So you’ve decided to invest big and invest in yourself. Organizing and operating a business takes identity, perseverance, and sometimes, a basement. At age 16, Bill Gates and Paul Allen ventured into business together and acquired $20,000 with Traf-O-Data, a program they developed to measure traffic flow in Seattle. We, of course, know them as the founders of Microsoft.

Being your own boss is demanding; if you pause, your business pauses. An entrepreneur continually juggles many hats, and working in stress-induced, fast-paced situations raises health concerns. Girlboss’s Alisha Ramos recollects, “As a founder, I was off the adrenaline. I would wake up around 6:30 a.m. each day and work non-stop until heading to bed around midnight.” Mental health is something all entrepreneurs need to be aware of.

Not all stress is negative

A woman smiling and working on laptop
An entrepreneur smiling and hustling on laptop

According to Mental Health America, one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. The most common diseases associated with stress are depression and anxiety. Interestingly enough, not all pressure has a negative effect. In “Life Event, Stress, and Illness”, an article published by Mohd. Razali Salleh, he explains his findings: “Short-term stress boosts the immune system; when the body tolerates stress and uses it to overcome lethargy or enhance performance, the stress is positive, healthy and challenging. But chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifests an illness.”

These psychological symptoms might not be evident to the hard-working entrepreneur at first glimpse. Symptoms might arise as physical instead. We may feel fatigued, bloated, and even irritable at the end of the very long day. So why do we continue to do this to ourselves? We don’t crave this feeling of uneasiness, but the business always needs something more.

Workaholic or hard worker?

A man looking stressed and working on a laptop in the dark
An entrepreneur looking stressed and working on a laptop in the dark

Entrepreneurship is equal parts exciting and stressful. Having work on your mind 24/7 can make you a workaholic, not a hard worker.

In a study (Overwork Climate scale: psychometric properties and relationships with working hard), researchers evaluated whether employees’ tendency to work excessive hours is motivated by the perception of a work environment that encourages overwork. (Two types, the first being a hard-worker and the second, being a workaholic).

Hard-worker

The first type [hard-worker], which is defined as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that consists of three interrelated dimensions: vigor, dedication, and absorption. 

Their research suggests, “engaged employees are mainly driven by a so-called autonomous motivation, which translates to individuals experiencing [activities] for [their] own sake and who act out of a sense of volition, thus, experiencing their work as inherently interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.”

Workaholic

The second type [workaholic], is explained as, “a negative kind of involvement in one’s job constituted by the combination of two dimensions: working excessively and working compulsively. Working excessively constitutes the behavioral component of workaholism, indicating that workaholics are obsessed with their work and persistently think about their work, even when they are not working. Workaholic employees experience higher levels of exhaustion, poorer social relationships outside the workplace, and considerable levels of work-home conflict.”

Most, if not all, entrepreneurs are workaholics; they’d have to be if they want their business to succeed, right? They know the long hours that go into building their empire, and some know of the dreadfully long hours and physical symptoms, but why do they push past their limit?

“The underlying motivational dynamic that propels workaholic employees is referred to as controlled motivation, which is a non-self-determined behavior, mainly driven by external contingencies involving threats of punishment and promise of rewards; [this can be rent, insurance payments, and—of course—making sure their business succeeds.] whereas introjected regulation originated from an internalization process in which people adopt external standards of self-worth and social approval without fully identifying with them.”

Whether you’re a workaholic or a hard-worker, we face obstacles and setbacks everyday.

COVID-19 and mental health in entrepreneurs

A man wearing a black jacket and a surgical mask working on a laptop
A man wearing a black jacket and a surgical mask working on a laptop

As of May 2020, there are over 1.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. 2020 was going to be different. Those items were finally going to get crossed off the bucket list, but then the world pretty much shut down. Quarantine has left people distraught. More people are feeling anxious and depressed. A new poll, conducted by Psychiatry.org, revealed that “nearly half of Americans (48%) are anxious about the possibility of getting COVID-19, and four in ten Americans (40%) are anxious about becoming seriously ill or dying from it, but, 62% are anxious about the possibility of family and loved ones getting the virus.”

Concerns that are completely validated by the pandemic. So many have lost businesses and loved ones, which can leave anyone in despair. The only certainty from all of this is that moving forward, people will rebuild—No, it will never be the same, but it can be even better.

There are more entrepreneurs now than there has ever been [before COVID-19 happened]. INC’s Leigh Buchanan explains Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), findings, “27 million working-age Americans—nearly 14 percent—are starting or running a new business.” Strenuous hours are common in the early stages of your company.

Your business is only as important as your health; if there’s no you, there’s no business. Here are some tips for managing mental health as an entrepreneur!

Focus on your mental health

A stressed man holding his head in his hands
A stressed entrepreneur holding his head in his hands

One thing each of us can do is to learn to take better care of our mental health. Burnout is real, Sherrie Bourg Carter a Psy.D. from Psychology Today explains how chronic stress “leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Carter states that burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that accumulates. “The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, which means that the earlier you recognize the signs, the better able you will be to avoid burnout.”

Carter lists the signs of physical and emotional exhaustion: Chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention, physical symptoms (chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches), increased illness (vulnerability to infections), loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, and anger.

That was a mouthful. Carter acknowledges that some symptoms do overlap, and present illnesses may cause some of them. She stresses heeding these warnings signs before burnout occurs.

She also lists signs of cynicism and detachment: Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, and isolation.

Carter lists signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment, serious signs of burnout: feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, and poor performance.

Not all signs may present themselves, especially when your priorities lie elsewhere. Learning about the signs and knowing when to seek help may help ease stress and prevent burnout.

Ways to relieve tension

A silhouette of a man practicing yoga near some trees
A silhouette of a man practicing yoga near some trees

What should you do if you feel you might be experiencing high levels of stress and/or burnout? Here’s a list of things you can do to relieve some tension in your life, by Dr. Carter: 

Don’t ignore the basics, such as: sleeping, eating, and drinking. Carter says, “Busy schedules have an interesting way of making you forget the things that you once found relaxing. Resurrect those memories and find ways to incorporate those things back into your life.”

Learning to say no can eliminate new commitment or responsibility.

Exercising is a great way to destress. Unfortunately, lots of individuals lead busy lives and cannot make the time. Carter suggests incorporating exercise as part of a daily routine—this means a brisk 10-minute walk, taking stairs instead of the elevator, or stretching at your desk.

Carter also suggests stress management strategies such as, deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, warm baths, and massages.

There are many stressors in our daily lives, and although they don’t disappear with a click of a button, there are many ways to reduce them. If none of Dr. Carter’s suggestions are your cup of tea, don’t worry, here are some more:

The Mighty, a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges, is a haven for those who wish to avoid physical contact. It’s a place where many people share their real stories about the mental challenges they face daily. People can submit their stories here.

Stress does not discriminate

At the end of the day, we face many obstacles. Stress does not discriminate against anybody. During this pandemic, it is critical to take care of ourselves before we take care of anything else. Burnout is real, but it can be managed. Learning to manage your stress will not only improve your ability to be emotionally aware, but it can improve how to communicate with others; when you want to run your own business, that helps!

What techniques have you found helpful in improving your mental health as an entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.