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Depression and Entrepreneurs: Why Founders Need to Prioritize Mental Wellness

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Whether you call it startup depression or even founder’s blues, depression is a real risk for people drawn to starting their own businesses. 

The stresses of launching a new business are undeniable. Responsibilities range from making your product work in the real world to upholding commitments to investors, partners, suppliers, staff and, of course, family. And this stress can take its toll on mental health; a 2015 study confirmed that almost 30 per cent of entrepreneurs studied were suffering from depression.

To help reduce the likelihood and impact of mental health crises on your business, founders need to take time to practice self-care. Here are five ways you can be more aware and help protect yourself from business-breaking depression.

1) Sleep, eat well and exercise

Yes, your mother, your doctor, and those Facebook memes are correct. Sleep deprivation, fast-food diets, and lack of fresh air and exercise are bad for your mental health as well as your waistline. Though it may be difficult in the fast-paced startup life, commit to getting enough shut-eye, eating healthy, and scheduling exercise and outdoor activities. Use an online scheduling app and set alarms on your smartphone if you must, but take these three activities seriously.

2) Don’t work overtime

When you’re immersed in the startup culture, it’s easy to start believing that working 24/7 will keep failure at bay and that crazy work hours are just part of the entrepreneurial life. Yet this lifestyle comes with a price — it may lead to burnout and depression.

Limiting your work hours benefits both your mental and physical health and, realistically, will make the hours you are on call more productive. This may be forty, fifty, or even sixty hours a week, but make it manageable, and stick to your work schedule just as you would if you weren’t your own boss.

3) Create a business social life

Though it may seem like you are isolated as a founder (especially if you’re a solopreneur or business owner without partners), the truth is that there are peers, mentors, and other entrepreneurs out there who share the same challenges, frustrations, and problems that you do.

Create a business social life to meet others and talk about issues you share to reduce the stress of dealing with them alone. Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce, or becoming active in a professional organization for your industry. Founders in the 18 to 39 age group can get mentored through Futurpreneur.ca.

4) Nurture your family and friends

You are NOT your business. You are simply one person, and maintaining relationships with friends and family that “knew you when” are a good way to remember your self-worth as a person as opposed to a business. Make time to attend birthdays, family gatherings, and informal meetings with friends — and don’t talk business.

5) Seek professional help

If the stresses of being a founder seem overwhelming, get professional help from your family doctor, counselor, psychologist, or other mental help expert now. After all, you have an accountant, a lawyer, and other professionals for things you can’t tackle on your own. Think of it as a personal investment. Practicing self-care as an entrepreneur and founder simply makes good business sense, and it may be the most important non-business thing you do.

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This article was originally published August 10, 2015.