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Entrepreneur mental health is critical to business success

Mental health and business success are very closely linked. That means prioritizing your mental health is not only important for your personal well-being, but it also makes good business sense.

7-minute read

Mental health challenges are common among entrepreneurs: a 2023 BDC study found that 45% of Canadian business owners were experiencing mental health challenges every week. Many of these challenges are caused or worsened by the high stress, isolation and heavy burden of responsibility that often come with running a business.

But many entrepreneurs aren’t getting the support they need to address those challenges. BDC’s study found that cost was the top barrier to accessing mental health care. Other key barriers included uncertainty about services, lack of awareness about what’s available and discomfort or stigma.

“Entrepreneurs are often ambitious self-starters who want to project an air of confidence “They don’t want to be judged or perceived as weak.” says Debbie Garshon, Senior Director, Clinical, at GreenShield Health. GreenShield Health is a division of GreenShield, Canada’s only not-for-profit health and benefits company, offering mental health support, telemedicine and pharmacy.

How mental health challenges affect your business

Beyond its effects on your personal life, an untreated mental health challenge can also affect the performance of your business. An unhealthy mental state can lead to poor work outcomes by:

  • making it harder to focus and stay engaged
  • reducing your motivation and productivity
  • increasing the likelihood of mistakes
  • reducing resilience

All this contributes to presenteeism, when you’re physically present, but your mind is elsewhere and you may not be able to deliver to the best of your capability.

On the other hand, a healthy mental state can lead to better outcomes for your business.

“When your mind is clear and your emotions are steady, you can be more creative, solve problems more effectively and roll with the punches more easily,” says Garshon.

That’s important because running a business is not always easy. Business owners have to deal with many ups and downs, and in the early days, the downs can often significantly outnumber the ups.

Luke Vigeant knows that all too well. He’s the founder of several businesses, including most recently Inkblot Therapy by GreenShield Health a provider of mental health and well-being services for individuals and organizations that was acquired by GreenShield in 2021.

“Starting a new business is exciting,” he says. “But the novelty wears off, and it’s tough not to feel like every hour you spend on yourself is an hour you should be spending on your business.”

But finding the right balance so you can take care of your mental health will help you be more resilient during those early struggles and better able to see your path forward.

It’s also not a one-way street. A difficult business situation is likely to have an impact on your mental health. The result can be a vicious cycle, where poor mental health makes it harder to run the business successfully, and the business struggles further harm your mental health.

Building a business is hard, and it’s hard for a long time. The earlier you can establish good mental health strategies, the better for you and your team.

How to take better care of your mental health

Prioritizing your mental health while running a business can be difficult. There are always other things demanding your time and attention. But better mental health will be better for your business, so it’s worth taking time to care for yourself.

Don’t neglect the basics

Basic stress management techniques can be a good place to start. These include:

  • making time for sleep
  • healthy eating
  • regular exercise

Simple changes to your routine can have noticeable positive impacts on your mental health.

Lean on peers

Entrepreneurship can be isolating, and it’s easy to feel like there’s no one who understands you or can share your struggles. But other entrepreneurs have often dealt with similar issues. An entrepreneur himself, Vigeant says peer support groups have been a tremendous help for him.

“A lot of things I thought were unique to me were actually really common,” he says. “Hearing from entrepreneurs who were farther along their journey and were on the other side of those challenges was even more helpful, because it helped me feel like I could get to the other side too.”

Look for existing networks you can join in your area, or reach out to local entrepreneurs and CEOs to start your own group.

Nurture outside relationships

Your business may demand a lot of your time, but it’s important not to neglect your family, friends and other non-business relationships. And when you spend time with them, make sure you’re fully present.

“Don’t try to get work done or check your email while you’re with your family,” says Vigeant. “It’s not worth it. The split focus means you won’t enjoy your social time and you won’t be doing very good work.”

Strong social connections can not only improve your well-being, but also keep you engaged in your life outside of work.

“If all your eggs are in the work basket, you’re going to feel unbalanced and unhappy,” says Garshon. “Even if your business is thriving.”

And if your business isn’t doing well, it’s even more important to foster relationships that can help you retain your sense of identity beyond your company.

Make business changes

Although some business-related stressors are inevitable, there are changes you can make to reduce them as much as possible. Look for opportunities to delegate, either to staff or to a freelancer for a short-term project, and don’t shy away from letting others make decisions.

“Entrepreneurs often feel like they have to make all the decisions, and that can really weigh on them,” says Garshon. “So delegating decision-making where possible is key.”

Garshon also recommends thinking about each day intentionally and setting boundaries—that could even include turning down work if it’s too much, or taking a vacation.

Have a backup plan

Of course you want your business to succeed, but many businesses don’t. The uncertainty caused by that reality is often a significant part of the mental and emotional burden of entrepreneurship. Questions like “What will happen to my family, my employees and me if my business fails?” can weigh heavily on business owners.

Having a backup plan or a different path available can reduce some of the uncertainty, which can help improve your decision-making and improve your chances of success.

Delegating decision-making where possible is key.

Professional support can make a big difference

Although peer networks and personal relationships are valuable sources of support, there are limits to how much you can unload on them. Too much negativity can damage the relationship, or even affect their mental health.

That’s why Vigeant advises prioritizing mental health benefits as early as possible in the business’s life—working with investors to make it happen where possible.

“Spending money on benefits instead of on something that will generate revenue is a hard choice,” he says. “But building a business is hard, and it’s hard for a long time. The earlier you can establish good mental health strategies, the better for you and your team.”

If benefits aren’t yet an option, you can still access individual therapy. Additional support can be found through programs such as the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together and #REALTALK. You can also reach out to the Canadian Mental Health Association or your primary healthcare provider for options that might work for you.

Get more support for your well-being

Explore BDC’s resources for entrepreneur well-being, including a curated directory of research, services, apps and organizations to support entrepreneur mental health.

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