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Entrepreneur Mental Health: Why Are So Many Business Creators Suffering?

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Successful entrepreneurs are lionized in our culture. We’re awestruck by the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses of the world, celebrating their achievements with fan clubs and model space rockets (seriously).

Entrepreneurs tend to be risk takers, and many have an almost obsessive drive to make their vision a reality. But the passion that fuels their fire can have a dark side.

The path to success is often grueling, and these workhorses can struggle with near-debilitating despair, depression, and anxiety—especially when plans fall through or a project fails.

Data shows that entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to report having a mental health condition. The entrepreneurs surveyed in one study were twice as likely to suffer from depression as non-entrepreneurs. They were also nearly five times as likely to suffer from ADHD, and nearly 10 times as likely to have bipolar disorder.

But why?

In his book The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America, practicing psychologist John Gartner lays out how hypomania (a mild form of mania) may underlie both the strengths and weaknesses of many entrepreneurs.

Hypomania can lead to bursts of energy, creativity, and risk-taking. And, curiously, America has an unusually high number of hypomanics.

Gartner thinks this has to do with America’s history of immigration. Most Americans today are descended from people who had the will, courage, and optimism to explore the unknown. They passed those traits onto their children.

“Immigrants have unusual ambition, energy, drive, and risk tolerance, which lets them take a chance on moving for a better opportunity,” the author claims. “These are biologically based temperament traits. If you seed an entire continent with them, you're going to get a nation of entrepreneurs.”

The upside of this, Gartner says, is “spectacular entrepreneurial zeal.” The downside is “market bubbles and ill-considered messianic crusades.”

It’s an audacious thesis. But Gartner profiles figures from Christopher Columbus to Andrew Carnegie to Craig Venter to make his case, arguing that many Americans have inherited genes that prime them to take the kinds of risks that lead to entrepreneurial success.

How Entrepreneurs Can Manage Mental Health

So, if entrepreneurs are more prone to hypomania and to depression, anxiety, ADHD, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health challenges, what can be done? Here are some suggestions for entrepreneurs and business owners.

Unplug and unwind.

Our hyper-connected world means that staying on top of email, social media—and even the markets and the news—is an indispensable part of doing business. But the constant flood of information and the pressure to be available night and day can lead to burnout.

Disconnecting from screens can make a huge difference. Give yourself some breathing room by designating screen-free times. Delegate social media tasks to others, and try creating content in batches and scheduling posts in advance.

Join support networks.

Talking to other business owners about the stresses, triumphs, and struggles of building a business can be a huge relief. Support groups and business organizations offer a safe space to share, learn, and get advice from entrepreneurs who are experiencing similar challenges and business leaders who are further along on their journey.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Don’t fall into the comparison trap. It doesn’t matter that Entrepreneur X was this far ahead of your business one, five, or ten years in. Everyone has their own path—and their own obstacles. Instead of playing the comparison game, use the success of your peers as inspiration for what’s possible—and learn from their mistakes.

Celebrate everyday wins.

Most of us are so caught up achieving the big wins like landing a huge account or expanding into a new market that we forget to celebrate the everyday triumphs. Celebrate milestones, however seemingly small—things like reaching 100,000 followers on social media, significant anniversaries, or the launch of a company newsletter.

Get help from a mental health professional.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, struggling with fear and anxiety, or experiencing feelings of hopelessness or despair, therapy can help.

There’s still a lot of stigma around seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. But the mind and body are linked, and mental health is health. A therapist isn’t just a passive ear. A skilled counselor can give you tools to effectively identify thoughts and behaviors that aren’t serving you well and find better ways of managing stress using active problem solving and relaxation techniques.

Don’t struggle in silence. Willingness to be vulnerable and reach out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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Get Inspired with Inner Space

Inner Space, hosted by world-renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, pushes the conversation around mental health forward. She travels the world to talk to leaders in politics, film and television, fashion, wellness, and more about mental health and well-being.


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