Shifting the Narrative: Entrepreneurs and Mental Health

For many entrepreneurs and business owners, it might seem impossible to balance the demands of the business with your own mental health needs and personal wellbeing. In fact, it’s often positioned as admirable and selfless to put your own needs aside in exchange for starting or running a business. It’s time to move away from that narrative. And even though Mental Health Awareness Month is over, it’s a topic we should address all throughout the year and therefore, it’s important to highlight the steps business owners should take to support themselves and their employees.

This past year has been challenging and trying for everyone—some more than others—but it’s safe to say that everyone has been impacted by the pandemic. The stresses for business owners have come in many forms. For some, it’s been closing their businesses; for others, it’s been laying off employees; and many have just been keeping their heads down, trying to make it through. These stresses can take a significant toll on mental health, outside of the regular stressors and pressure business owners felt pre-pandemic. In fact, a few years ago, it was reported that 62% of business owners feel depressed once a week.

As a mental health advocate myself, I learned the importance of prioritizing one’s mental wellbeing after I experienced a manic episode in 2018. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I spent the next three months in intensive treatment and therapy Monday through Friday, learning about my brain and the steps I could take to find and maintain balance. Diagnosis or not, we all have mental health to be aware of and concerned with. As it relates to running your business, if you don’t take care of yourself, your business will suffer. Things like getting quality sleep, minimizing multi-tasking, and communicating openly with your staff and colleagues can help your business perform better in many ways.

We talked to business owners in a number of industries to hear how they prioritize the mental health of themselves and their employees. And while it’s important to focus on making these changes, we also know it’s incredibly challenging and much easier said than done. But even a small step is a step in the right direction to moving away from unrealistic and excessive working standards.

For many entrepreneurs, starting and running a business often means having to put your needs on the back burner. It can be hard to avoid compromising on your own mental health. It’s equally important to focus on the mental health of your employees and to be sure you’re giving them the tools they need.

“In order to be selfless, you have to be selfish first. I do everything I can to take care of my mental, physical, and spiritual health so that I can in turn try and help others. We have open communication at Cali BBQ for everyone on staff to bring anything to the table. We believe in helping those in need of help, and that of course extends to our employees. Soon we will return to hosting monthly voluntary ‘breakfast clubs’ for our staff to share their own mental, spiritual, and physical journeys to further the open nurturing environment. I have been part of a program of recovery since 2012, so I know the power of having a safe space to share with others.” – Shawn Walchef,founder of Cali Comfort BBQ

“Every time something business related affects me and my state of mind, I remind myself that being stressed in the past did not make past problems go away. As for my employees, I make sure that they are not afraid to ask for a ‘time out’ and that the measure of what may call for a ‘time out’ is based on them and not myself.” – Nahuel Hilal, owner and founder of Iris Tattoo

Of course, for many, prioritizing oneself is easier said than done.

“I constantly check in with employees to make sure they are ok. It is important that our business never seems like a burden for them because they won’t perform the way we need them too. Sadly, I do not always do that for myself, and at times feel I am not performing the way I should. The hard thing about being the owner is you tend to take on the burdens of your own life as well as your employees, and that can be exhausting and unhealthy.” – Misty Akers, co-founder of The Candle Pour

Not only can it be tough to prioritize mental health, but it can also be thought of as exemplary to burn the candle at both ends, creating unrealistic and often unhealthy expectations for entrepreneurs and business owners. It is incumbent upon us as a society to shift the narrative, giving people permission to have both: a successful business and well-nurtured mental health.

Balance was a common theme.

“Everyone has their own balance and their own scale. No two people are alike, and no two people deal with the same task the same way. When starting a company, there is midnight oil, there is sacrifice, and there is a commitment that must be made. What must be avoided is that commitment becoming a habit and staying in the same mode for the long term.” – Nic Faitos, owner of Starbright Floral

“The research shows that employees who take breaks are more likely to be satisfied with their job, and more satisfied staff are more effective and efficient. So taking breaks from work is critical for top performance.  This is true not only for the employees but also for the leadership of a company.” – Dr. Sarah Church, founder and owner of Wholeview Wellness

As a business owner, it’s never possible to plan out every minute—unexpected tasks and responsibilities come up at every corner, but it’s essential to try to figure out how to prioritize yourself and your time.

“I used to live that life, and it is very daunting. Obviously as a six-year old company, there are still some very late nights, but I now prioritize rest. Viewing rest as the most important aspect of life and working backwards has been very helpful.” Chris Goode, owner and founder of Ruby Jean’s Kitchen & Juicery

Whether you have 30 years of experience or just a couple of months, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but every positive step we take is a step in the right direction. Here’s a bit of closing advice:

“It’s a marathon, dont sprint! In every startup or small business, you are the most valuable asset and investment!” –  Nahuel Hilal

“As you are laying out your business plan, consider wellness and personal time for yourself and your team.  If you don’t do that from the start, you will be forced to change your routine,or operation in order to accommodate, and that can sometimes be difficult or impossible to do.” – Misty Akers

“You can’t sacrifice this area of your life because in the long run, if you aren’t healthy, your business couldn’t possibly be healthy. You matter more than profit.” – Chris Goode

“Business leaders need to be strategic, flexible, and creative to meet new challenges as they arise, and the only way to do that in an ongoing way is to start with a foundation of mental health and wellness.” – Dr. Sarah Church

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