Depressed Entrepreneur? Taking Care of Business and YourselfDinah W. Brin • A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.
Depression can hit almost anyone, making it a struggle to even get out of bed and start the day. If you run your own business while wrestling with a bout of the blues or a more severe form of depression, you may be tempted to curl up under the covers for a few more hours of sleep. After all, you're the boss, right?
With customers to serve, projects to deliver, business to win, bills to pay and relationships to manage, your venture needs you. If melancholy keeps you from showing up, either physically or emotionally, your business and, more important, your well-being may suffer.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Entrepreneurs aren't immune to depression, and such struggles shouldn't be a big surprise given the pressures and isolation that many face.
"So much of being in business for yourself requires motivation, determination, confidence and a constant push to keep the ball going. ... Having low energy and feeling down or less optimistic, we don't act or feel as productive as we did before," says Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Talia Wagner.
"Typically many entrepreneurs work from home, which can be another contributing factor to the maintenance of depression. Having access to your stuff, your bed, can make it easier to make poor choices," she says, recommending, among other steps, that entrepreneurs set boundaries between home and work life.
We talked to several entrepreneurs who shared their struggles and ideas for fending off emotional lows, whether a funk or deep depression. Mental health practitioners weighed in too. The advice isn't necessarily one size fits all, so consider what strategy might best help you.
Whether you take a walk or hit the gym, if you can force yourself to get up and move, the activity can make a big difference in your mood.
Culinary consultant and professional chef Jenny Dorsey, who says she's struggled with depression for decades, recommends midday workouts. "Others don't have the flexibility to take these classes and it forces you to get up, get active, and take a break in whatever you're doing," she says.
Clinical psychiatrist and author Mark Goulston, M.D., suggests walking. "It's amazing how going for a walk can be the last thing you want to do, but for me, once I have done 20 minutes, it's as if a switch happens and my gloom lifts," he says.
Taking a few short walks or mini-workouts throughout the day can be good for the body and mind. "It helps physiologically, mentally and emotionally. Just knowing you are going to start a program and enjoy it helps increase dopamine—reward center —and you will start to feel better," says Zen psychotherapist Michele Paiva.
Find a Furry Friend
Andrew Reeves, founder and CEO of Luxe Translation Services, bristles at the exercise advice, however. "Exercising helps, but you can't motivate yourself to exercise when you're depressed," he says.
So Reeves, who says he's fine some days and wants to sleep when depression hits, found another answer.
"I got a puppy that I bring to work every day. The puppy is the love of my life. I am a dog person and love dogs, and this was the best decision I ever made," Reeves says. The dog, he says, "cheers me up, and motivates me to keep pushing. Having the dog helps me battle my depression and forget my problems."
Dorsey shares in the dog advice.
"This gives me something to love, opens up my heart and also gets me outside," she says.
Network and Socialize
Being around people also is important, emotionally and professionally.
"Rent a co-working desk, even for 1-2 months. Again, this helps get you around some people. I'm an introvert, but being in a WeWork office for a few hourly stretches helped get me excited. All the excited chatter of everyone else got me excited!" Dorsey says.
Jennifer Bristol, who coaches entrepreneurs, recommends fighting loneliness by getting involved in a mastermind group "that supports you - connects you with like individuals operating at a similar level to your own business. Masterminding is the new networking."
If your city lacks an activity entrepreneurial community, says Bristol, find one online. She also recommends listening to podcasts for advice and support. "These are great uppers."
Paiva suggests joining a book group at a library or making weekly visits to museums, "anything that helps you to change it up, meet people and get involved. I'm always very big on volunteering also. You'll belong to a community and get that sense of unity with a purpose-filled organization. Plus, you get to network."
Dorsey took classes like ceramics and floral design to get her creative juices flowing.
Reset Your Thinking
Entrepreneurs may have to adjust attitudes, priorities and boundaries.
"Entrepreneurship complicates family life in a way you never imagined. I have a wife and a young daughter. I am a workaholic by nature. But I had to learn and learn again that you must manage time for both every day. If you don't, you will lose one or the other. Nothing trumps your family and your health," says Neil Patwardhan, founder and CEO of custom social network builder Skoop by EmBazaar Inc.
"Failures are a common and necessary part of your growth," he adds. "Learn how to move past them with new knowledge."
GreenPal lawn service CEO Bryan Clayton uses a mental crystal ball to fight a funk.
"I close my eyes and fast forward one year. I think about a year from today and things looking exactly as they do right now. The realization that in a year's time my team and I have made little to no progress causes me to take action and also alleviates my fear of risk," Clayton says.
One entrepreneur with a depressed partner suggests asking for recommendations on LinkedIn — and reading them on bad days to help give yourself some perspective. Also, write down your goals and progress so you can appreciate your accomplishments, she suggests.
Seek professional help and the support of understanding family, friends or colleagues.
For culinary consultant Dorsey, this meant therapy. "Weekly sessions, even when I could barely afford it. It was the best investment for myself."
Depression is common among entrepreneurs, but discussing your feelings is hard when you're "the visionary and leading force behind your company and dream," Ironrod Media founder and CEO Rodney Fife says. "Here is the deal. If you are not emotionally sound, not only will your personal life suffer, so will your business."
Fife, who has dealt with clinical depression, says he eventually sought the help of a therapist and is feeling better.
"When I informed my team what was going on, they did not judge me. Instead, they understood and became supportive," says Fife, who also has friends with depression. "I recommend you reach out and talk with your family, your team, to build a support system around you. Please reach out to a licensed therapist or doctor to get you the help you need."
Sam Malik worked nearly around the clock when he founded healthcare startup DrFelix, not anticipating the "mountainous task" involved in building the business from scratch.
"After failing repeatedly, trying to compete against big companies, on a limited budget, filling in multiple roles myself to keep overheads low, I had officially reached my lowest point. I thought it was stress until I got professional help and was advised it was depression. I am lucky in a way to have doctors as friends and a supportive family who helped me through those difficult times," he says.
Know the difference between feeling down and depression, which can cause weeks or months of sadness, and seek help when needed, Malik recommends.
Goulston suggests delivering a "power thank you" to people who have been there for you, or to their next of kin. This means thanking them for what they did, acknowledging the effort they made to do it, and telling them what it personally meant to you.
Feeling deep gratitude can lift you from a depressed state, Peter Messmer of Mindset Boss says, but the hitch is that "getting into a state of gratitude, especially when you're already depressed, is not easy." Start by focusing on something you appreciate, like the beach, the mountains or your favorite book. "Appreciate all of the hard work and creativity that has gone into creating that item so that you can enjoy it."
Be Kind To Yourself and Others
Treat yourself well. In addition to exercise, the advice to eat healthfully and get adequate sleep stands the test of time. Being kind to yourself, emotionally, is also important.
"Think of mentors alive or dead who care or cared about you and see their smiling faces and lean into your gratitude towards them," says Goulston.
"The best advice I can give is to be gentle on yourself," says solopreneur Regina Sitterley, whose house-buying service, Sell Mom's House, slowed for a while when divorce sparked a rough emotional patch.
Says Sitterley: "When you feel sad, say to yourself, 'Of course I feel sad. Look at these circumstances.' Then, tell yourself you don't have to stay there. 'This is all normal, but it doesn't have to stay this way. ' Give yourself a small task that will make some change. 'Here's one thing I can do now that will move things forward.'"