Starting a Business When You Have Mental Health Challenges
Oar Health Editorial Team
Oct 28, 2022
In This Article
Whether it’s your finances, your career, or your personal life, there are plenty of factors to think about before starting a business. For some, one of the most important—and often overlooked—aspects is how it could impact your mental health.
New entrepreneurs often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health,” says Inc. author Jessica Bruder (1). “They eat too much or too little. They don't get enough sleep. They fail to exercise.
Starting a business can be as stressful as it is liberating. If you have a preexisting mental health concern or condition, you should plan ahead for how this process might affect it. This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your business goals. It only means you’ll want to ensure you’re caring for yourself, too.
There are many stressors to consider when beginning a new venture. It’s not a question of if you’ll encounter stressors, but rather a question of when and which ones. After a while, these stressors can take a mental toll and can begin to influence your behaviors.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, long-term stress can damage the body, leading to a range of emotional and behavioral symptoms (2).
These symptoms can look like:
- Lack of motivation and focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
As difficult as these challenges can be, the behaviors they sometimes push us toward can be even more damaging. For instance, stress can be a trigger for alcohol cravings.
If you have difficulty setting boundaries around alcohol, it's important to prepare for how you will deal with cravings—especially since often alcohol affects more than just you.
If you find yourself turning to unhealthy habits to deal with stress, you're not alone. Many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism. In a single year, 14.1 million U.S. adults experience alcohol use disorder (AUD).
This doesn't mean that starting a business will definitely put you on the road to addiction. For some people, engaging deeply in a new venture provides a sense of empowerment that can actually help them better manage alcohol use and other mental health challenges.
The independence of entrepreneurship often allows a person to structure their life around their mental health, leading to positive outcomes.
To ensure that you’re more likely to see a positive impact on your mental health as you start your business, it helps to prepare.
There’s no sugarcoating it: Starting a business will come with a degree of stress. This is simply the nature of taking a financial risk.
Remember that you’re capable of success, whether or not you’re currently experiencing mental health challenges.
Here are some tips for getting started:
- Start with your “why.” Starting your own business is a big step — one you’ll need to be passionate about if you plan to stick with it. List your reasons for starting in an easily accessible place, like a Post-it note on your desk or a background photo on your smartphone. Whenever you’re stressed or overwhelmed, you can quickly and easily see the reason you're doing this. Keeping your “why” in the foreground helps you contextualize stress and more readily see the bigger picture when the day to day gets overwhelming.
- Prevent self-doubt. Self-doubt is a common manifestation of depression or anxiety. To help prevent it, try keeping a list of positive affirmations to encourage you in your path to business success.
- Gather support and resources. If you don't already have a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group, it's a great idea to seek out professional mental health care when starting a business. You might not access therapy or medication right away, but preparing yourself with care providers and insurance makes it simple to get help when you need it.
There are a host of other preparations you’ll want to make in the course of establishing a new company, but it is critical to prioritize preparations for your mental health. Otherwise, you may find that challenges like anxiety and depression are getting in the way of your passion and success.
According to interviews with 150 entrepreneurs conducted by Thimble, “Setting daily expectations and repeating tasks through routines will help prepare your brain and body for what’s next, and promote optimal performance. Routines have also been shown to improve important areas of your health like stress levels and sleep” (3).
By establishing a routine, you’ll get in the habit of regularly practicing healthy coping skills rather than turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms as a reaction to stress.
Stress management is key as a business owner. It allows you to step aside, reassess, and approach your goals with renewed passion.
These tips can help you effectively manage detriments to your mental health as a business owner:
- Establish a consistent exercise routine.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Practice relaxing activities, like yoga or meditation.
- Maintain a healthy and manageable alcohol intake.
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
- Make time for friends, family, and hobbies.
These are all best practices for establishing lifelong mental health in response to all kinds of stress, including business stress.
“Running a company can be an amazing adventure, and it can even give you more security than a regular day job,” points out Sujan Patel, co-founder of Web Profits, in an article for Entrepreneur (4).
Patel goes on to articulate a number of signs that you’re ready to get started on your business:
- You’ve done your homework. You understand what it takes to operate a business. You know the financial implications and the nature of the work, clients, and customers. Likely, you have experience with the business model you’re considering, but even if you don’t, you’ve thoroughly investigated what it takes to succeed. According to Patel, “If you already know a lot about business — including things such as hiring, leasing and marketing — you’re in a much stronger position to start your own venture.”
- You’re not happy working for others. If you’re passionate about the work but have never been content as an employee, starting your own business is likely the right path for you. This is especially true if working for others is a contributing factor to any mental health challenges you may be experiencing.
- You have a financial safety net. Finding the right financing, or having decent savings on hand, and having a business plan with financial projections are critical to establishing a sense of financial security with a new business.
From here, you can authentically tell yourself that you’re prepared to not only start your own business, but to do so successfully.
Just as there are signs that you’re ready to start a business, there are some important signs that indicate you should wait—if only for a little while.
For people currently struggling with mental health concerns, recognizing these signs can keep you from getting too overwhelmed and placing yourself in an unhealthy situation
- You’re in a dangerous place. Many of the 52.9 million U.S. adults living with a mental illness find themselves in crisis mode at some point (5). If you’re concerned business failure might lead to this, it’s likely not the time to take that risk. If you or someone you know is at such a crisis point already, you can call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264 for support and treatment information.
- Starting a business is a very risky financial move for you. If starting a business means losing the income necessary to pay your rent, mortgage, or health insurance, you’ll want to first build your savings and develop a financial backup plan.
- You were never very passionate about the idea. Depression can create apathy around things we are passionate about. Whether your apathy is a side effect of depression or it’s just that you’re not that passionate about your business idea, it’s a clear sign you’re probably not ready.
Look for these signs as you navigate your mental health alongside entrepreneurial endeavors. Understanding and preparing for your mental and emotional well-being is a critical factor in both your personal and professional success.
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About The Author
Oar is a telemedicine platform that makes science-backed, medication-assisted addiction treatment approachable and accessible for millions of consumers who feel excluded by the current treatment landscape and who may have a wide range of goals, from moderation to abstinence.
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Medically reviewed by Joshua D Lee, MD, MSc