entrepreneur mental health

 

Do you ever feel like you work A LOT and get next to nothing done?

Me too.

Despite all my “hustling,” I still fall short.

The answer to falling short? Hustle more.

By definition, to hustle means to “force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction.”

In today’s world, basically, it means being a workaholic.

In this post, I talk about hustling in terms of being an entrepreneur or having a side business. However, this may also apply to students studying tirelessly or employees putting in overtime to climb the corporate ladder and get their promotion. Anyone who is overworking now for the payoff later is hustling.

 

Hustling VS. Workaholism 

Before, being a “workaholic” was kind of a bad thing. Sure, you were hardworking, but you never spent any time at home with your family. It meant that you were putting your employer ahead of everyone and everything else in your life.

But now that every millennial seems to have their own “side hustle,” the connotation has changed. When you own a business, your time and resources are poured into yourself and your passion—not some faceless corporation. So, being a workaholic can’t be a bad thing when you’re working for yourself, can it?

Seemingly, no. In fact, we now seem to glorify overworking. The word “hustle” is plastered on work accessories and is used as a motivation when you feel like you’re burning out. We’re so obsessed with this idea that we’ve even come up with another word for it: “Grind.”

“The daily grind” is used to describe the tireless work we do every single day to achieve our dreams.

Despite working 24/7, we usually fool ourselves into thinking we’re achieving a work/life balance because our work becomes our life. We tell ourselves that’s just the nature of being an entrepreneur. (Or the nature of being a student, the nature of being a millennial on the job hunt or the nature of being a top exec, etc.).

But if we’ve really achieved that balance, how come we’re (often) rich enough for designer accessories but too poor to spend 10 minutes to meditate?

Even when we realize our life is a little out of balance, we’ll probably tell ourselves, “work now, play later.” We’re willing to struggle a little now for freedom in the future. We are willing to delay our happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, hard work is important and commendable. But we need to ask ourselves, where do we draw the line between hard work and overwork?

You may be hustling too hard if:

  • You’re neglecting your mental health
  • You tell yourself your depression or anxiety will go away once you’ve achieved your goal
  • You don’t have time for a healthy diet
  • You don’t give yourself time to exercise
  • Sleep comes last on your to-do list
  • You don’t give yourself any “free” time
  • You beat yourself up when you try to relax
  • You beat yourself up for not completing your massive daily to-do list
  • You don’t have time for your hobbies
  • You think the above point doesn’t apply to you because you don’t really have hobbies (anymore)
  • You convince yourself that even though quality time with family, friends or your partner is sparse now, it will be abundant in the future
  • You find yourself becoming more irritable and rude to people, whether it be an employee or customer service worker
  • You’re always on your email and clients can reach you no matter the time. You don’t have boundaries
  • You’re habitually late because you’ve overloaded your schedule
  • Your only goals are career-orientated
  • Not a lot is great now, but it will be “in the future when I’ve made my money/grown my business”

 

Entrepreneurs and Mental Health

While hard work is usually necessary to reach goals, could the 24/7 grind mentality actually be setting us up for failure?

Mental health issues affect 72% of entrepreneurs. This is compared to 7% of the general public. Considering that a growing number of people are starting their own businesses, working remotely or freelancing, this can be a startling statistic.

The mental stressors facing entrepreneurs are so common that there’s even a term for it: “founder’s blues” or “startup depression.”

You may think that taking time for your mental health would take time away from your business—but the consequences can be much worse if you don’t.

According to a 2014 poll published on Founder.com, 30% of startups fail because of their founder’s emotional troubles. When asked, these entrepreneurs said their business failed because they:

  • Lost focus (13%)
  • Lost passion (9%)
  • Experienced founder burnout (8%)

That means 30% of entrepreneurs who fail may have had the potential to succeed if they could work through their emotional issues.

What’s more is that entrepreneurs may be more at risk for addiction. Serial entrepreneurs display symptoms of behavioural addictions, according to a 2014 study. Some of these traits can help a person run a business. However, researchers suggest that behavioural addiction in one area (such as work) may cause addiction in other areas, such as reliance on drugs or alcohol.

Compared to the general population, why are entrepreneurs more at-risk for mental health problems? There’s a few possible reasons:

  • Self-worth— We often envision entrepreneurs as confident individuals who charm investors into a business deal or who captivate crowds at speaking events. But the reality is that some entrepreneurs take a personal hit whenever their business does. If anyone ties their mistakes and net worth to their own worth, it’s understandable how their confidence could plummet.
  • Failure— I don’t even want to share the statistic of how many small businesses fail because it’s really sad. Compared to a full-time job, working for yourself can mean an unsteady income and increased risk of failure. It makes sense how this could cause stress and anxiety.
  • Long work hours— Most hustling entrepreneurs don’t go home at 5’oclock like others. They’re always in work mode and even if they’re not, they’re obsessing about how they should be. Putting yourself into overdrive most days can lead to lack of self-care, both physically and mentally.
  • Isolation— If you’re already a well-established entrepreneur, you may have an office and a team of people. However, if you’re a freelancer or still in the beginning stages of your business, it’s likely you work alone most of the time. In the same way living alone drastically increases your chances of depression, so does working alone. Even as a big introvert, I recognize that humans aren’t made for such social isolation.

 

Why Hustling Can Minimize Productivity

Most days I’m convinced that coffee is the key to productivity. But on days when all I’m running on is coffee, I know there’s more to the story.

The missing puzzle piece? Rest (whatever that means for you).

Some people worry that taking time off to maintain or improve their mental health will negatively impact their business. If this sounds like you, consider this: Working the maximum amount usually minimizes our efficiency. Here’s how:

Overworking can mean less sleep. If you’re hustling all day, you’re probably experiencing a lack of rest like 23% of workers in a Harvard Medical school study.

        ➡ Lack of sleep costs you money. A few hours of sleep lost here and there isn’t a big deal, is it? According to the same Harvard study, the amount of sleep lost could be costing US companies $63.2 billion each year.

 

Overworking can cause mental health issues. Numerous studies have shown that working overtime can lead to issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. One startling 2012 study found that those who work long hours are doubling their risk for depression. You may assume you’re exempt because you love and are satisfied with being an entrepreneur. Still, researchers found that job satisfaction or stress levels didn’t make depression any less likely in workaholics.

➡ Can cause stress, which may reduce productivity. Even if you enjoy your work, it’s still possible to feel stressed. A 2004 study showed that increased stress leads to reduced productivity. Overlap between personal and work life also had a negative effect.

       ➡ Can cause depression, which may reduce productivity. Studies show that even minor depression levels are associated with productivity loss. In extreme cases, depression can become so severe that a person is unable to work at all.

 

Contrary to popular belief, input doesn’t always equal output. One researcher studied workers who put in 80 hours versus those who just pretended to. As it turns out, managers couldn’t tell the difference because those who worked more didn’t accomplish more. Sorry to say, but that means your extra hours may be a waste of time.

 

Workaholics are more likely to make mistakes. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s likely you’re leading a team, or, at the very least, interacting with customers, clients or subcontractors. Research shows that when our energy is depleted through work, we are likely to misread other people and even lash out. Our ability to make good decisions is also compromised.

 

Taking breaks makes your goal clearer. A 2011 study showed that when people work without breaks, they tend to lose focus on the bigger picture. Taking mental breaks helps you stay focused, reminds you of your goal and improves work performance.

Taking breaks may not sound as glamorous as hustling, but considering the above points, it’s more effective.

Most entrepreneurs will agree that their business won’t be efficient unless they are. In the same way, you can’t be efficient unless your mind is.

It’s like the Wayne Dyer quote, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

You created your business to serve other people or other businesses. To best fulfill that purpose, you need to take care of yourself first. Unfortunately, there’s no hack for that.

 

6 Ways You Can Stop Hustling While Still Improving Mental Health & Long-Term Performance

If you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, you may think, “Spending an hour on this activity is taking away an hour I could have used working.”

Try to reframe your thought into something like, “Yes, doing this activity is taking away an extra hour I could have spent working. But it’s likely that spending an hour on this will make my working hours more productive. Plus, I’ll probably feel happier, giving me more motivation to accomplish my goals.”

Even when you try to set aside time, you may find yourself sucked back into some aspect of your business. To combat this, psychologist Ron Friedman suggests choosing activities you can look forward to after work.

“It’s what behavior change experts know: Breaking a bad habit takes more than trying to stop. It requires finding something more appealing you can do instead,” Friedman writes in a Harvard Business Review article.

Below are some suggestions to press pause on the hustling habit so that you can fast-forward your business in the long-run.

 

1. Just Take Time to Enjoy

There’s plenty of practices that are proven to lower stress and increase productivity. But aside from that, consider taking time for your other passions and hobbies (can you even remember your hobbies?). Here’s some ideas.

  • Hang out with family or friends. Stop saying you’re “too busy”
  • If you’ve always wanted to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, make the time. Research shows that volunteering helps improve mood and lower stress
  • Go to a new place with your dog or kids
  • Read a book
  • Take a bath
  • Take a walk in nature
  • Do a craft or attend a craft/paint night
  • Take a new glass
  • Plan your dream vacation
  • Have a day of total freedom. Don’t plan anything. Just wake up and give yourself the entire day off to do anything that makes you happy

 

2. Relaxation practices

If it feels like you’re grinding 24/7, you may want to consider taking up a science-backed relaxation practice. Below are some practices that are proven to reduce stress levels and increase productivity. Try a few to see which work for you.

  • Meditation. Meditating for just 8 weeks changes areas in the brain associated with emotional regulation, mind wandering, empathy and the fight or flight response. There’s many different types of meditation. You can start with a guided visualization meditation on YouTube or download a meditation app.
  • Mindfulness. Besides mindfulness meditation, you can also practice mindfulness during stressful or everyday situations. Using mindfulness in the workplace can improve focus, collaborative work and help you manage stress, according to a 2016 study. At first, the idea of mindfulness may sound overly simplistic yet vague. But there’s many different mindfulness techniques. Here’s a list of 71 ideas.
  • Yoga. Practicing yoga—either at home or in a group class—appears to regulate stress response systems. This means that it can change the way we perceive and react to stress.
  • Visualization. Many professional athletes have known for a long time that just imagining their performance actually improves it. For example, as a teenager, Olympic winner Michael Phelps was told by his coach to watch his “mental videotape” twice a day. Some studies have even shown that mental practices are almost as effective as the actual physical practice. One study compared people who physically worked out to people who just envisioned working out. Those who worked out gained 30% muscle strength. But those who visualized the workouts still gained almost half that strength (13.5% increase). Pretty unbelievable, right? Even if you don’t believe it, visualization can also reduce stress, so it can’t hurt to try.
  • Exercise. Most people associate working out with having an amazing body, being “thin” or looking “jacked.” But there’s a more important reason to get moving: Studies show that physical activity increases happiness and helps prevent depression. It can even be more effective than antidepressants.
  • Journaling. Many people think writing in a diary is corny. Bullet journaling is a new trend that may change your mind. Some people find that writing out their random thoughts helps them to clear their mind. Don’t know where to start? A Harvard Business School professor recommends journaling your daily wins and setbacks to increase productivity.

 

3. Self-help Books or Audiobooks

Some people think that self-help books are full of cheesy and “woo-woo” advice. That’s okay; that’s their opinion. Personally, I’ve found that reading and listening to books over and over helps me to adopt a healthier mindset about life. If it works for you, stick with it. If you’re into multitasking, use Audible to listen to a book while working, driving or doing chores.

Here are some of my favourites:

 

4. Online Therapy

Feel like you need therapy but can’t afford it? If you’ve poured all your money into your business and don’t have hundreds to spend on therapy, there’s still some options. Online therapy is often more cost-effective.

You can look into services like:

 

5. Therapy Books

Another low-cost option to improve your mental health is to purchase and work through a therapy-type book. Apart from targeting your triggers, these books can teach you healthy techniques to cope with stress or other mental health issues. Obviously, books aren’t therapists, so you’ll need a little internal motivation to make this work.

Check out researched-backed books with practical exercises:

  • Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think. This book is used in schools to teach students about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBD). However, you can also use it as a self-help book since it provides actionable steps and comes with worksheets. CBD has proven effective for a wide range of mental disorders and psychological problems.
  • Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This book teaches you how to simply observe and accept your unpleasant thoughts without judging them. The author wants you to embrace every experience without struggle. ACT has proven effective for a wide range of mental disorders and psychological problems.
  • Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Research shows that compared to those who self-criticize, people who are self-compassionate have healthier and more productive lives. If you’re someone who beats yourself up over making mistakes or not getting enough done, this book is for you.
  • Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Similar to Mind Over Mood, this book focuses on changing how you feel by using CBT. You’ll learn what causes your mood swings and how to deal with negative emotions.

 

6. Seek Professional Help

If you have a mental health issue or suspect you may, reach out for help. Research therapists accepting patients and choose one who you think would be a good fit. Even if you’re just feeling overwhelmed, working through that with a professional can help.

In serious cases, you may want to reach out immediately:

Why I Hate The Word “Hustle” (And Why It’s Bad For Your Mental Health)

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