What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?

Discussion
Photo: @andreeas via Twenty20
Jul 18, 2019
Tom Ryan

Entrepreneurs are praised as the lifeblood of innovation, but the stress and anxiety makes them prone to mental health conditions, according to numerous studies.

For tech entrepreneurs dealing with prospective multimillion-dollar overnight valuations, the pressure can lead to drug addiction, insomnia and binge eating, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Chad Dickerson, who left as Etsy’s CEO in 2017, described the marketplace’s 2015 IPO as “this moment of success and this feverish insanity.” Vaulting 86 percent on its first day of trading, Mr. Dickerson felt, “If we don’t maintain this price…it’s just going to be brutal.” 

The pressures — from the isolation of juggling so many tasks alone and the natural pre-dispositions that aid their entrepreneurial drive — can be debilitating for smaller-scale start-ups as well.

According to a new survey of 885 entrepreneurs from the Canadian Mental Health Association:

  • Sixty-two percent felt depressed at least once a week.
  • Forty-six percent felt mental health issues interfered with their ability to work.
  • Sixty-six percent face difficulty in maintaining work-life balance due to entrepreneurial stress.

According to a study by Michael Freeman, who serves on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, entrepreneurs are: 

  • Two-times more likely than the average worker to suffer from depression.
  • Six-times more likely to suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
  • Three-times more likely to suffer from substance abuse.
  • Ten-times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder.

Yet only 20 percent of entrepreneurs felt the need to access mental health support and services, according to the study from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Psychiatry organizations often call for more resources and tools to help entrepreneurs achieve better work-life balance. For entrepreneurs, a primary challenge is overcoming the stigma of seeking treatment and moving past “hustle porn,” which glorifies entrepreneur’s extreme-working hours. 

The Canadian Mental Health Association wrote in its study, “The popular view of entrepreneurs needs to shift from that of the relentless visionary to one that allows entrepreneurs to demonstrate vulnerability and ask for help.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What health advice would you give to retail entrepreneurs under constant pressure? Have you dealt with such pressures yourself during your career? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

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Braintrust
"If your deeper 'why' isn’t something big, you will burn out fast – you won’t be able to pick yourself up off the floor on a bad day, or still believe after the 1,000th no."
"It is easier said than done. When you are the boss, work doesn’t just turn off at 6:00 p.m."
"I’ve been thinking … it seems the “Hustle Economy” is a hustle in itself. Fourteen-hour work days, no insurance, no safety net, little personal life/health be damned."

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17 Comments on "What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?"


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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It is easier said than done. When you are the boss, work doesn’t just turn off at 6:00 p.m. It prevents you from falling asleep and wakes you up in the middle of the night. It oftentimes gives you dreams or I should say nightmares that has you exhausted in the morning. What entrepreneurs must learn to do, and I am still trying after 25 years of having my own firm, is to try to turn it off when you get home to your loved ones.

Read books that have nothing to do with your business. Watch Netflix or Prime series that have nothing to do with your business and enjoy your family. As I said, easier said than done but if you don’t at least try, you will burn out. What could that do your business and more importantly, your family? Giving yourself a break from our current ugly political discussion will also help.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I agree with your description. I am now on my third company and in starting this one, I told my partner that she will be the senior partner in title and share of the company. After two startups I no longer wanted to wake up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. worrying about something. But that is part of the gig. If you are going to do it, be ready for a 24/7 endeavor that becomes the primary goal of every waking and sleeping hour in your life. Your mantra becomes “the enterprise, the enterprise, the enterprise.” There is no room for anything else.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

You just described my life, Zel! My biz partner Rich and I have always had an office so we could keep our work and home lives separate – sometimes easier said then done. I had to learn to flip a light switch in my head to turn off business when I left the office. It’s tough because things come up 24/7 but I have gotten pretty good at it.

You absolutely cannot put family second. Or ignore your health. I read like crazy, watch stupid TV, and hang with my grandson whenever I can. It’s about setting boundaries. I’m not as stressed as I was when we started KIZER & BENDER 29 years ago, and you know what? Our business continues to grow.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Yeah George, you’re right on target. I think the gremlin is that at home, away from our office resources, when something comes to mind that has to be done now, it creates a lot of stress. My favorite term here is: Silent Desperations — “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” is the feeling of being alone and not able to fix the issue. That’s my dilemma most times … as I think it is for most business people. I have to remind myself — I certainly am not alone.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
We use the term entrepreneur but too often these leaders today are not the ones in the driver’s seat making a decision, taking risks and using their ingenuity, talent, and strategies to bring success to a company. Instead, they are too often the person who has become enslaved to the “money people” whether they be private investors, a private equity firm, or a bank. It’s true that you need the money and must spend money to make money but too often today the expected return from those investing is unrealistically high, putting tremendous pressure on those in charge and those who have borrowed the funds or taken the investment. All we hear about today is “how much can I make today because I don’t care about tomorrow.” We do not build good businesses that way. There are too many companies that have had IPOs only to fail later, but those that made a fast buck on it are perfectly content. Moreover, how many retailers have sold out to the private equity firm with top executives… Read more »
Phil Masiello
BrainTrust
I founded my first company when I was 27 and have gone on to found several others. All in the consumer products space from food to beauty to shaving and now marketing services. There are two areas where pressure comes into play. First, there is the pressure to grow. As soon as you hire your first employee you take on a responsibility to keep that person employed and to make sure the company has the funds to do it. As you scale, you are under pressure to maintain the growth and the standards for your product. So you have to build a team that can support you. You know that old saying that you have to hire people smarter than you? Yeah. It’s garbage. You need to hire people who share your vision for how to achieve success. then everyone is rowing in the same direction. If you hire people smarter than you, then everyone has an opinion and you add the stress of dysfunction. The second place stress comes from is investors. The minute… Read more »
Susan O'Neal
BrainTrust
30 days 9 hours ago

“You know that old saying that you have to hire people smarter than you? Yeah. It’s garbage. You need to hire people who share your vision for how to achieve success. then everyone is rowing in the same direction. If you hire people smarter than you, then everyone has an opinion and you add the stress of dysfunction.”

I don’t know whether it’s a question of “smarter than” or not, but absolutely true that a start-up cannot afford a bunch of smart people pontificating and debating … more than doing … not to mention the total waste of energy it is to manage that chaos, in addition to all your other stresses, as a CEO. Having this happen is a greater risk if you hire people whose sense of self-worth comes from being right, being deferred to or being “smarter than” the others in the room. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter than you, but if you hired them because you believed they were – you’re probably in the danger zone.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Important insight here, Susan, thank you. Our colleague Mohamed Amer and I recently exchanged emails about the pros and cons of having a team of geniuses. That initially sounds so appealing because our expectation is they will quickly solve all our problems in the most effective way possible. But you are right — it doesn’t always turn out to be so rewarding.

I learned that in working with boards filled with enormously successful and brilliant people. In too many of them (and at least in my experience) “the whole was less than the sum of the parts.” Some strange dynamic happens resulting in incredible waste of time, poor or non-existent decision-making, constant tension and pretty well zero courageous thinking and risk-taking. Now if we could just figure out how to make it all work….

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Good points from Susan and Ian. Certainly without sharing a common vision and passion for the “why,” you invite disaster. Also, I operationalize “smarter than you” by selecting those people that complement — not duplicate — your experiences; they add expertise where you don’t have it and collectively as a team you realize those synergies where the whole is significantly greater than the sum of the parts. By definition, any entrepreneurial endeavor is arduous, otherwise you are just copying someone else, so best to pick the core team with care because you will rely on those relationships to succeed AND remain sane.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

In my current job, I work with entrepreneurs almost exclusively. I was first surprised to see how low some of the findings were in the study, “Sixty-six percent face difficulty in maintaining work-life balance due to entrepreneurial stress” … I would have thought the numbers would have been even higher with my anecdotal experiences. However, I do think little attention is given to these “extraneous” challenges faced by these business owners when there is so much else to worry about.

It is critical to balance your life and work as an entrepreneur in the long term if you want to reap the rewards of your efforts. There are myriad educational offerings available for free online and in local markets to help create a more productive balance for entrepreneurs. You have to take advantage of current thinking and techniques.

Susan O'Neal
BrainTrust
30 days 9 hours ago
Been here, still here, still deciding every day if it’s worth it (obviously, I most often come to the conclusion that it is). For me, passion around the idea that marketing could be better, more human, more authentic in its delivery and form – not just its message – is what drove me to leave the relative comfort of corporate life on the heels of a divorce, with three young children in tow. I believed in the vision and if there was a company that would have hired me to pursue it, I probably would have gone that path – but there wasn’t, and so I started Dabbl (almost five years ago). My advice: Be clear on WHY you’re doing this. If your deeper “why” isn’t something big, you will burn out fast – you won’t be able to pick yourself up off the floor on a bad day, or still believe after the 1,000th no. For me the deeper “why” was the chance to prove not only that deeper connections between consumers and brands… Read more »
Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
You will set yourself up for failure if you place all decisions on your shoulders. A small team of trusted colleagues (co-founders and key contributors) as well as family are crucial in maintaining a healthy sense of reality, support, and optimism. Avoid placing the full success and failure of the startup on your shoulders – it’s simply not the case. Be comfortable making timely decisions with limited data and fight the urge to second guess yourself. You can still have moments of introspection, but you can’t revisit key decisions – it will be mentally defeating, undermine your confidence and will break down your team’s tight chemistry. Be honest with yourself, recognize your personal limitations as well as those of your existing startup and crew. While a startup can be all-consuming, it need not be. Maintain some activities outside of your startup – from an exercise routine to meditation, painting, and so on. These are not distractions, but actually allow your mind to process the day’s activities. I learned a lot from my own start-up experience… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

If you are not ready for the entrepreneurial challenge, don’t do it. The first thing that you have to accept is that you will fail. Accepting that takes a huge burden off of your mind. It means every little success forward is a win.

The second thing is that there is no room for a work/life balance. Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 endeavor. You better make sure that you are ready and your family is ready.

You better be ready to embrace the stress and pressure. If it isn’t getting your heartbeat pumping, you are in the wrong environment. Great athletes use stress and pressure to perform at their highest level. Entrepreneurship is a game and successful entrepreneurs use stress and pressure to perform better.

In reference to the noted Canadian studies, I would say there are a many entrepreneurs who really should not be.

Bob Andersen
Guest

Hear me now and believe me later: The sure cure for stress is exercise. It turns crippling stress into a positive force. In fact, stress often provides the energy for a great workout. In some of my corporate jobs, I would head to gym at lunch so stressed I could hardly function. An hour later it was like a new day! I was relaxed and energized ready to take on any problem. If you don’t have time to exercise over the lunch hour, do it after work or in the evening. You’ll also sleep better and feel better the next day. I have less stress these days which actually makes it harder to get motivated to exercise, but doing it regularly has also been proven to slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Endorphins are a wonderful thing and they’re free!

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I’ve been thinking … it seems the “Hustle Economy” is a hustle in itself. Fourteen-hour work days, no insurance, no safety net, little personal life/health be damned. It used to be, you’d “hustle” for a company and there’d be benefits that came with it and at the end of the road, advancement. Now you’re out there on your own, hustling for that day you IPO or strike it rich just like they do in Silicon valley. Worth it? Just a mirage? Guess we’ll find out.

We already know that life expectancy has leveled off (for much different reasons than work) in the U.S., but to me, the “hustle” economy, and what it does to young people, is just going to add to its diminishment.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

My chronic entrepreneurism syndrome (CES) was first diagnosed in 1971, so long ago. In spite of all the stress and pressures described by my sisters and brothers here today, it is simply part of who I am and what I do. It will be thus til the end of time.

I found myself strangely calmed and comforted just reading the responses today. This is my tribe and I am so very grateful for you all. And hey, let’s launch another startup … the “EAA.” Not to cure CES, but to enhance and celebrate it, and make it even more fun. You in?

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Many entrepreneurs tend to take on every role at the beginning of their careers and struggle to let things go. “Nobody can do it is well as me,” is typical thinking of the start-up entrepreneur. The key to staying healthy — and growing the business — is to delegate, delegate and delegate more. Surround yourself with people who are good at what they do and empower them to do their job. That’s the hard part; empowering them. However, when you do, and it works, you’ll be comfortable letting go. And, one more thought … get a coach. I go to Strategic Coach (www.StrategicCoach.com) once a quarter, coming up on twenty years. The program changed my life.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If your deeper 'why' isn’t something big, you will burn out fast – you won’t be able to pick yourself up off the floor on a bad day, or still believe after the 1,000th no."
"It is easier said than done. When you are the boss, work doesn’t just turn off at 6:00 p.m."
"I’ve been thinking … it seems the “Hustle Economy” is a hustle in itself. Fourteen-hour work days, no insurance, no safety net, little personal life/health be damned."

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