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Your business has survived its first couple of years. Word is getting out and your reputation is building. Profits are starting to grow. But something isn’t right. 

Your relationships are strained. Your health is suffering. You don’t have the time or energy for all those things you love doing. 

Sound familiar? 

The brutal reality of being your own boss was highlighted by a Bank of Queensland survey recently, which found more than one in ten small and medium enterprise (SME) owners have been diagnosed with depression, stress or anxiety while running their own enterprise. 

The research revealed that 12% had mental health problems, while almost one in four (24%) had become physically unwell due to stress. Many business owners also said they have regular sleep problems, constant fatigue and feel distant from their loved ones. 

But perhaps the most troubling point is this: almost half of respondents said they were unlikely to discuss the emotional strains of running a business.

Starting and running a business is hard. It impacts your personal life and health in ways you probably didn’t anticipate. Everything from marriage, parenting and friendships to finances, physical health, sleep and a host of other things in life. It’s so common amongst business founders, it’s been given the name “founder depression”.

Yet too often business owners bottle all this up. We put on a smile and suffer in secret while maintaining the façade of success. 

So what can you do?

Above all else, you need to be able to reach out and get help when you need it. This can be difficult in a world where you feel like you need to be winning all the time. But know that it’s not a sign of weakness – reaching out is a sign of strength.

Here a few tips from fellow entrepreneurs: 

Make Time To Care For Your Mental Health

“I stopped setting my alarm for five a.m. and let myself sleep until I wake up naturally. I observe digital Sabbaths in which I stop checking email, keeping up with the news online, and checking into Foursquare. I travel less. I read and run more,” says Brad Feld, CEO of Foundry Group. 

Delegate

“To see the bigger picture, an entrepreneur needs to learn how to delegate effectively,” Richard Branson advises in this Smart Company article. “It’s a fairy tale to think that you can do everything by yourself—it’s vital to the success of your business that you learn to hand off those things that you aren’t able to do well.”

Build Capacity

Former chief executive of Realestate.com and the author of Unicorn Tears, Jamie Pride experienced burnout after the failure of a business two years ago. He now coaches executives and entrepreneurs to build sustainable, healthy work practices. In an AFR article on mental health, Pride advises business owners to build capacity: “Taking time out to exercise, meditate, eat well and sleep can feel like a luxury but it’s actually about building capacity. You can get so much more done once you’re in good physical and mental health.”

Remember, You Are Not Alone

If you’re going through difficult times as a founder or entrepreneur, know that you are not alone. There are many others out there who have been through the same experiences and are eager to listen and help. Take time to educate your spouse and loved ones about your business life – you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes when they understand what you’re experiencing. 

Resources

  • Watch these small business stories for practical tips on managing your mental health.
  • Listen to these small business mental health podcastson Flying Solo

If you’re experiencing serious symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your GP or contact Lifeline

 

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