The discussion around depression and mental illness is growing among entrepreneurs. It's no surprise that many leaders suffer from sleepless nights and feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. It's all too real that nine out of ten companies fail.
Last year, I read a powerful essay by Brad Feld, a fellow entrepreneur and Inc columnist, that highlights his own personal struggles with depression.
Reading (and bookmarking this) made me take a step back and think about a few things: was I stressed out more than usual? Is it tired I'm feeling or something more? In a recent study, 45 percent of entrepreneurs said they were stressed, and two out of ten Americans say they take drugs daily to help with mood and anxiety. Two out of ten!
Should this vicious cycle continue to be something we just accept as part of the job? Part of the sexy ideals of an entrepreneur's lifestyle? Will we continue wearing lack of sleep or a social life as a badge of honor?
No one gets extra points for burning themselves out or putting themselves in an early grave.
While looking for more information about this, I spoke with Pouria Mojabi, the CEO of Paralign, a new mobile app that allows anyone to share their feelings with others who have similar interests or issues. Genius! As someone who believes that everyone should have a therapist, this might be the next best thing.
As a first time or young founder, it can be difficult to talk about your problems, concerns or fears with your friends. And if you don't have any cofounders to lean on it can be scary.
I've personally struggled with what I thought was anxiety until recently, when my doctor discovered it was misdiagnosed ADHD. Up until now, I haven't really felt the need to talk about it, but the misconception that having a mental or mood disorder means you cannot be successful is absolutely absurd, and it deserves bringing up.
Speaking to Mojabi, he talks about why entrepreneurs are more vulnerable than those in other areas of leadership. They live a naturally isolated lifestyle and get carried away with their companies.
"Combine the long hours with a lack of genuine human contact and you have a scenario where entrepreneurs are more likely than anyone else to fall into a cycle of depression."
I, like Mojabi, believe that talking can be an incredibly powerful medicine. Nobody can work seven days a week and not feel the effects of it. I'm not an expert on the brain, and Mojabi doesn't have a direct background in Psychology, but I believe him when he says that "the mind needs regular sessions of rest in order to function at its sharpest."
Many experts recommend shutting off for 10 - 15 minutes every hour to recharge.
Aside from using services to talk it out, here are a few ways you can change the wiring of your brain to be less likely to fall into a depressive cycle:
- Change up your daily routine. If you're like me, you hate working out and have no time to cook. It's way easier to UberEats something than make yourself a meal. This has to stop. Cooking is an easy and positive way to change up your habits. Not only do you eat better which is better for your physical and mental health, you're also forced to do something different than work. Unless you're a chef, of course.
- Seek professional help. This is an obvious one, but so often people ignore glaring symptoms of mental disorders passing them off as character flaws that cannot be fixed. I know, I was one of them. Go talk to a physician, you might find out you don't need to struggle anymore.
- Use free services like Paralign, HeadSpace and others to get things off your chest. I use the 5 Minute Journal (which is an offline version) and it's changed my outlook on life entirely.
- Stop complaining. Countless studies show that complaining actually rewires your brain to be more negative.
- Talk about this openly! No one should be expected to keep things shut in. You might be surprised who is willing to listen or who could offer guidance.
Overall, I think we need to talk about these issues head on. It's not a stigma unless we make it one.
If you or someone you know could be in danger of hurting themselves, please reach out to one of the many depression and suicide hotlines available.