Coping with Depression as an Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur is wildly exhilarating. Entrepreneurship is full of challenges that some personality types thrive on. While it’s exciting, it’s also a lot of hard work and can be very lonely when you’re working long hours away from your family. If you’re susceptible to depression, then facets of a pressurized entrepreneurial lifestyle can act as a trigger.

According to a study led by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco, 30% of entrepreneurs in a test group experienced depression, compared to 15% of a control group comprised of non-entrepreneurs.

Recognizing and coping with depression – or preventing its onset – is something all entrepreneurs should bear in mind. A busy business owner might be so focused on achieving success that they may not notice they are also showing or masking the classic symptoms of clinical depression. Ignoring the signs can lead to an eventual break down or much worse.

Symptoms of depression

Everyone feels down or a bit blue every now and then, especially in reaction to negative events, a failed plan, or a dull rainy day. However, when these feelings become overwhelming in their intensity, interfere with everyday routines, and last for weeks and months at a time, then it’s likely clinical depression is present.  

Many people use the word ‘depression’ to describe a transitory feeling of sadness, yet true depression is anything but temporary and it can be debilitating. For busy entrepreneurs, the symptoms can mask themselves as signs of standard work stress often inherent to the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

For example, insomnia, persistent anxiety, restlessness, pessimism, irritability, and loss of interest in what before was considered pleasurable, can all be symptoms of depression. For many business owners, these symptoms might seem part and parcel of being a hard-working and successful entrepreneur, and so the danger signals are ignored. And then one day, things spiral out of control.

It’s vital, if you feel any of the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time, to consult the advice of a medical expert immediately.

Work? Or biological?

Part of diagnosing depression and how to treat it is understanding the cause. For some people, the depression is a direct response to intense work stress and related factors such as reduced amounts of time with loved ones.

For others, the depression is also related to genetics and inherent biochemistry and might have been a feature of their lives, at some stage or another, long before a new business endeavor was created. In the latter case, the stresses of business and the inevitable problems that occur can exacerbate or trigger a new depressive episode.

Understanding the causes, reasons, or natural propensities, can help in presenting the best way to alleviate the mental darkness.

Ways to cope as an entrepreneur if susceptible to depression

Whether the depression is simply caused by overwork or is also an inescapable part of your biology and genetics, there are a number of things to consider before or after embarking on an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

  1. Accept that entrepreneurship is difficult and results are never guaranteed

Approximately 50% of businesses fail within 4 years of being established (statistics). Entrepreneurs who have never set up a business before face an even larger failure rate. Quite simply, there’s more chance of failing than succeeding.

This might sound depressingly bleak but it’s a reality check. It’s vital to have belief, hope, drive, and positivity when creating a business but it’s also wise to keep two feet on the ground. Doing so will help mitigate any intense disappointment from inevitable failures along the road. It’s also wise to have alternative and realistic plans in place (a safety net) in case things don’t work out.  

  1. Practice self-compassion

When focused on building a business it’s all too easy to neglect the things in life which most influence our mental and emotional balance. Eating healthily, getting enough sleep, exercising, and socializing, for example. Even spending some quiet time away from screens and digital apps, perhaps for half a day each week, can act as a kind of reset. It’s incredibly important to practice self-care and compassion especially when work is at its most intense.

  1. Take small steps and celebrate more milestones

The more you appreciate the successes you achieve, the more you’re likely to handle the failures. A great way to maintain an emotional balance when developing and running a business is to celebrate the little milestones as they occur. It could simply be reaching a monthly target or gaining a new client.

Mark the occasion with a little more pomp than you might imagine is needed. Focusing on these small steps and invoking positive feelings about small achievements will break up what can sometimes seem like a long period of struggle and refuel your motivation.

  1. Pivot your business in a way that aligns with your values

Different things drive different people when it comes to being an entrepreneur. For some, setting up a business is all about financial gain and creating security for the future. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

For others, it’s about righting a societal wrong, improving and saving lives, or something else driven by the heart. When you’re working on something you truly believe in and which is bigger than yourself, then there’s more focus outwards rather than inwards, the latter of which can sometimes turn to negativity.

Pivoting some features of your business ethos in a more altruistic direction can be beneficial to both yourself and others.

  1. Listen to loved ones who notice any negative changes or patterns

We live with ourselves 24 hours a day, every day, and so it’s incredibly difficult for us to notice changes in our mindset or even our appearance. You might feel extra busy and more challenged at work, but for other people, especially loved ones, they may see you as suddenly looking stressed, pale, quick to anger, and decidedly worn out.

Always take time to listen to what family, friends, and even strangers might say about how you’re looking or acting. They can be important warning signs you’re heading towards a breakdown, even if consciously you feel you’re managing.

  1. Identify with things outside of your work

For some people, their work is their life. Everything that gives them meaning is tied to the success of their business or career. If that business succeeds, then everything smells of roses. If it fails, the emotional results can be catastrophic.

Being emotionally dependent on your work can lead to your mood being influenced by things out of your control. Entrepreneurial success can often be a matter of luck regardless of the effort and intelligent strategies put in place.

Cultivate your identity around things outside of your work as well. These can be things like family, friendships, charity causes, local politics, hobbies, travel, and exercise (like CrossFit).  

  1. Get help immediately

The most important thing you should do if feeling depressed or recognizing the symptoms of depression, is to seek help. Depression is an illness. It’s not a sign of weakness. Some of the bravest and strongest people have suffered from depression, including some of the greatest entrepreneurs, cultural figures, war heroes, and sporting icons.

Depression is treatable. Treatment will allow you to get back on the saddle, so to speak. You’ll feel fitter, stronger, more creative, and more able to achieve a healthy work/life balance.

Getting help

If you’re feeling deeply depressed, close to a break down, or suicidal then visit the applicable national website below for more information and confidential helplines you can call:

(USA) Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

(Canada) Suicide Prevention Centers

(UK) Samaritans: 116 123

(Australia) Lifeline: 13 11 14