Health Challenges Entrepreneurs Face
Entrepreneurship requires resilience and succeeding always comes at a considerable price. Getting a new business off the ground involves hours of work, innumerable decisions, and high levels of stress. Factor in the constant deadlines, highs and lows of public appearances, and fundraising campaigns, and you have a perfect foundation for serious physical and mental health challenges entrepreneurs face.
While many entrepreneurs are health-conscious, eat healthily, and factor in exercise, most are chronically sleep-deprived and live with inhuman stress levels. The result is a tendency to heart disease and a high prevalence of mental health conditions.
Of the physical conditions, heart disease is the most serious. The average entrepreneur works very long hours. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has shown that there is a direct relationship between long working hours and the risk of developing heart disease.
While this is disconcerting for entrepreneurs, the toll on their mental health is even more worrying.
Studies have shown that entrepreneurs were more likely than the rest of the population to have been diagnosed with:
- Depression: 30% compared to 16.6%
- Bipolar disorder: 11% compared to 4.4%
- Addiction: 12% compared to 8.4%
- ADHD: 29% compared to 4.4%
The chronic stress and unique pressures of entrepreneurship also account for a large percentage of founders struggling with sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation has a long list of its own negative health consequences.
Special health challenges entrepreneurs face
Society prizes entrepreneurship. Successful entrepreneurs are elevated from business people to celebrities. But as the saying goes, the tallest trees catch the most wind (and other weather conditions).
Lack of sleep
Most people don’t realize the potentially fatal price of chronic lack of sleep. Society, in general, associates sleep with not being busy, not being productive. And this attitude particularly plagues founders.
“No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the book “Why We sleep,” told the Guardian.
His research has shown that there are powerful links between sleep loss and serious conditions like:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Poor mental health
- High blood sugar levels
- Poor functioning of the immune system
Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, compared to people who manage to sleep seven or eight hours a night.
It may appear impossible or be inconvenient to stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time, but it’s the most crucial thing founders can do to safeguard their health in addition to a healthy diet, relaxation, and exercise. Apart from protecting your health, a good night’s sleep makes for a better mood, improved interpersonal relationships and better focus.
It’s not only starting a venture that’s stressful – success itself is just as stressful. Think about it: the more successful an entrepreneur is, the more people depend on them, and the greater the specter of what failure might mean for everyone involved.
Normal stress is part of everyday life, but chronic stress is extremely unhealthy, both physically and mentally. It leads to headaches, migraines, heart problems, high blood pressure, suppressed immune response, weight problems, heart attacks, and stroke. The mental burden of prolonged stress is seen in memory loss, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, or actual suicide.
The toll on relationships with spouses, children, extended family members, friends, and colleagues can be devastating, further compounding stress and mental health struggles.
Entrepreneurship generates impossible levels of stress that most people can’t cope with for prolonged periods of time. Here’s a list of quick, simple stress releases that can give you a new lease on your entrepreneurial journey today.
- Step outside, feel the sun, and breathe in the air
- Go for a short walk in the neighborhood
- Read a few jokes or call a friend who is always uplifting to talk to
- Quickly list ten things you’re grateful for (works every time!)
- Listen to some upbeat music
- Do a simple chore – the sense of achievement is small but far-reaching
- Do a few stretches
- Hug someone
- Just sit quietly by yourself and think about nothing at all
An unhealthy relationship with passion
We are all told to find our passion, work hard at it, and then we’ll earn loads of money. We’ll forever love our jobs because we will be doing what we love. Such simple wisdom, However, its a pity that, for most people, it bears no relationship to their lives. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, exemplify this folk philosophy. Or do they?
Some may, in fact, take it too far, becoming so passionate about their ventures that their whole identity is defined by it.
Scientists differentiate between harmonious and obsessive entrepreneurial passion. Research that appeared in the Academy of Management Journal looked at the relationship between the two types of passion, entrepreneurship and burnout.
The researchers commented on entrepreneurs who showed harmonious passion: “While these entrepreneurs said they often felt totally taken by their work, they also allowed themselves breaks from it and had more flexibility. Overall, [they] were able to balance their job with other activities in their lives without experiencing conflict, guilt, or negative effects when not engaging in work.”
On the other hand, entrepreneurs who exhibited obsessive passion “couldn’t live without their work … felt emotionally dependent on their work, had difficulty imagining their lives without their work, and felt their mood depended on them being able to work.” In other words, they were their work. This cohort was shown to be at a greater risk for burnout than those who exhibited harmonious passion.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, but especially in the beginning when most entrepreneurs bury themselves in work. At that stage, making breakthroughs and achieving results take priority over relationships. Social invitations are declined simply because the business is more important.
Many entrepreneurs isolate themselves completely to focus on their goals. They work frantically on their product and study ferociously to figure out how to monetize their great idea. Many believe that those around them don’t understand them or their plans, which further isolates them. This conviction is exacerbated when family and friends tell them to “get a real job”. They live for proof of success in their business, which they vaguely think is really all they need.
This self-imposed isolation eventually knocks on the door as loneliness and a gradual realization that business success is not as satisfying and meaningful as human connection. The loneliness that stems from isolation also brings with it the risks of the aforementioned physical and mental health conditions. The problem is, once you become comfortable with that loneliness, it isolates you to the extent that you can no longer communicate with others. That is a serious problem that will eventually affect your business and your personal life.
Experienced entrepreneurs are speaking up about the danger of presuming that no one understands you. Yes, maybe they don’t grasp the exact intricacies of your venture, but they are human. They also have dreams, they also fear failure. Share that with them – they understand more than you think.
The curse of having to appear in control
Entrepreneurs typically have to come across as clever and together. They are the conquerors of this world. Or at least, they must at all costs give that impression.
They manage this image of invincibility through “impression management”, a psychological tactic we all use in life – working at the impression we want others to have of us.
For entrepreneurs, the image that must be created and upheld is one of infallibility. Especially during the fundraising process, entrepreneurs need to be very impressive in order for investors to part with their money.
If, in reality, an entrepreneur is suffering from a mental health condition or overwhelming self-doubt, impression management can do untold harm in the long run.
Struggles with mental health
It is well-established that certain mental health disorders are more common among highly successful entrepreneurs than the rest of the population. According to a study at UC Berkeley, 72% of entrepreneurs in this sample self-reported mental health concerns.
Almost half (49%) reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions, a third (32%) reported having two or more lifetime mental health conditions, and a fifth (18%) reported having three or more lifetime mental health conditions. Many also reported being part of families with a history of mental illness.
Specifically, entrepreneurs were more likely to suffer from depression, ADHD, substance abuse, and bipolar disorder than the comparison group. Researchers, and entrepreneurs themselves, have noted that these traits are also the qualities that make some individuals great entrepreneurs.
This predisposition to mental health illness is aggravated by the entrepreneurial lifestyle, which is far from normal. Exceptionally long working hours, constant pressure, financial worries, and social isolation all contribute to the possibility of something going seriously wrong.
Given all these challenges, it may be prudent for budding entrepreneurs to tackle this journey with great caution. Here are a few tips to avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship.
5 Hacks to a More Enjoyable Entrepreneurship
1. Be forewarned and go in with your eyes wide open
Forewarned is prepared. Read up on the risks related to entrepreneurship and try your best to avoid at least some of them. For instance, develop a healthy lifestyle that suits you and try not to compromise on it.
2. Don’t isolate yourself
We have seen that this is common behavior amongst people who are focused on starting a new venture, believing that no one can understand them. But as we have also seen, those close to you don’t need to understand your brilliant idea. They just need to be there for you emotionally, which is something they can do if you allow them.
3. Take care your personal finances first
Don’t start your venture when you are broke. It’s not worth the stress. Make sure your personal finances are taken care of. Have a side hustle or a second stream of income while you set up your startup. What you don’t want to do is to put every last cent into your business and have no financial backup. Keep the 90%+ failure rate in mind, and don’t sacrifice your heart and soul and all your finances for your business.
4. Take care of your mental health
This point can’t be stressed enough. Your entrepreneurial journey will challenge you beyond endurance. One of the best ways to protect your mental health as an entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people who are positive and understand what you are going through. Find mentors who have been successful entrepreneurs and learn from them. At the same time, avoid negative influences as far as possible.
5. Don’t do everything yourself
In the beginning stages, you won’t have the finances to employ anyone, so the temptation will be to do everything yourself. This can lead to burnout. Rather, investigate the many resources you can leverage to obtain outside help at a minimal cost.