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The psychological challenges of running your own business

Running a business can be tough. But the good news is there are solutions. So here are three tips on understanding and mitigating the psychological challenges of running your own company.

  • The loneliness of accountability
  • Mental health and general wellbeing
  • Worries over financial uncertainty

 

The loneliness of accountability

Entrepreneurs suffer from a higher rate of mental illness when compared to the population in general. It’s likely that much of this can be put down to the fact that the buck stops with you, without the structures of a leadership team, a set of strong advisors, mentors and other co-workers. Often you feel like you’re totally alone.

This level of accountability is a lot for one person to take on. Everything that goes wrong – ultimately – it your problem. Yes, you get to make the final decisions, but just having to make so many of them on a daily basis increases the feeling of isolation. From there, stress levels increase, which can have a detrimental effect on your decision making. It’s a vicious circle.

The solution here is talking to someone. It’s not easy to open up, but the emotional havoc that this kind of isolation can create can have serious and negative effects on many aspects of your life. Asking for help doesn’t detract from your leadership, in fact it strengthens it. It acknowledges that you don’t know every answer and that you do need advice or even just someone to talk to, from time to time.

When we work for a large firm, we dream of working alone. But working alone is one of the most common reasons for stress and anxiety among entrepreneurs and those who own small companies. Even working from home, as many people do particularly in the early stages, can add to the isolation.

It’s important to remember that everyone is going through this, or something similar. And connecting with these people – people with whom you can share your thoughts, can ease the stress considerably.

Whether this is through networking events in-person or using online communities, it doesn’t matter. It’s creating a group where you feel you’re heard and that helps you feel less alone. Think of it as a social life for your company – just as important for your health as your home social life.

 Mental health and general wellbeing

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Sleep well
  • Eat well
  • Exercise

 

In order to be ready for the tougher times that come with entrepreneurship, it’s vital to get enough sleep, to avoid a bad diet, and to ensure (no matter how busy you are) that you take some exercise. This is for both your physical and mental health.

Having a set time to go to sleep every night is a strong first step. Cooking food ahead of time (or in batches) also helps as you then have something quick and easy that is also a healthy option right on hand. And think of exercising as a way to help your decision making – it gives clarity. Try before work, lunchtime, evening – whatever works for your schedule.

What we’re trying to avoid here is burnout. A lot of startups fail because their founders simply don’t take care of themselves and that has a negative effect on the company as a whole. So these tips are about getting you in shape for the long haul.

They’re also very much about taking good care of your mental health. As we have already mentioned in the ‘loneliness’ section, there are a number of different approaches here. Part of it is to become part of a network and have a business social life. Another part is good physical health which has a positive knock-on effect on your mental health.

All of these things help reduce stress and anxiety.

Make sure on a daily basis you have time to yourself. Whatever the activity may be (going for a walk, reading, doing some gardening, it can be anything) plan some time for it. Nurture positive thoughts, and do that as a daily habit. Simple to say, but positive thinking leads to more positive thinking.

Of course there is also talking to someone, which can be very useful. Whether that’s initially your GP, or going direct to a therapist, speaking with an expert can be very beneficial for your mental health. Think of it as an investment.

Worries over financial uncertainty

Every startup has a different journey, but money worries are pretty much universal. Whether you are using your own money or you have got investment, there is always a level of uncertainty, and as we have mentioned before, when it falls on just you, it can create a great deal of stress.

If you have stopped work in order to fully focus on your startup, you have one eye on the business and one eye on your living expenses. It’s unlikely you’re going to generate revenue right away so this is where it can get tight. Perhaps you have set aside enough money to cover for one year or two years, but as time ticks away things get tense. Or if you’re waiting to see if investment is going to come through, again a stressful time of uncertainty.

When it comes to finances, it’s about accepting where you can control or influence the situation, and understanding where it’s completely out of your hands. As mentioned above, talking to your peers can be really helpful to mitigate all kinds of stress, particularly that around financial uncertainty. Everyone, to some extent, is in the same boat.

What is in your control is ensuring you are following your business plan, that your financial records are up to date and reflect the latest numbers, and that you have quick and easy visibility over the state of your company at any given time. This allows you to take stock of the situation, and even if the news isn’t great, having it in front of you means there’s no guessing. When things are uncertain, it’s easy to start generalising and things can actually become much more negative in your mind than they are in reality.

Having the facts in front of you helps get rid of anxiety. Keep an eye on customer trends, competitor activity and the economy as a whole – is it just you experiencing something or is it the whole industry?

Then of course there are things which are completely out of your control, such as an economic downturn. Again, having a network here will help share some of the concerns of the business community.

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