Did you know that founders are two times more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts than the regular population? According to a recent study by San Francisco researcher Michael Freeman, one half of all entrepreneurs suffer from some sort of mental health condition during their lifetime including depression, bipolar disorder, addiction and ADHD.
We spoke with Atlanta based psychotherapist Hillary Boykin about these alarming statistics and asked her what founders can do to achieve a healthy mind.
Research shows founders are more likely than the general population to suffer from anxiety and depression. What are your tips for reducing stress in a founder’s life?
Anxiety and depression often coincide with burnout in the workplace. Burnout is a cyclical process because when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we want to look for ways to relieve that stress. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the only way to relieve that stress is to work harder to check things off our list. This pushes us to work past our limits and the cycle of burnout continues. Allowing time in the day to become grounded and present can be really helpful for breaking that cycle.
Deadlines and projects put our minds in the future and the future is where anxiety thrives. Becoming more focused on the present moment is a fantastic remedy for letting go of that worry. There are a lot of great grounding techniques; some of the most common are guided meditation, breath work and progressive muscle relaxation.
Do you have certain routines you follow every day? Would you recommend a daily “mental health” routine for founders? What would it look like?
I absolutely love progressive muscle relaxation and practice it daily. I find that it’s a good fit for people who struggle with more typical meditative techniques because it’s less about paying attention to your thoughts and more about paying attention to where stress exists physically in your body. Progressive muscle relaxation attunes to that stress and allows it to be released. It’s great to do before bed if you struggle falling asleep.
The statistics from Michael Freeman’s study are alarming. Do you think these statistics are in part because founders by definition of their personalities naturally fit these categories or do you think the job itself causes founders to start fitting into these categories?
This is likely a scenario where both nature and nurture play a roll. Founders usually have an entrepreneurial spirit, which means a natural inclination for taking on challenges that would normally deter others. That being said, there is an unfortunate cultural push happening right now that says enough is never enough. It’s common to hear that the way to be successful is to work harder and longer than everyone else. That may create some short-term success, but no one can expend that kind of energy long-term.
I’d love to see a new cultural message that recognizes success in a more multifaceted way. In other words, if you only focus on success in business, you’re likely going to be lacking in other areas of your life. The world views burned out entrepreneurs working 80 hours a week as successful, but are you really being successful if your mental health, physical health, family life, etc. is suffering? Redefining a successful life as a balanced life is key to overcoming these statistics.
Hillary is a psychotherapist in Atlanta who specializes in body image and self-esteem. Hillary’s main goal in therapy is to help her clients find their inner power in order to take charge over their own lives. She recognizes that all human beings need love and approval; however, she believes that if we place the foundation of our worth in the hands of others, we condemn ourselves to a life of always trying to please. She believes the key to meeting this need is finding the deepest sense of love and approval within ourselves.
Psychotherapist Hillary Boykin will speak about self care at IgniteHQ’s next community luncheon on May 22nd. To reserve your space, please reach out to Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.