can be a constant source of anxiety for founders. Tony Robbins says that understanding what a healthy partnership looks like from the outset can help limit the chances of finding out you have a bad business partner. He notes that positive things to look for are an individual who is solution-oriented, forthcoming about their past, fair in all business dealings and communicative.
4. Forge meaningful connections with other founders
It's lonely at the top, and that sense of isolation can cause various mental and physical health problems. The National Institutes of Health and the CDC agree that loneliness can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, depression and general cognitive decline.
One of the best things founders can do to support their mental and physical health is to seek out friendships with mentor figures or communities of like-minded people. Peer support groups allow for honest conversation about personal and professional issues.
They allow business leaders to build trust and connections with others and potentially find solutions to their problems. Harvard Business Review notes that one crucial aspect of peer support groups is "What's said in the room stays in the room," so founders can feel safe and grounded in that space.
5. Add the right tech to your life to cope with stress
There are plenty of general tech solutions for the average person to support and improve their mental health. These same tools work just as well for founders!
Some of the latest tech solutions include chatbots like Woebot, which offer therapy-style conversations 24/7. Other apps like Headspace and Calm can help with better sleep and mindfulness habits.
Additionally, founders can use health and wellness gadgets to gather data about their overall health and use it to make positive changes. This includes tech like the Aura ring to track sleep patterns or the Feel wristband that monitors emotions in real-time.
Founders often feel like their lives are consumed by their businesses. It can often seem easier to push aside feelings of isolation, burnout, stress and anxiety to "deal with later," but this is not sustainable. Investing in your mental health is an investment in long-term success.
Experts have found that entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression than non-founders and are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from addiction as a coping mechanism. Supporting your mental health is one of the most important investments you can make in your company. If you're unsure where to begin, choose one of the strategies listed in this article, and focus on implementing it in your everyday life. Remember, small changes can snowball into big wins.
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