Updated: Dec 7, 2022
If you are an entrepreneur you likely know the feelings of stress, burnout, fatigue, uncertainty and failure. What do you think when you read or hear the word entrepreneur? Is it success? Hustle? Fame? The entrepreneur is often idolized and superficially portrayed in popular culture as a "mighty" and purpose driven executive, creating great changes in the world, while living the dream. The reality is, however, that being an entrepreneur is highly demanding, stressful, unpredictable and high pressure.
According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues compared to just 48% of non entrepreneurs. 49% of entrepreneurs deal with mental health issues directly while only 32% of others experienced them. 23% of entrepreneurs have family members who face these issues compared to just 16% of others with family members who face these same types of issues. Lastly, entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to experience mental health issues vs. regular professionals according to this study. Interestingly, from the same study it was shown that entrepreneurs as a whole, are more likely to have underlying mental health issue. They were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants.
So, clearly the data indicates there is no shortage of mental health issues amongst entrepreneurs. Then why is the perception still so glorious? The answer, in my opinion, is loneliness and isolation. Leaders often feel isolated in their position. They are dealing with intense pressure, challenges and all the volatility that comes with running a business. Most of their energy is spent on solving problems and being the ground on which the team and company rests. So, who exactly do they turn to? Where do they have a chance to be real, emotional and honest? Sadly, often times they feel they cannot speak frankly to those around them or seek the appropriate care or help. A survey conducted by The Hustle found that 81% of business leaders still think there is a stigma around mental health in the business community.
Entrepreneurs need a way to normalise discussing when they have bad days, and readily able to be honest about stress, burnout, anxiety, depression or whatever the emotion is. At the end of the day, if you're an entrepreneur, you're a human and your mental, physical and spiritual well-being MUST come first.
The question then presents itself, what is the best way a high-performing individual can improve their well-being, prevent burnout and improve performance? Some obvious things come to mind like exercise, diet, mindfulness, social support and family health. However, when busy people think of just "one more thing" they need to do, it often overwhelms them and gets put on the back burner. In today's world, everything needs to be immediate, effective and attention grabbing. I can imagine if you could relax in 2 minutes as opposed to 20, you'd be far more inclined to take the former option. Lucky for anyone reading, the former option is a tangible reality.
The Business of Breathwork
Breathwork is an ancient and outstnding tool for balance, well-being and overall health. There are numerous, research backed benefits and different techniques you can use to improve your current state. The purpose of this article is not to outline too many of the techniques but rather demonstrate it's possible to incorporate this practice into your life as a busy leader, entrepreneur or high performer. The beautiful thing about breathwork is that we are ALWAYS breathing. We don't have to go anywhere or do anything special to utilize this very effective strategy.
Let's imagine a few scenarios that may be familiar to you. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your phone. You've gone to bed ruminating on a problem and wake up to the same challenge. You go immediatley into "problem" solving mode and the next thing you know your day is unfolding. Maybe, you have time for the gym and a quick breakfast or relaxation but for the most part your gears are turning. This chronic engagement with work catches up with you and leaves you in a constant state of fight-or-flight.
So, what is one small yet effective thing you can do? Firstly, you should avoid at all costs checking your phone in the morning. That immediately puts your brain on "high alert" and your nervous system responds by going into a state of stress. Secondly, I was advocate that the way people beging and end their day is crucial. If we are to prioritize health and well-being first, then we need to make a conscious effort to make it the first thing we think about and do in the morning, and the last thing we do in the evening. Also, throughout the day there is no reason why you can't find the time to settle your mind-bindy, recalibrate your nervous system and create a more comfortable internal environment for yourself.
The best tool I have ever learned for cultivating these healthy states is breathwork. I have written a lot about this topic in different articles so if you're interested in learning more, I suggest you check out this article on the benefits of breathwork. In particular, for leaders and entrepreneurs it has some very useful side-effects For example, Andrew D. Huberman, professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University says, "Breathwork can be thought of as exercise in that, if done correctly, has immediate benefits — physical, emotional and cognitive — but breathwork also has longer-term benefits if you do it regularly. The idea is that people can alter and strengthen the neural pathways that link breathing with emotion regulation centers in the brain, which can help them feel calmer and more alert, and sleep better, depending on the protocols they use.” In effect, breathing right can allow high-performers to better manage their emotional states both in the short-term and long-term which acts as a significant buffer against emotional and physical burnout.
As mentioned earlier, the morning, evening and at various points throughout the day are ideal for integrating this new practice (if you chose). There are two breathwork exercises that will be introduced below, and many more you can learn as well. I am pleased to offer a very customized and comprehensive program, guaranteed to work for you where it's possible to explore this work much further. With that in mind, I’d like to outline a few exercises you can try next time you're feeling anxious, stressed or your reaction to a situation is getting out of control.
This is one of my favorites as a breathwork coach because it is SO effective and simple. All you need to do is inhale through the nose for 3 seconds, pause, then exhale through the mouth for 9 full seconds. That’s it! The key here is to take long inhales and extended exhales and repeat this for at least 6 times. Ideally, if your body and mind is in quite a stressed state, you can do this up to 20 times. This can be done anywhere, anytime and is also useful to help us sleep.
Yogic breathing is also referred to as pranayama breathing. This is a powerful & ancient breathing technique which is best practiced over time. Similar to the 1-3 breath, pranayama is a consciously controlled breath cycle which increases the time between inhalation and exhalation. A great beginner sequence for pranayama is:
Breathe in for 4 seconds
Pause for 4 seconds
Breathe out for 6 seconds
Pause for 2 seconds
Repeat this daily for 15-20 minutes and as often as you can throughout the day. It’s a great way to improve physical and mental health and help your body learn to be in a more relaxed state more often.
Breathing is one of the only natural tools we have to connect the consious and unconsious nervous system. From this, we can learn to consciously regulate our emotional responses which creates a state which is in much greater balance and harmony. So, don't wait. If you are an entrepreneur, leader or high performer you can start changing your stat of being NOW. If you have any questions at all, you are suffering or would like to begin a transformational wellness journey, please contact me, it would be a great pleasure to speak.