Starting a business is one of the hardest things that anyone can ever do—especially if you’re at it alone. While it’s easy to go home and unwind from a tough day at the office, entrepreneurship is something that always lingers with you. As your venture’s CEO, CFO, sales leader, marketer—and everything else—the work never stops.
Overtime, this ‘nonstop’ mode can take a toll on your mental health. Depression strikes and all of a sudden, hills feel like mountains. Slight business challenges can feel like the end of the world.
It’s a dark reality that few founders are brave enough to bring up—that success, on the other side of the fence, is grim and that the stress of ‘doing it all’ could very easily destroy you.
For the casual observer, founder depression is tough to understand. After all, how can someone possibly be sad as her own boss? How can a solopreneur be miserably depressed when he’s bringing in millions of dollars?
The fact however, is that this isolation is one of the root causes of founder depression in the first place. Solopreneurship is a lonely journey that only the people who have been there can truly understand. Imagine living your life on the brink of perpetual uncertainty. Imagine the feeling of your biggest client threatening to cut your project. Imagine the sinking feeling of the economy tanking—leaving you uncertain of whether your livelihood will still be there tomorrow.
Founder depression is soul-crushing. But it’s also something that as a founder, you have no choice but to control. There’s too much at stake in business and in life for you to sacrifice your mental and physical health.
It’s far from an overnight process. Founders need guidance, support, and wisdom from those who have been there before—often, from mental health practitioners who are professionally trained to guide you. Here are some community-nominated techniques to help you navigate your rut.
Recognize that you’re not alone
“Don’t believe the hype. Every entrepreneur will tell you that business is “up and to the right” because of social pressure to always be in the process of great success. The reality is often far different than this charade. Develop a support network of other entrepreneurs and tell each other the truth. My co-founder and I took turns talking each other off the ledge. We spent time with another close knit group of entrepreneurs who dared to be honest with each other.”
Jason Henrichs, Managing Director at The Startup Institute
Embrace time for yourself
“As a writer and entrepreneur, I experience many good days and bad. It truly is a roller coaster journey, and no matter how experienced you are, how big your company grows, or how much money fills your wallet, this is the life of an entrepreneur. I also happen to suffer with anxiety and depression, so controlling my emotions and mood is key.
“They say sleep heals all, and in my opinion, relaxation is a close second. I take walks and listen to music. I do yoga. Relaxing comes in many forms, but the point is this: ensure each day involves a few minutes dedicated to YOU.
“Most days are hectic, but we all have time to take a step back and breathe. When the pressure hits, this is often the first thing we neglect. It just so happens to be the most important, and what keeps you sane. Make sure you dedicate some time to you. A few minutes for your mind to wander. A block of time to relax. It truly does make the world of difference.”
Matthew Turner, Author and Brand Storyteller
Venture out of your routine
“Over the years, I have learned that when I become bored, overworked, overtired and ready to give up on my business, I use the Umbrella Approach. That is, I start something new that is under my business,related but gets me out of the dull drums. For example, in my current business What Wize Women Want (Empowering Women’s Voices to Make Informed Choices), I started a TV Show to compliment helping women promote themselves and educating them on various topics.
“From this, we created webinars. From there, I started teaching college classes and coaching other women. People always marvel at how much I accomplish and how many pots I stir at the same time. But in reality, if you stick to the Umbrella Principle, you never stray away from your mission, target market, population, or objectives. Rather, it keeps your mind occupied and allows you to stretch your work into other arenas.”
Daria M. Brezinski, PhD., Founder at What Wize Women Want
“I started my business in January this year as well as moved from England to Sweden. I think my number one tip for beating founder depression is staying active. I mean that in the literal sense of having part of your day where you actively do some exercise.
“Fit it in whenever you can or if you’re feeling stressed or at a loss just go for a run, it will stimulate your mind and make you feel better generally. I have found it a challenge especially at the beginning when work can be slow. The worst thing you can do is sit around dwelling on it, get yourself up and move.”
Mike Whaites, Founder at Creative Digitizer
Put your to-do list on paper
“As an entrepreneur, I am often overwhelmed by the number of tasks that must be completed since I do not have a staff. This usually results in depression and me wanting to curl in bed and just binge on Netflix. But that is not how business gets done.
“What has helped me is doing a brain dump — that is, taking 15 to 20 minutes and writing down everything that needs to be done professionally and personally. This way it’s all out of your head and on paper and then use the brain dump to create checklists so that things get taken care of. I feel less overwhelmed and I am able to monitor my progression.”
Nicole Davis, Founder at Butler-Davis Tax & Accounting, LLC
Have you suffered from founder depression? How have you overcome this painful challenge to keep forging ahead, and to keep your business going while staying happy, healthy, and productive?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.