How to Protect Your Mental Health When Starting a Business

As we turn the calendar to May, Mental Health Awareness is top of mind with Mental Health Awareness Month and the upcoming May 13-19 Mental Health Awareness Week.

While the entrepreneurial journey can be deeply fulfilling, it’s important to acknowledge the mental health struggles that often go hand-in-hand with the challenges, uncertainties, and responsibilities of starting a business. From developing a viable business plan to securing funding, managing day-to-day operations, and navigating market fluctuations, the pressure can be relentless.

Entrepreneurs must wear multiple hats, make critical decisions, and shoulder the weight of their venture’s success or failure. Fear of the unknown, financial pressures, and constant demand for innovation and adaptation can lead to high levels of stress and burnout.

The emotional roller coaster that accompanies entrepreneurship is undeniable. The initial excitement and passion for your idea can quickly give way to doubt, sleepless nights, and a constant stream of what-ifs. The pressure to deliver on your vision, meet investor expectations, and outpace competitors can create a perfect storm of stress. Open conversations about mental health and seeking professional support when needed are essential steps to address these challenges.

By acknowledging the mental health struggles and fostering a culture of support, the entrepreneurial ecosystem can evolve into a space where both success and well-being thrive.

Andile Khumalo, founder and CEO of KhumaloCo., shared his experience around starting a business, the effects it had on his mental health and his advice on taking care of yourself and your business. Andile’s company, KhumaloCo, is a private equity investment firm that is invested in eight businesses that operate in industries such as technology, media, marketing and communications, hospitality and education.

“KhumaloCo. was born out of my desire for autonomy and to create an investment group founded on family values,” Andile says. “Before I started the company, I had been a partner in an investment firm for 11 years, so I felt a lot of excitement to be on my own but also a bit of trepidation on what was to come. But I got over that pretty quickly.”

“My greatest source of relief from business responsibilities and mental stress is my family. I have been married for 19 years, and we have two kids aged 12 and 16. Between being a husband and a father, I get ample opportunity to engage in activities outside of managing a business. I am also a spiritual man, and that keeps me grounded and focused on higher-purpose matters and not being overly anxious by the stresses of daily life.”

Building a business can be time-consuming and demanding. How do you balance your personal life and work to avoid burnout?

I try to live one life. So, I don’t try to split my business life with my personal life. I don’t pursue a balance — I simply try my best to manage priorities. These differ from time to time. There are times when the priority is my work. Then there are times when my family is priority — in those times there is no work. Then there are times when I just want to be alone. Same principle. So instead of trying to strike a balance, I just try to be fully present in the priority of that moment. This also means you must schedule your life. It’s not an easy thing to do in such a connected world, but it has helped me avoid burnout.

Failure is a part of entrepreneurship. Can you share an experience where you encountered failure and how you managed to bounce back mentally?

I encounter failure all the time. There are too many cases to pick one. It’s a daily occurrence, but so is success. Of course there are moments of self-doubt, especially when venturing into uncomfortable initiatives. However, the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you become quite accustomed to uncertainty and the accompanying doubts. It helps to accept the reality of situations that lead to doubt, and proceed on the basis that you can only give your best in a situation, and the rest is not in your control.

How did you manage financial pressures while starting and growing your business?

Financial pressures often ebb and flow. So if you believe that the pressure is temporary, the entrepreneur finds a way to push through until things get better. However, if you have tried all you can to make things better, and you are no longer convinced there is light at the end of this tunnel, it is not an act of weakness to walk away. To the contrary, I consider it an act of bravery.

As an entrepreneur, decision-making is constant and can be overwhelming. What approaches do you use to make sound decisions without compromising your mental well-being?

I try to get as much information as possible by asking questions. I then try to be as pragmatic and realistic as possible on what’s possible, likely and unlikely in any outcome. Then I trust my gut and make a call. The beauty about following an informed gut feel is that even if it turns out you made the “wrong” decision, it’s easier to forgive yourself and move on.

Some entrepreneurs experience feelings of loneliness or depression due to the weight of responsibility. Have you encountered such feelings, and how did you address them?

Loneliness is definitely a reality in entrepreneurship. The best way I’ve found to address it is to find like-minded communities that can support you when things get tough. Family is great, but half the time we, entrepreneurs, feel like we will stress our loved one even more if we share all of our struggles. That is when loneliness can turn into depression. I found EO; it has changed my life.

Have you ever sought professional help, such as therapy or counseling, to support your mental health as an entrepreneur?

I have a psychologist that I see at least once a month. It’s something I learned from my wife and one of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental and emotional wellness.

Setting and managing expectations is vital in business. How do you handle disappointment or setbacks while maintaining a positive outlook?

Setbacks are part of the journey. The reason we fail is because we try. The only sure way to never fail, is to sit down and do nothing. I am not interested in “doing nothing.”

The pressure to succeed can be intense. How do you redefine success to focus on your well-being and personal growth rather than just financial gains?

We all have different definitions of success. I think the pandemic showed us that yes, money is important, but there are more important things in life. Of course, building wealth through growth of your asset base, or an increase in your cash generation are all key indicators of being financially successful.

However, all the money in the world won’t guarantee you a happy family life, spiritual peace, love, and good health. Don’t neglect your body. It’s the only one you have. Make time for exercise. Sleep as much as you can. If you don’t get enough in the week, make up for it on the weekend.

Take care of yourself first. I know it sounds selfish but it’s actually the best thing you can do for your business and the people you love. When you care for yourself, and fill your cup, it gives you the ability to show up and be present.

This article was written by Shannon Manuel and first published on GQ South Africa. It is reposted here with permission.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey HEALTH WORK-LIFE INTEGRATION


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