Does It Ever Feel Like Your Business is Killing You?

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3 ways to enhance your mental health and happiness right now 

By Shawn Johal and Julia Pimsleur

Do you remember when you first decided to launch your business and you were so passionate you couldn’t wait to get to work each day? You were going to disrupt your entire industry and no problem was too big or too small! Best of all, you were finally free to make bank and keep all the profits. 

Then the reality of running your own business set in. You tried some things that didn’t work. You underestimated how much you needed to set aside for taxes and got a shockingly huge tax bill. You gave up your workouts to answer customer emails and missed your daughter’s tap dance recital when an important client asked you to turn something around quickly at the last minute. 

Staying positive and in a “go big or go home” mindset became more of a challenge than you thought it would be.

Then the pandemic hit. And your mental health took a nosedive. 

Entrepreneurs just went through one of the biggest global mental health tests possible, where many owners were down in revenues by 40% or more from prior years or had to shut down entirely for months. Business owners had to reinvent themselves and make quick and risky changes just to stay in business. They have also been in “fight or flight” mode for over 18 months, managing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety, which takes a toll on your nervous system and your mental health. Entrepreneurs are experiencing a second wave of anxiety and depression now as they realize they are no longer in survival mode. Now they have to make it all work again… often with a smaller financial cushion due to hemorrhaging cash during the pandemic, a new sense of fear that this could happen again, and many employees not wanting to return to the office or dealing with the fallout of the pandemic themselves.

As coaches who work with hundreds of scaling businesses, we see how entrepreneurs often put off addressing their own mental health and happiness with the idea that one day “it will all be worth it.” How often have you thought, “I’ll be happy when I sell my business” or “When I have the dream team I won’t work so hard” or “When we land that next big client we will stop working weekends”. But then you land the big client or make the perfect hire and you don’t feel any happier or work any fewer hours? In the famous words of the orator Paul H. Dunn: “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” He also said, “Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it is too late.” Business leaders often sacrifice family, friends, and happiness to pursue their dreams. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you are ready to enjoy “the journey” more, you can use these 3 practices right away:

  1. Put your wellness first. Make sure you have your mental health at the top of your strategic plan. Seek out mindset practices and support systems so you can show up for your team as the leader you want to be. Ramp up your own mindset practices such as practicing gratitude, doing yoga or physical exercise 4-5 times per week, taking time for yourself in the morning before starting work, not looking at your phone/computer for set periods of time so you get a real break, meditating and/or reading books about how to have a more powerful mindset. For more suggestions, check out Go Big Now: 8 Essential Mindset Practices to Overcome Any Obstacle and Reach Your Goals. 
  2. Work on clarifying and sharing your vision for the next 1-3 years. Be sure to communicate it to your team and get their input. People are feeling anxious about how the workplace and industries are changing. If you share your plans (and ask for their input) it will help them to come to work with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose/all rowing in the same direction.
  3. Create a place at work to talk about mindset. Make it a priority to integrate a wellness program at your company and make physical and mental wellness a part of your company culture. This could mean starting meetings by asking people to rate where their mindset is on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best and 1 being “let’s talk about how to get you some help instead of having this meeting.” You can share what you have learned from mindset practices (see #1) with your team or organize a book club or brown bag lunch once a month where you share best practices, bring in guest speakers, etc. This will send a clear message that you believe mental health and happiness are important and have a place at work to explore them. Just like at home, your team will do what you do, not what you say.

If you don’t take care of your mindset, your body will send you a stern memo in the form of headaches, backaches, an upset stomach, or worse. One of Shawn’s clients is Reza (not his real name), the CEO of a fast-growing distribution company in a wildly competitive space. He worked crazy long hours for over eight years, often missing important family events and skimping on sleep and healthy eating. He didn’t try to have any type of balance, as he felt that he needed to “lead by example” and outwork his team each day. When the pandemic hit, his sales came to a screeching halt. He began to seriously panic when he realized he had a team of forty to support. This was before any government support was coming in. Unwilling to show any sign of weakness or share his feelings with his team or even his wife, he buried some of his darkest thoughts. He became short-tempered and super impatient with his team and at home, and started saying he wished he could just “walk away.” He was exhibiting classic signs of depression but did not want to seek out help or dial back his long hours.

Around that time, Reza began to feel a constant pain behind one of his ears. He thought it might be a bad headache or a migraine, but after a week it was getting worse. He finally went to the doctor, who ran a brain scan and found an acorn-sized tumor behind his left ear. Thankfully it wasn’t cancerous, but it needed to be dealt with immediately. The doctor said the tumor was due to stress and anxiety, explaining he needed to immediately change his lifestyle to heal. Faced with this life-changing moment, Reza decided to finally focus on personal well-being. He is currently starting a three-month hiatus from work and plans to integrate new wellness practices into both his personal and professional lives. He will be dedicating his mornings to a new routine that includes meditation, visualization, and rigorous exercise. Spending time with his young children and wife, which he has never done before, is also a massive priority for him moving forward.

Even when we are not in or coming out of a pandemic, research shows that CEOs have higher than average levels of depression, drug addiction, and drinking problems. Business owners are particularly susceptible to things that mimic the highs and lows of entrepreneurship such as gambling, drug use, and other vices. (1) As Jan Cavelle notes in her article “Why Rates of Suicide And Depression Are So High For Entrepreneurs”, a study by a clinical professor at the University of California found that one in three entrepreneurs suffer from depression. (2)

We want to make sure CEOs have access to the resources and tools to handle their own mental health and build a resilient mindset. This will help them to enable their teams to do the same. During this time when everyone is celebrating a return to normalcy, we hope you will keep a lookout for CEOs who may be suffering silently.

Here are 5 signs you (or a CEO you know) need to focus on mental health:

  1. An uptick in the use of alcohol, marijuana, or other stimulants
  2. Ruminating about all the things that could go wrong in your business or personal life
  3. Verbally lashing out at staff or family members
  4. Suicidal thoughts
  5. Recurring feelings of hopelessness

As coaches who focus on increasing happiness (Shawn) and building a powerful mindset (Julia) we want to see more conversations about mental health in the entrepreneur community. Especially now. Often help is just one email, text, or phone call away but entrepreneurs are too proud, stubborn, or used to figuring it all out themselves to raise their hands for help. We want to make sure entrepreneurs who are struggling, remember that just because they don’t have the answers, it doesn’t mean that NO ONE has the answers. If you agree, text a business owner who may be struggling, “Hey, I am thinking of you! Want to talk?” and share one mindset or happiness-boosting practice that has worked for you in the comments below.

Julia Pimsleur is a scaling coach, mindset expert, and best-selling author. She is the founder of Million Dollar Women, a New York City-based social venture, which helps women entrepreneurs scale up their businesses and its nonprofit arm, The Million Dollar Women Fund.

Pimsleur is the author of Go Big Now: Eight Essential Mindset Practices to Overcome Any Obstacle and Reach Your Goals and Million Dollar Women (Amazon best-seller, winner of Axiom Business Book Award). Pimsleur speaks internationally on entrepreneurship and mindset and interviews guests on her live show, “CEO Check-In “(on IGTV), and the Million Dollar Mind podcast. You can sign up for blog posts and download free eBooks at Follow Julia Pimsleur on Twitter, FB, IG, LI: @juliapimsleur.

Shawn Johal is a business growth Coach and Certified Scaling-Up expert, helping entrepreneurial companies achieve alignment and profitable growth. In 2009, he co-founded DALS Lighting, an LED lighting business. He implemented the Scaling Up Growth System and led the company to 3X its revenues well into the 8 figures. Shawn went on to found Elevation, a Scaling Up coaching firm, where he works with entrepreneurs & their teams to help accelerate their growth while helping them find personal balance and happiness.

He is the author of The Happy Leader, a leadership fable about transformation in business and life. He provides a “Happiness Roadmap” for his readers and clients, teaching them how to achieve both happiness and success. Shawn is also the Board Chair for “Champions for Life,” a non-profit foundation helping children develop their physical literacy. You can sign up for his newsletter and check out his new book at