Entrepreneurs + Mental Health

Mental health is key for successful entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are extraordinary people. We are thought-leaders, innovators, problem-solvers, and helpers. We solve problems for people and we do it while creating our own destiny. What we don’t talk about as often is that those same qualities also leave entrepreneurs more susceptible to mental health conditions.

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Entrepreneurs are 2x more likely to suffer from a mental health condition.

  • We experience more stress than employees
  • Twice as likely to suffer from depression
  • 30% rise in suicide since 1999 (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are examples.)
  • While the source of stress experienced may be different, there is just as much stress in running a successful business as there is a failing business.

There is a bit of madness required to be a business owner. Dr. Michael A. Freeman published the study “Are Entrepreneurs Touched with Fire?” and found that “72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health conditions” compared to only 48% of people in his comparison group. 

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Why should you care about mental health as an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs sabotage their business by not taking care of their mental health.

Bottom line? Your business loses money.

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Lost productivity is lost revenue. 

  • Stress, depression, anxiety, or any other mental health conditions lead to presenteeism.
    • Absenteeism, when you or your employees are too sick to be at work, is an obvious way our businesses lose money. When I can’t perform a massage, I don’t make money that day.
    • Presenteeism, when people show up but are not 100%, actually costs our businesses more than absenteeism.
      • Decreased mental clarity. If you don’t know exactly what it is you want to achieve, how are you going to get there?
      • Decreased focus. Most of know what we *should* do to make our goals work.
  • Decision fatigue, the deteriorating quality of decisions made after making a lot of decisions. Much or running a business is making various decisions. Decision fatigue kills your motivation.

the return on investment is impressive.

In the article “Global Cost of Mental Health” from US News, a study by WHO suggests that for every $1 a business invests in mental health, they “could see a $4 return on their investment”. Addressing our mental health as entrepreneurs is our secret weapon for building an empire. 




What does “mental health” even mean?

I favor the World Health Organizations definition for mental health because it goes beyond just the absence of disease or a disorder. It states:

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
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Let me break it down because I love it SO MUCH, especially in the context of working with entrepreneurs!

  1. Realizes his or her own abilities. <— You are capable!
  2. Can cope with normal stresses of life. <— Resilience.
  3. Can work productively. <— Get shit done.
  4. Is able to make a contribution to his or her community. <— That’s why we are all here, isn’t it? 

the game master.

Our nervous system is the ultimate game master. Nothing in our bodies happen without the nervous system getting involved. The 2 main branches of the nervous system that are affected by our mental health are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Sympathetic Nervous System:

“Fight + Flight”

This is where our brain and body are mobilized into action! Our pupils dilate, we get a rapid heartbeat, breathe faster, start sweating, and our blood flows to our skeletal muscles. We start secreting epinephrine and norepinephrine and we are ready to kick ass (or run away).

Parasympathetic Nervous System

“Rest + Digest”

Our pupils constrict and our breathing and heart rate slows. Our salivation starts to increase and our muscles relax. We get an increased sense of calm.


what stimulates an entrepreneurs sympathetic nervous system?

  • Notifications - all of those dings, bells, and whistles for everything from Facebook to email, dating apps, and any other notifications. Our brains are trained to respond.
  • Social Media - negative news, fake news, politics, comparing our inward life to people’s outward lives.
  • Deadlines - payroll, taxes, projects, making sure all the things are done when they need to be done.
  • Finances - if we need to hustle to make our budget, or making decisions about a budget for advertising, expanding, or paying off any business debts.
  • Balancing our personal life with our professional life. Meeting the demands of our families as well as our business can be overwhelming. 


How does an overstimulated nervous system impact an entrepreneur?


Our behavior, mood, + thoughts are affected and that impacts our creativity, productivity, + mental clarity.

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Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decision fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Repetitive or circular thoughts

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Nervous habits
  • Drinking all the caffeine or alcohol
  • Eating habits change
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Acting brashly
  • Losing your temper
  • Slacking on responsibilities

Emotional symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Resentment
  • Loss of confidence and imposter syndrome

physical effects of stress on the body

An indirect cost of mental health on your business is the increased cost of healthcare because of the physical effects our mental health has on our body. The American Psychological Association published an article reporting that over three quarters of people experience regular physical symptoms as a result of stress.

Entrepreneurs already feel time-starved, and physical symptoms not only cost money, they cost us precious time.

Entrepreneurs are notorious for brushing activities off because “I don’t have time” At a certain point, physical symptoms can no longer be ignored. Now, you have to find the TIME to go to the doctor’s office and TIME to make the phone calls for any additional follow-up appointments and the TIME to go to those. These are all become distractions from creating our dreams and a life we love.

When you aren’t 100% you can’t perform 100%

“...the high stress levels that many Americans report experiencing can have long-term health consequences, ranging from fatigue to obesity and heart disease.”
— Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA executive director for professional practice

How does massage help mental health?


Massage works by affecting the parasympathetic nervous system. 


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Before I dive deeper into this idea, I’m going to take you all the way back to when I attended massage school almost 20 years ago.

Massage school was largely muscle-centric. We literally spent 100s of hours devoted to learning about muscles. Every week we had exams about their origins and insertions, which is a fancy way to discuss their location, to test our competency. We focused on what actions they performed, how they move, and what joints they control. Even in the context of discussing how to treat ailments like frozen shoulder, or tension headaches, we always focused on the muscles that could/would be involved in causing the pain associated with condition. 

What I found in practice is that people on my table were in physical pain, but they were talking about the stress in their life.


I had a disproportionate amount of clients that also suffered from various types of depression. People also had varying levels of anxiety with overwhelming feelings of uneasiness and being overwhelmed. 

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About 10 years into practicing massage therapy I started doings some research. I was a little shocked at what I found out.

massage may have nothing to do with muscles.

Wait… What!?

Massage may have nothing to do with muscles? That’s what I do. I manipulate muscles so that pain can be relieved. How can massage even work if it’s not because of muscles?

At this point in my career, I had spent THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars exploring and learning different massage modalities so that I could give the best and most effective massage possible to my clients. Most of these modalities had complicated theories about why this type of massage worked. 

Here’s the thing though, massage therapists only have direct contact with the skin. We can’t really dig into the deeper levels of muscles and really affect them in any direct way.

it’s worth repeating:

massage works by affecting the parasympathetic nervous system.

Ya’ll. Could it really be that simple?

Yes. Yes. It. Can.

There’s an estimate of 1000 nerve endings per square inch of skin. When a massage therapist is working, neurons are firing and your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, taking you out of the “fight or flight” response and letting your body release pain and tension, calming your mind, and giving you mental clarity.

i help entrepreneurs make more money by being more productive and creative.

That seems like a big statement coming from a massage therapist. (That’s a valid thought.) Science is on my side for treating mental health. Here are the findings in a study on the effect of massage therapy treatments on anxiety and depression from the NCBI.

Quantitative research reviews show that a series of MT treatments consistently produces sizable reductions of depression in adult recipients(4). The effects of MT on anxiety are even better understood. Single sessions of MT significantly reduce state anxiety, the momentary emotional experiences of apprehension, tension, and worry in both adults(4) and in children(5), and multiple sessions of MT, performed over a period of days or weeks, significantly reduce trait anxiety, the normally stable individual tendency to experience anxiety states, to an impressive degree in adults(4).
Christopher A. Moyer, PhD, Research Section Editor, IJTMB, Assistant Professor

 


When the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated by massage and your body moves out of the a sympathetic response, pain is relieved, your mental clarity improves, and your body and mind is available to do the work you want instead of being on guard. Pain is relieved because your nervous system is the game master, not from a muscle being manipulated until it relaxed.

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Massage therapy is so effective in increasing productivity for entrepreneurs + professionals that Robins Sharma writes about a “2 Massage Protocol” in his book “The 5am Club”, a book about creating a morning routine to increase your success.

People have found this one SOP, standard operating procedure, when installed into your week has dramatic effect on your mental clarity, your productivity, your immune system, your energy, and your happiness.
- Robin Sharma

In this #MasterySession, you'll discover: --the meaning of "mundanity" and how it will help you multiply your results exponentially over time. --fascinating ...

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building resilience as entrepreneurs

What is resilience?

Resilience is our ability to recover from stressful situations. The faster you recover, the more resilience you have. The good news is that resilience is something you can train your brain to build with a few good habits!

Be adaptable. We’ve all heard it. “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” When you increase your ability to be mentally flexible and adapt to situation you are building resilience.

Know that failure is going to happen. I heard once that failures are the “tuition of life”. There is function in failure and our biggest growth happens when we fail. Those are great opportunities to really evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and look for solutions!

Feel your feelings. Acknowledge that fear, anger, sadness, or joy. Give it the moment it needs to be honored. Don’t personalize the feeling by saying “I am…” instead reframe the thought to “I am feeling…” and then name the feeling. Our feelings are meant to be passengers in the car, they shouldn’t be given the steering wheel, especially when we are running our business.

Have gratitude. Really truly, feel the gratitude all the way from your ends of your hair to the tips of your toes. Feeling gratitude is really an opportunity to go beyond the superficial and dig deep.

Practice positivity. Reframe the negative thoughts to be positive. 


how many times have you heard “relax more” or “decrease your stress” as well-meaning advice?

Or my ultimate favorite: “calm down”.

Do we even have a consensus what those things really mean? Statements like that are problematic because they don’t provide you with tools that actually help.

Look, if it was that easy, I wouldn’t have a career. Our brains have been trained for thousands of years to predict dangerous situations as a way of survival. Which is great because we are here. Our DNA has also been changed by the trauma our ancestors have experienced. “Relaxation” is not in our nature. It’s something we need to train our brains to do.

The good news is that we are capable of building resilience, adapting, and changing our behaviors.

After our behaviors change, our results will change so we can build a business that serves us. 

Self-care for entrepreneurs to improve their mental health.

3 pillars of self-care:

  • Keep it simple. “Eat, Pray, Love” is completely aspiring, but it’s not practical (yet, if that’s your dream) for most entrepreneurs. Self-care doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective.
  • Make it intentional. Put it on the calendar. Set a reminder if you need to. Self-care can be small choices we make throughout the day every day.
  • Make it mindful. If you don’t recognize it as self-care, it’s not going to act as such. 
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“Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose, with kindness and curiosity. In being mindful, we cultivate awareness of our thoughts, feelings/emotions, and physical sensations, as well as a state of acceptance and a sense of inner spaciousness.” - Calm App Blog

be empowered to choose self-care.

Claim your time. Stop making excuses and creating a false narrative that you don’t have time. Do a time study to really see how you spend your time if you need to. Mark off time on your calendar dedicated to self-care.

Breathe. Big, long, deep breathes, not those short, quick, shallow ones. Slowly count to 4 as you inhale, then count to 4 as you exhale and repeat.

Practice mindfulness. Engage as many of your senses as you can even if you are brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Perform less of your activities on “auto-pilot” and connect yourself with the moment you are experiencing.

Meditate. One of my FAVORITE apps and inventions is the Calm app. There are numerous mediations that range from a few minutes to more than 30 minutes. The app includes music, sleep stories, meditations on various topics, it’s just a plethora of self-care tools and the pro version is worth every penny. You can also download Calm Guidebooks on Sleep, Meditation, and Changing Habits Mindfully on their blog.

Mindfulness meditation is a research-proven way to reduce stress according to the American Psychological Association.

Physical Activity. Research supports physical activity releases endorphins and is good for not just our physical health, but our mental health as well. 

other ways entrepreneurs can help their mental health

Entrepreneurs not only need strong systems to run a business, we also need a strong support system.

Fuel your mind

Finding that person who can not only call you out on your bullshit (with compassion and humor) but help you work through it is priceless in entrepreneurship. That’s just one of the reasons I connect with Sarah Yost, a Master Life Coach, and the host of The Business Therapy Podcast. She also hosts a free group coaching session on the first Monday of the month called “Mindfuel Monday” at The Hive Wichita, that is also streamed on Facebook.

Find your hive, make your honey

Many entrepreneurs feel isolated, especially when we are solo-preneurs and micro-preneurs. It’s hard to find people that can relate to the business struggles and triumphs that building our dreams have. That’s why I think it’s important to find connection. For me that was The Hive Wichita, a woman-focused coworking space that has built a community. There are so many opportunities to connect with other businesses, from Lunch & Learns (that are all archived in the private Facebook group), to a mastermind “Hive Mind” event that is held once a month. If you want to grow your business, find your hive!