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For decades, discussion of mental health issues carried a stigma that made meaningful discourse on the subject impossible. In recent years, attitudes have changed, 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 issues at a much higher rate than the general population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 72% of founders report mental health problems. By comparison, the figures for the average person are around 48%.
The good news is that we can finally talk more openly about these struggles and find solutions. In my experience, the five strategies below are an excellent starting point for entrepreneurs 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. But taking a “bottom-up” approach to improving mental health in the workplace can actually provide a huge boost for entrepreneurs.
This idea may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that a healthy team directly corresponds to a healthy leader. Founders spend most of their time immersed in the company culture. Investing time and resources in fostering a connected, healthy workplace for your team leads to happier employees, more effective 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 reduce founder stress.
Related: 5 easy ways to do more for your employees’ mental health this week
2. Limit your exposure to social media
This sentiment applies to all areas of life, but it is especially valuable for entrepreneurs. According to Proof Factor, at least 31% of entrepreneurs are secretly worried that they will go bankrupt. But if you look at social media, you’d never know it.
It’s common for founders (and people in general) to only show “successful success” moments, meaning they curate their company’s image to emphasize positives and downplay stress or challenges. Even if we know this to be true, it is hard to see past the bias this creates. Young founders are particularly vulnerable to this, because they often feel alone in their struggles and are not sure how or where to seek support.
Some studies show that limiting social media time to about 30 minutes per day reduces feelings of loneliness, pessimism, anxiety and depression in the general population. The same applies to entrepreneurs.
3. Make sure the partners and VCs are a good fit
It can be difficult 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 who call CEOs at all hours, disrupt board meetings and pressure 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 entrepreneurs. Tony Robbins says that understanding what a healthy partnership looks like from the beginning can help limit the chances of finding out you have a bad business partner. He notes that positive things to look for are a person who is solution-oriented, forthcoming about his past, fair in all business dealings and communicative.
Related: 6 Red Flags That Warn Your Business Partner Will Drag You Down
4. Make meaningful connections with other founders
It’s lonely at the top, and that feeling 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 entrepreneurs 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 conversations 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 a crucial aspect of peer support groups is “What is said in the room stays in the room,” allowing founders to feel safe and grounded in that room.
5. Add the right technology to your life to cope with stress
There are plenty of general technical solutions for the average person to support and improve their mental health. The same tools work just as well for entrepreneurs!
Some of the latest tech solutions include chatbots like Woebot, which offer therapy-style conversations 24/7. Other apps such as Headspace and Calm can help with better sleep and attention habits.
In addition, entrepreneurs can use health and wellness devices to collect data about their overall health and use it to make positive changes. This includes technology such as the Aura ring to track sleep patterns or the Feel bracelet which monitors emotions in real time.
Founders often feel like their lives are being consumed by their businesses. It can often seem easier to push feelings of isolation, burnout, stress and anxiety aside to “deal with later”, but this is not sustainable. Investing in your mental health is an investment in long-term success.
Related: Startup founders can’t afford to ignore mental health
Experts have found that entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression than non-entrepreneurs, and that they 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 business. If you’re not sure where to start, choose one of the strategies listed in this article and focus on implementing it into your everyday life. Remember that small changes can snowball into big gains.