Entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to many mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD).
Research concludes that 49 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed are living with at least one condition classified as a mental illness (ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or anxiety) and about 33 percent are living with two or more conditions.
I personally have struggled with anxiety and depression, and was also diagnosed with ADHD as a child.
There are many reasons entrepreneurs are at great risk for mental health challenges, including:
- A high degree of uncertainty. Entrepreneurship is instability on steroids. Nothing is for sure in our world. Our cash flow wildly fluctuates, our client base constantly contracts and expands, and in today's job market, loyal employees are few and far between.
- A constant emotional roller coaster ride. Even with our greatest attempts to create structure, the overall life of an entrepreneur mimics a roller coaster of activity and emotion.
- Imposter syndrome. We always need to convey that we have our act together, even in those times when we feel as if everything is falling apart.
- Loneliness and being misunderstood. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. We know we have to walk the path alone, and it's scary.
- Exhaustion. Building a business is relentlessly exhausting. Our lists are never finished. We often neglect to care for ourselves in the process.
- The desire to never quit or never disappoint. Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at stopping, even to the point of self-sacrifice. This causes tremendous mental anguish.
I've learned to reach back to several principles I've learned through years of mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhist education as I move through my own entrepreneurial journey:
Everything is impermanent.
Impermanence and change are the only two things we can fully expect in life. When employees join our companies or customers hire us, they will remain with us until the day they shouldn't; until the day their path will diverge from ours.
Nothing is personal.
My most important book is "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. His second agreement is "don't take anything personally." People show up based on their experiences, and on how they perceive life. Their words, judgments, and decisions reflect how they feel about themselves, not how they feel about us. They make decisions that are aligned with their desired goals and outcomes, not ours.
Challenges are not obstacles to our path. They are our path.
When something unexpected happens, we tend to view it as an obstacle because it forces us to deviate from our expectations. This causes us to expend valuable energy while we resist what's happening, rather than leaning into the circumstance. I've learned to embrace what's happening and be open to where it may lead. Another powerful influencer in my journey is Eckhart Tolle, the author of "The Power of Now." "Accept - then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. This will miraculously transform your whole life."
It's OK to not know the way.
As I mentioned, uncertainty is a major cause of anxiety for entrepreneurs. A third book that is instrumental in my journey is "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron. Pema has taught me that it's OK to not know the way ahead; that the middle is good. When I find myself developing "anticipatory anxiety" over the unknown, I remind myself that not knowing is fine, and to trust the process.
Life is about co-existing with chaos.
We often try to avoid chaos. It's not possible. Chaos is an ever-present part of life, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can gracefully co-exist with it.
There is so much more than meets the eye.
Much of my own journey has centered around opening my "third eye" or the part of our brain that directs our intuition and our sense of curiosity. When we are in a fight-or-flight mode, we aren't able to see beyond what is right in front of us. We aren't able to scan the larger environment for information and opportunities. Only when our mind is calm can we approach situations from a place of inquiry and exploration.
Patience has a way of untangling everything.
This is my personal mantra, based on 2 decades of great volatility and instability. Everything ultimately resolves itself. Four of the most important words we must all remember is "this too shall pass."
Life is unpredictable, but it's also sacred and precious. These principles can help you resolve some of your inner turmoil as you move along the path to be the best version of yourself.