In 2013, author Jessica Bruder documented the emotional and mental brutality that comes with being a founder in her shocking Inc. report, "The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship." It was a wake-up call for entrepreneurs everywhere.
There is a price to pay for being a founder. For some, anxiety, burnout, and depression bring them to their knees. For others, the ultimate price brings them six feet under, as documented by the high-profile suicides in Bruder's report.
There is an unwanted stigma that comes with being a founder with mental health issues. No entrepreneur leading the way wants to be perceived as incompetent, mentally ill, or "damaged goods."
So shame and isolation kicks in, causing many to fly below the radar, preventing themselves from seeking the help they need to cope with their troubles.
This is a serious issue. A study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco, reports that nearly half--yes, half--of all entrepreneurs surveyed suffered from things like anxiety and depression.
Breaking the Cycle
Many entrepreneurs harbor their inner demons and neglect to openly talk about their anxiety and depression.
Breaking the cycle of this ugly stigma and its attached shame requires the courageous first step of staring down your demon by coming clean, being vulnerable, and speaking the truth.
Former Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh, who once publicly admitted to struggling with suicidal thoughts, did just that.
Entrepreneurs need safe spaces to express their emotions to counter the shame and isolation. Inc.com columnist Nina Ojeda recently wrote about some new mobile apps developed for transparent dialogue with others who share similar struggles.
Yours truly is no stranger to anxiety. I once checked into the ER before a speaking engagement thinking I was having a heart attack. The electrocardiogram test showed that my heart was still strong as ever. What happened? I had a panic attack.
Numerous speaking engagements later, I learned to control feelings that commonly lead to anxiety and panic attacks. I learned that anxiety is often the result of fears that you may have about uncertain situations, places, and even people in your life.
Most of the time, these fears are based on things that haven't happened yet: meeting expectations of stakeholders or filling positions with hard-to-find candidates due to unprecedented growth.
If you've had it with anxiety beating up on you, I am here to tell you not to despair; there is hope. While I'm no clinical psychologist, you can have peace, eliminate the fears, and successfully overcome anxiety.
Here are some simple techniques that have worked for me over the years:
What to Do
1. Do not isolate yourself--find community.
First off, you have to believe that you are not alone in this, and have everything you need to go into battle--resources, support groups, counselors and coaches, fellow peers, family members, friends.
Then it's up to you to make the first move, reach out, and seek community and support.
2. Be totally present with your feelings.
Don't condemn or deny your feelings--that's how you feel and they are legitimate! After positively reframing your doomsday scenario and coming to terms with how you feel, work towards changing how you deal with these emotions before they consume you.
3. Journal to release your emotions.
Cancel that meeting, put the "Do not disturb" sign on your door, and journal about your fears and worries. Then process what you wrote, and put an action plan together about how you will cope with these emotions.
4. Accept that some things are beyond your control.
OK, so you're the controlling type who thinks the world is accountable to you. STOP! Many times, your worries are a direct result of the fact that you're not in control of the people, things, and situations in your life or business.
The things that are in your control, you can manage just fine. Relax, slow down, take one thing at a time, and then focus again on what's immediately in front of you. This will help to ease some of the discomfort you experience from your anxiety.
5. Lean on your faith, or something greater than you.
Understanding that you can't and shouldn't control everything, and releasing your worries to your Higher Power (or whatever you call your god/God) is the best answer to give you peace, relief, and a sense of freedom. As I once heard, "Let go and let God."
6. Pursue activities that bring you peace.
Get involved in an activity that's enjoyable; something that will bring back that bounce in your step. What is it that you love to do? What brings you peace? Hint: Think hobbies or exercise. I often take the lunch hour to swim, as it releases endorphins.
7. Practice Mindfulness.
A growing body of research in neuroscience suggest that mindfulness is one of the best-kept secrets to help entrepreneurs to deal with anxiety.
You can practice it by intentionally putting the focus on your emotions, accepting in a nonjudgmental way whatever thoughts and sensations you're experiencing in the moment. This Harvard Business Review article shows you some excellent techniques.
Matt Tenney, author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons From a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, summarizes it like this:
We train our awareness so that we become less distracted by our own thinking, which allows us to enjoy our lives more, to be more present with people, and to see our world, both inner and outer, with greater clarity.
And finally, I beg of you, along with entrepreneurs all over, to do this if you're in a really dark place and standing on the cliff's edge: Get help and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.