When you think of entrepreneurship, you likely think of someone who is smart, driven, motivated, and ambitious—you likely don’t think about them as having depression or being a suicide risk. Entrepreneurs put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform at a high level and do well, which is in part what helps them succeed, but it can also lead to burnout and high rates of depression.
Scott Patrick Carson, founder and CEO of MRP.io in Park City, Utah, understands the very serious risks associated with the high levels of stress associated with entrepreneurship. He discusses everything from statistics to preventative measures.
The Emotional Tolls of Entrepreneurship
There is a euphoria associated with the success of a first sale, major media appearance, or partnership deal, and for entrepreneurs, you begin to crave these types of high rewards and fight for them with a superhuman intensity. Scott Carson explains that this type of drive is held up to a high standard in our society, and is associated with the success of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. However, few people talk about how addictive and fleeting that high can be, and the emotional and physical toll it can take on entrepreneurs.
A small study published in the journal Small Business Economics, found that mental health differences directly or indirectly affected 72% of entrepreneurs in their sample study. In addition, entrepreneurs were more likely than comparison participants and the general population to experience depression (30% compared to 15%), ADHD (29% compared to 5%), addiction (12% compared to 4%), and bipolar disorder (11% compared to 1%). Unfortunately, these statistics are reinforced time and time again with real-world examples.
Scott Carson explains that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of entrepreneurs and CEOs who have succumbed to the pressures of running a business. Some of them include Ilya Zhitomirskiy, CEO of Diaspora, Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, Jody Sherman, founder of Ecomom, and Ovik Banerjee who was part of the first Venture for America group in Las Vegas just to name a few.
The truth is, the more successful you are, the more people rely on you, and the more that is at stake if you fail. Scott Patrick Carson explains that while temporary stress is normal, chronic stress can have deeply damaging effects.
Stress triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response in our brains, releasing the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol, in a survival situation, is usually used up by our bodies in a physical response, either by running away or seeking safety. But when it is triggered solely by the mind, this cortisol has nowhere to go. The build-up of cortisol in the body can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, weight gain, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts.
To make matters worse, some entrepreneurs also neglect their physical health, either eating too much or too little, not getting enough sleep, or barely exercising.
Scott Patrick Carson on Avoiding a Burnout
All that being said, there are some things you can do to ensure that you sustain and fuel your passion without burning out.
The most important thing you can do for your business and for your health is to take time to check in with how you are feeling, says Scott Patrick Carson. What you do will impact your state of mind and how you show up for your business and employees.
The first thing you can do is exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that flood your brain, triggering positive feelings and increased energy. The second thing is eating a healthy diet that focuses on whole, plant-based foods and making sure you drink enough water. One study showed that having a creative hobby, such as playing the piano, painting, or creating pottery, resulted in a measured decrease in cortisol levels after the activity was completed. Lastly, get enough sleep. While it can feel like working over sleeping is more productive, according to Scott Carson, a lack of sleep can reduce your overall cognitive function.