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For decades, discussing mental health issues carried a stigma that made it impossible to have a meaningful discourse on the subject. 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 problems 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 numbers 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 a great 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 provide a huge boost for founders.
This idea may seem contradictory, but the truth is that a healthy team corresponds directly to a healthy leader. Founders spend most of their time immersed in their company culture. Investing time and resources in fostering a healthy and connected workplace for your team leads to happier employees, more efficient management, and greatly reduced stress for the CEO.
Deloitte notes that the annual ROI of implementing wellness programs can be as high as 162%, which can also reduce stress for founders.
Related: 5 Simple Ways to Do More for Your Employees’ Mental Health This Week
2. Limit your exposure on social media
This sentiment is true for all areas of life, but it is especially valuable for entrepreneurs. According to Proof Factor, at least 31% of founders secretly worry they’re going out of business. However, if you look on social networks, you will never know.
It’s common for founders (and people in general) to only showcase “hits” moments, meaning they select their company’s image to highlight the positives while minimizing stress or challenges. Even if we know this to be true, it is hard 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 turn for support.
Some studies show that limiting social media time to about 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 venture capitalists are a good fit
It can be hard to say “no” to seemingly qualified potential investors or business partners. However, allowing the wrong partners into the company can significantly drain a founder’s sanity.
Before forming a partnership, be sure to do a thorough reference check. There are plenty of horror stories about demanding partners calling CEOs at all hours, interrupting board meetings, and pressuring founders for constant updates.
A bad partnership not only causes workplace stress, it can also be a constant source of anxiety for founders. Tony Robbins says that understanding what a healthy partnership looks like early on can help limit the chances of discovering you have a bad business partner. He points out that the positive things to look for are people who are solution-oriented, forthcoming about their past, fair in all business dealings, and communicative.
Related: 6 Red Flags That Your Business Partner Is Going To Drag You Down
4. Forge meaningful connections with other founders
It’s lonely at the top, and that feeling of isolation can cause various physical and mental health issues. 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 a 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 technology to your life to deal with stress
There are many general technology 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 technology solutions include chatbots like Woebot, which offer therapy-style conversations 24/7. Other apps like Headspace and Calm can help with better sleep habits and mindfulness.
Additionally, founders can use health and wellness devices to collect data about their overall health and use it to make positive changes. This includes technology like the Aura ring to track sleep patterns or the Feel bracelet that monitors emotions in real time.
Founders often feel like their businesses consume their lives. It can often seem easier to let go of feelings of isolation, exhaustion, stress and anxiety to “deal with them 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 experience depression as non-founders and are 2-3 times more likely to experience 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 in your everyday life. Remember, small changes can turn into big gains.