The Long Read

Entrepreneurial Stress is Real.

April is Stress Awareness Month, and Friday 7th April is World Health Day, with its main theme to highlight depression.

With Network Group being a collective of dynamic and successful entrepreneurs, stress is a close companion in the life of an entrepreneur, which can also sometimes lead to periods of depression. So it is timely to be putting the spotlight on some of what it means to speak out about one of the more silent and unspoken aspects of being an entrepreneur (or sometimes it's called being a ‘solopreneur’).

Every entrepreneur starts out with big dreams and excitement. As an entrepreneur, you control your own destiny, and with the right ideas, the right skillset and unflinching dedication, you can build wealth or establish an enterprise to serve as your legacy.

This is the bright side of entrepreneurship, but unfortunately, there’s also a darker side. The rigors of entrepreneurship demand sacrifices. Business is, at its core, a give-and-take process. The more you invest, the more you’ll reap in rewards in kind. Within this there are some areas of ‘sacrifice’ that nearly every entrepreneur makes, as a start-up and also along the business success journey in varying degrees – stability; work/life split; income; sleep; and comfort.

Dealing with entrepreneur isolation

Entrepreneurs are often stereotyped as gregarious wheelers and dealers who network their way to fame and fortune. Some do. But many also find entrepreneurship a lonely pursuit, one so isolating at times that business builders need to take steps to safeguard their wellbeing.

This feeling of isolation is a common theme with small business owners or entrepreneurs struggling to build a venture, or dealing with a horrific business failure that may be compounded by relationship loss or mental illness, such as depression.

Entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges when depressed. That's because for many entrepreneurs, their personal health is reflected in their business health.

Entrepreneurs know that their business successes are personal successes -- and their business challenges are personal challenges. The phrase “it’s not personal; it’s business” doesn’t apply to them. And so a personal struggle like depression leads to business challenges, including lost revenue and team conflicts.

Isolation is also a depression trigger. It’s so important for entrepreneurs to safeguard against isolation and have tools to deal with it. This is often easier said than done. But one very supportive course of action is to belong to a group such as Network Group, and interact with your entrepreneurial peers who may well be experiencing, or have trod a similar path at one point.  Isolation can lead to loneliness when it starts to feel like a darkness.

 

The online publication, Entrepreneur, covers this topic of depression, isolation, and loneliness well, with some thought-provoking articles and the overriding message of Speaking Out and not to feel that you are alone in this. Here are some excerpts from them:

"Don’t let the loneliness of Entrepreneurship kill you"

It's lonely at the top. And that potentially could kill you.

We all know how stress walks hand-in-hand, knuckles white, with entrepreneurship, because of the constant need to put out the fires in front of us. Entrepreneurs, after all, are crazy enough to believe fighting fires is more fun than fire prevention. We often look to stress management - exercise, more/less sleep, yoga/pilates - as a way to prolong our lives in this, the madcap life we've chosen.

But we may be missing the real silent killer: Loneliness.

We aren't talking about simply acting alone. It's important to remember how the theologian Paul Tillich viewed it, with loneliness expressing the pain of being alone; rather than solitude, which expresses the glory of being alone.

Many entrepreneurs start out believing (and, more importantly, trusting) themselves and themselves alone. After all, entrepreneurship generally comes from a product or idea sprung from your head, and so a company is uniquely yours. It is a part of you.

Along the entrepreneurial journey, there are a good number of successes to share with your team, with your stakeholders and your customers. But there are a ton more failures and setbacks. Few people around you share in those.

That means you are essentially alone. You can only rely on yourself.

That's, though, when solitude can turn to the more corrosive loneliness.

And that's where the health problems start.

A new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina shows that loneliness can "vastly elevate" a person's risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, making it as dangerous to your health as a lack of physical inactivity in youth or diabetes in old age.

The research assessed loneliness across several life stages, but the overall picture is clear: loneliness can kill."

"Advice is cheap, and often readily ignored, particularly by the entrepreneurial set, but I'll try anyway. There are ways to avoid loneliness, or at least take away some of its killing power. Here are just a few:

Collaborate & Co-work

While your instinct might be to always go it alone, you run the risk of  self-imposed isolation, which almost always leads its close cousin, depression. Rather than isolate yourself, take on a partner or co-founder. For one thing, you'll have someone to talk with who is invested in your success. Second, it gives you the opportunity to get someone with complementary skills. Maybe you're a tech whiz, so you need someone who is a skilled marketer.

True, having a partner sometimes sucks, and you might find that even a founder needs to be fired down the line, but it can also be a wonderful, productive relationship.

Convert it.

Reflection always gives your mind the pause it needs to recharge. Be still, and know you can do great things.

Cry.

“I cry. I'm not ashamed of it. One Father's Day, shortly after my divorce, my kids picked up a set of grill tools for me for my new house. I bawled. Since then, my kids pretend to cry every time I pick up a spatula.”

We go through a range of emotions, but they really only get us in trouble if we let them manage us, rather than the other way around. Loneliness is a feeling, nothing more. After all, you can be lonely in a crowd of friends. Like all feelings, they need to be felt and then addressed. Cry it out. Have that pity party for yourself. Then wipe your nose and move forward.

Get Help.

Depression is the cancer of entrepreneurship, and more and more business leaders are handling their own mental issues more effectively. If loneliness is leading to a true mental-health condition, find a therapist. If you just need to talk about where your life or business is heading, hire a coach. If it's a spiritual crisis, find that bar where the priest always seem to walk in. Talk to your mentor. Call your dad. Find anonymous online help if you need. The greatest loss that comes from loneliness or depression is perspective. Only someone who isn't you can truly see you without the biases our internal mirrors show us. My experience has been that people generally want to help others, so unburdening is rarely a burden.

I'd never presume to tell people how to live their lives, and experience tells me that lonely entrepreneurs are the least likely to listen anyway. But life is too important to spend it lonely – so why not take a few steps to correct that. Slowly but surely, more entrepreneurs are coming out about depression and seeking support."

Opening up

Slowly but surely, the tide is beginning to turn. People working in the tech community say it still has a very long way to go. For the stigma around mental illness to go away, more leaders will have to come out from the shadows and for those who work with them to be receptive to not judging, even to providing a shoulder to lean on, to encourage more startup leaders and employees - or anyone in the tech industry - not only to seek help, but to help each other.

The goal of this initiative is simple: “It’s whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. Talking about stress, anxiety and depression with someone else can make it okay, like there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. It’s entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs, creating awareness and taking care of each other in tough times. And to destigmatise depression.”

So how can business leaders reach the light at the end of the depression tunnel and avoid toxic triggers?

  1. Look beyond self-help.

Allowing for a shift from depression to fulfilment, a tech industry entrepreneur says, "I realised the success of my life and business was not determined by what I accomplished but rather by my ability to be fully present - to my family, my friends, my clients. And from this, my business grew in a different way."

  1. Find a safe space.

Part of what gives depression its power is the shame and the perceived need to conceal those feelings. But opening up in a safe space allows authentic vulnerability to eradicate shame.

Having an entrepreneurial support system isn’t a bad idea either to have a safe place to share business and personal struggles. The fellow entrepreneurs in your mastermind or network group may have a deep understanding of the issues you're facing and can provide keen insights for solutions.

  1. Close the gap.

It’s natural for entrepreneurs to chase the horizon. But when you’re in a depressed state, the horizon seems further and further away. What once was a lofty goal turns into an unachievable, daunting odyssey, so why not shift your perspective and close the gap in your thinking during this time?

In depression, you tend to focus on everything you haven’t achieved and focus solemnly on where you think you should be.

Instead, practice the act of looking back, acknowledging and celebrating what you have accomplished. Observe and appreciate every step, big or small, that you’ve taken traveling on the path toward your vision. With this practice, you'll see that you're closer to your goals than your depression wants you to believe. Closing the gap will give you positive, motivating fuel to take more action.

You’re not alone in feelings of stress or depression, or any mental health matters. Many people struggle to cope at one point or another and going through a range of emotions during this time is common. These feelings may not last forever. Everyone feels low at some point in their lives and if you’re struggling to cope it may be difficult to see beyond your current situation. Talking about how you’re feeling can help put things into perspective and help you to feel more positive about the future.

There is a no ‘one size fits all’ and not everyone’s journey will be exactly the same, but you can always find value in sharing your story with others, and them with you, to touch and support you in a unique way and perhaps be the turning point for you with your own challenges.

 

 

www.samaritans.org

www.mind.org.uk