Frequently taking on more demands and shirking personal care, entrepreneurs’ work-life balance often skews toward work.
Deadlines, finding clients, making payroll and dozens of other stressors can put entrepreneurs at risk of mental illness or compound existing challenges. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are disproportionately affected by such issues as ADHD, bipolar disorder and depression, according to studies by the University of California San Francisco.
That’s why Startland News and Think Big recently invited the community to pause and reflect on their own mental health, to normalize challenges, learn tips and make friends.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Startland News and Think Big’s May Innovation Exchange focused on mental health and entrepreneurship by welcoming a variety of experts on the subject. Guests dove into life-work balance, mindfulness techniques as well as what stress does to the body.
Below are six nuggets from the conversation, which you can also listen to in its entirety here via this podcast.
Multitasking is a myth
Kay Grossman, attention coach and founder of Focus Dammit, said that multitasking is a myth — no matter how much you may try to convince yourself that it’s possible.
She said when you’re trying to do multiple brain-intensive tasks at once, it on average takes a third longer of time than it would when individually focusing on the tasks.
“One of my favorite things to do is be on a conference call and try and do email. I feel like I’m listening the whole time and I feel like I’m writing a good email,” Grossman said. “But you can’t really do two things at once so what your brain is having to do is go back and forth rapidly — it’s called switch tasking.”
Your Excellerant co-founder Rachel Keck said that although entrepreneurs often say they will give themselves a moment “someday,” it is important to hold yourself accountable to that.
She shared with the audience a mindfulness exercise that works for her.
“Touch your thumb and your forefinger together — that’s it,” she said. “We’re going to close your eyes and put all of your energy and focus on just that finger touch. How does that feel, skin to skin there focusing on that? And then that’s it. Just a moment, it’s kind of dorky but it works.”
Keck said that exercises like this one will help you feel more present and energized.
Listen to your body
Life coach and entrepreneur Julie Edge said that one of the most underutilized assets we have when it comes to honest self-assessment is our bodies.
“We all walk around like heads with no bodies — over thinking everything, running a million miles an hour,” Edge said. “Underneath that beautiful head is a body that actually feels, experiences pain and will tell you all day long if you’re not where you need to be.”
Edge said that she often tells her clients to listen to their bodies when they are under stress to focus back on the present. One example she gives is to focus on the feet, which she said is grounding.
“We need to find time during the day to feel the body and to know what it means when you get that tightness in your chest,” Edge said. “When your shoulder cranks up, it’s not just because you spend too much time at the computer. It often means that you are spending time in a way that is not serving your highest good. Bringing awareness into the body is amazing and can help stop ourselves from spending time and effort unnecessarily.”
Stress affects the body physically
Physician Damon Heybrock, founder of Health Studio KC, said that stress has more effects on the body than we realize.
“One thing I believe is that there is a design to our bodies and a balance that our bodies are always trying to maintain and that we are fighting against,” Heybrock said. “As we get more stressed, we release cortisol and that’s a stress hormone and that has effects all throughout our body.”
In fact, Heybrock said that stress can actually prevent people from their best thinking.
“Our brain pulls our power and the function away from our upper cortex, which is where we do our higher thinking and are emotionally correct,” Heybrook said. “Stress puts us into a fight or flight place, and then we are reactive.”
To prevent yourself from getting in fight or flight mode, Heybrook recommends sleep, exercise and eating right. A common recommendation, but an easy one for entrepreneurs to forget.
Communication with family
EBCFO founder Dan Schmidt said that for most entrepreneurs, you’re at work more often than you are with your family.
For this reason, Schmidt said communication is key when it comes to work-life balance.
“Our family has a shared calendar,” Schmidt said. “I shared my work calendar with my wife so she can see what’s going on, she knows when she can call me and not call me. She also has freedom to add things to my calendar.”
He added that communication is important for mental health and reminded the audience that we cannot do it alone.
“It keeps coming back to the idea that we create space to allow people into our journey and our life,” he said. “We have to give them permission to interact with you.”
Try looking backward — not forward
Entrepreneurial researcher Arnobio Morelix said that ambition is a common trait amongst entrepreneurs. Although this trait is beneficial in many regards, it can hold one back.
“There’s this gap between your present self and your future self, and we compare ourselves with the future self it becomes an ambition treadmill,” said Morelix, who also hosts a presentation about ADHD and depression at SXSW. “Every time we reach a milestone, there’s a next one. … But that becomes a problem when we are postponing our happiness and postponing our celebration.”
To alleviate the effects of the ambition treadmill, Morelix recommends looking back on your past self and appreciating how far you’ve come.
“You cannot recognize progress and you cannot be grateful looking forward,” Morelix said. “You can only do that looking backward.”
Check out photos from the event below.