Help! My business is hurting my health

5th April 2019

It takes a lot of hard work to succeed as an entrepreneur, and often your health gets left on a backburner. Long hours, grueling schedules, and the unwavering resilience required to remain steady in times of turmoil: Entrepreneurs, by the very nature of their work, are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a high-stress lifestyle. Prioritising your wellness, and that of your staff, is therefore one of the most important investments you could make in your business. Because if you’re not putting petrol back in your tank, you will eventually start running on empty.

Building mental resilience

As an entrepreneur, it’s likely you’re almost always working, or thinking about work, or needing to be available at any given moment. To add to this, our digital age has normalised the notion of being ‘always on’: Always on the other end of our phones, always available on email, Whatsapp, Instagram… But humans were not designed to function without respite. Simply put, it is a physiological truth that our brains require rest in order to re-charge and re-set.

The question then, is how do you manage to switch off when you’re required to be ‘always on’?

Digital detox – the micro-version

No, we’re not suggesting you flee to a faraway island and leave your phone on the plane. Rather, find a consistent space in your day where all technology is off – even if it’s just 20 minutes before bedtime.

“As an entrepreneur there is always more, more and more work to do, but you have to be disciplined in taking a break,” says Robyn Smith, founder of Faithful to Nature. “For example, I try to make every Sunday a phone-free day.”

Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to basic practices that enable you to have the best possible sleep quality and duration. These include limiting stimulants for at least an hour before bedtime (including coffee, alcohol and screen time). Going to sleep at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning, will get your body into a regular sleeping routine.

Sounds obvious, right? If only it was. It’s likely that as an entrepreneur, your deepest passion is your work. Which means you may be excluding a whole range of activities from your day – be it hobbies or downtime, where new ideas and inspiration may start to flow. When we are relaxed and happy, our brains are infused with dopamine and serotonin – chemicals which also improve our learning abilities, our concentration, our creative problem solving skills and even our memory. Being happy and relaxed makes you better at your job!

And what about prioritising the wellness of your staff, when you as the business owner already feel stretched?

“This is difficult,” says Robyn, “So I have built this into my staff’s contracts… for example, everyone gets a free day’s leave on their birthday. We also do personal check-ins at all company meetings. And we keep organic fruit and filtered water readily available at work.”

Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer and Sanctuary with Rod Stryker provide simple meditation, calming and sleep techniques to build resilience and support mental wellness.

For tips on optimising performance, try listening to podcasts by other entrepreneurs and wellness experts, such as How I Built This; Tools of Titans and GirlBoss.

A woman sitting cross legged in article about managing the effects of your business on your health.

Getting emotionally and mentally ‘fit’

“Being an entrepreneur is very taxing in all ways, but especially emotionally as you have to deal with your issues all the time – you are constantly shown your short comings,” says Robyn.

It takes immense resilience to cope (and succeed) as a business owner, but the good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed with consistent work. In the same way an athlete requires a strong, well-trained body, an entrepreneur needs a strong, well-trained mind accompanied by high levels of emotional intelligence and robustness.

Creating a daily inventory is a simple hack to help develop emotional awareness, prevent a breakdown, and provide benchmarks of what your ‘normal’ looks like. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How much stress do I have right now?
  • Can I eliminate some of it?
  • What am I doing to support myself?
  • Are my coping mechanisms making me stronger, or less resilient?
  • How is my eating/ drinking?
  • Am I getting enough rest?
  • What is my general mood?
  • What sets me off?
  • What calms and stabilizes me?
  • What can I do to support myself better?

Mentors and Supporting Networks

Connecting with other entrepreneurs is a great way to discover business and life hacks, and pick up survival tips. Having a mentor will also provide a safety net when times get tough. It’s important to create an environment where you do not feel alone.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help

In an age of hyper-positivity, where high performance takes centre stage, feeling anxious, depressed or vulnerable can mistakenly be viewed as incompetence or failure. It’s so important that this stigma is obliterated. Suffering from any level of mental unwellness is as common as getting the flu – and most conditions are treatable and manageable.

If you need professional help, or if an employee is battling, make use of counselling resources readily available. ICAS offers psychiatric services for businesses. Lifeline and FAMSA offer free counselling services. You can also find coaches, counsellors and therapists here at FindHelp.

Maintaining your physical health

A largely sedentary, screen-based day plays havoc on your joints, muscles, circulation, and even your organs! The human body was made to move – so it’s no surprise that sitting has been deemed ‘the new smoking’. High stress levels simply exacerbate the problem. And if you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for a quick lift in the form of caffeine and sugar, which play havoc on your adrenals.

Keep moving

  • Get up as much as possible during the day. Even a few simple desk stretches can help.
  • Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Do something you enjoy, otherwise you’re less likely to commit.  
  • Join a group/ team, and get your staff involved in fun wellness challenges.

“Encouraging good relations between staff members supports their wellness, too,” says Robyn. “Our staff often have group programs and challenges that they do together. Our team leaders encourage this as it builds morale.”

Nourish, don’t nibble

Your body needs as many nutrients as possible to function at optimal levels. If you eat a varied diet, there’s less chance you’ll crave the ‘quick fix’ of sugary foods with limited nutritional value.

Quick hacks:

  • Keep fruit around the office. Avoid vending machines.
  • Swap coffee for green tea.
  • Use apps like MyFitnessPal that track your dietary intake.

Last words

Prevention is key. It’s important to take simple, consistent steps every day to make sure you support your health, and build the strength and resilience required to operate at your highest potential.