Work & Wellbeing

How to look after your mental health in the business world

9 min read

29 March 2019

Being a successful entrepreneur takes resilence by the bucketload. However, this isn't just about being tough and 'rolling with the punches'. True resilience, and ultimately business success relies on entrepreneurs creating strategies that prevent stress, fatigue, and burnout in the long-term.

I am so grateful that I don’t have the mental health issues that we hear of so often in the media today. This is what I acknowledged deeply when I started to hear the voices of actors, footballers and soldiers on TV and radio that we were privileged to hear – those brave men and women who wanted to take the heat of these hidden and very common mental challenges that so many struggle with. Depression, bipolar, anxiety; ‘how tough life must be for them’.

Entrepreneurial denial

What I didn’t have initially was the insight to recognise signs of my deteriorating mental health and the realisation that everyone has mental health needs. Not one of us can escape the need to look after our minds, emotions, souls and our physical health. – I would challenge every single one of us, from the young to the old, that being aware of our personality and the way we show up in the world has an impact on our happiness and our success; if not looked after, we can feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and out of control.

Business owners, we don’t have time to be stressed, do we?

Business owners often push aside their emotions, but I’m trying to change that. I’ve been in business for 35 years and truly know what it takes to be a business owner – the trials as well as the successes. I now add my name to the list of people who bravely stepped out and stated ‘this is not easy, I too have mental health issues’.

So how do you look after your mental health in this industry, and why’s it so important? Mental fitness is the self-awareness to look after ourselves – to prevent burn out, unhappiness, overwhelm, the need to be resilient and the willingness to take the punches.

To have the mental strength to lead the life and business you want, mental fitness means becoming self-aware and having the courage to look at how you show up in the world of business.

Digital culture drives stress and fatigue

In the modern world, we have the ability to be connected all the time. We can get out of bed, turn our minds on, push ourselves mentally for 14-16 hours and then press repeat for the next day.

Imagine what this would be like for if you did the same thing to your body – as you got out of bed you stepped straight onto a running machine, set the incline to a steep hill and the speed to a very fast walk and then stayed on it for 14-16 hours.

Our minds need to be respected and we have to teach ourselves new habits. The growth in mindfulness is a great start; learn to rest your mind and let it get off the treadmill for 10-15 minutes a day.

Additionally, imagine actually knowing the toxic ways that you treat your mind and then see the impact it has on your emotions and the outcomes that you create when you apply this lack of mental fitness to your business – the way you lead it and manage it, the way you drive your ambition and the way you treat yourself and others.

What drives the business leader is their ‘why’ – their deep sense of purpose. Is it the need for power? Is it their drive for financial fulfillment, or the deep and unconscious push for something?

Of course, most business owners are seeking to feed their families and keep a roof over their head. The drive is the need to run away from scarcity, not always running towards something fabulous.

Entrepreneurial burnout

I hear the voices, prayers, and dreams of so many business owners for life to be ‘just that bit easier’. Yet, when you really dig deep, it is usually ourselves that is making it tough. I learned so much when I made a decision to break. I jumped off the entrepreneur mountain and for 12 months and chose a calmer way of living. This was to enable me to appraise my business performance and decide how much ambition I had left in me.

At the start of this journey I was on zero – completely empty with two businesses grown, loved and excited, and now a proud mum to an adult family and with some personal adversity that I needed to honour. For 12 months I couldn’t even look at the mountain again.

I envied those friends of mine I had known for years who had steadily walked a slope, never really pushing themselves, satisfied with a much calmer life. Everyone’s different; I broke, but not everyone does. I was totally out of sync with myself, and on reflection it had taken me three years to break.

What I learned in this process was so profound and impactful – in Lao Tzu’s words, I believed and experienced that “to be whole, first allow yourself to break.” My ambition returned, my purpose grew and for the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted. You will find the light at the end of the tunnel.

The frustrating element of what I discovered was that, had I spent more time respecting and knowing the person I was, I would have enjoyed and experienced a very different business life over the previous 35 years. Learn to respect yourself from the beginning and everyone else will too.

How to change: Learn the parts of your personality that may cause conflict with the culture of business

You don’t need to change your personality; you only have to understand why you may react certain ways and feel challenged, and then find a way to take back control and be the leader of the life and business you want.

We are in interesting and very confronting times – we cannot change the world we live in, the economic challenges around us, the politicians, the business leaders, the banks, institutions, the ‘compare and despair world of social media’ and the aspects of business that challenges us, but we can change the way they impact us.

Resilience, tenacity, determination these are amazing traits for business leaders, provided they are used in the right way and show up in a positive way for us.

Can you imagine a world where rather than knowing how to take the punches, you actually can avoid them, and you know how to soften them when they are unavoidable? Now that is resilience! There is a way, and it starts with wanting to regain control of the life you want and be the leader of your life and business.