How to Handle the Dark Side of Being an Entrepreneur

darkside

First, I’ll start with this disclaimer:  I’m not a doctor and any medical information provided for in this article is for resource purposes only and should not to be used nor relied upon as a form of diagnosis or for treatment purposes. It is also not patient education and should not be substituted for a professional diagnosis and treatment from a licensed physician. This article is being written from a place of some real life personal experience of the writer (me) and from observation and research.

Some entrepreneurs suffer in silence psychologically, even when they have a trusting, committed romantic partner standing by their side.

Typically when an entrepreneur is either in the building or growing phase, he or she is on such a grind that they don’t eat as well as they should, they tend to forgo sleep and they don’t make time to workout or find ways to decompress from the drive and hustle.  Over time these habits can greatly affect one’s physical health and cause our body to break down. However it’s understandable because when your mind has been turned on and the ideas are flowing you’re eager to keep the momentum going. But there is another health issue that can ultimately impact everything you’re working so hard for which is rarely talked about:  It’s your mental health.

On the outside, an entrepreneur may look happier than most, appear to be more satisfied than most, and be more successful than most. And maybe these are all true statements. However, because of the grueling lifestyle entrepreneurs lead, they often neglect things going on with them mentally which can be a precursor of things to come. Some of the mental health issues I’m speaking about are addictions, anxiety, depression and how one values himself/herself.

As an entrepreneur I can speak first hand on some of the things I’ve dealt with personally or observed. I’ve been depressed, distracted, felt like I was lagging behind my competition and peers and sometimes I’ve dealt with those pressures in unhealthy ways. There are some things I’ve gotten past and other things I’ve had to fight to stay away from, even still there are some things I still battle with.

Everyone has their vice which they can be easily drawn to in order to comfort themselves or relieve the pain temporarily. But for entrepreneurs, I want to talk about the areas we see a lot more of amongst ourselves vs. the general population, according to Internet statistics and a plethora of doctors.

Now let’s get to it.

ADDICTIONS

Addictions can come in forms other than alcohol and substances. Addictions can also include food, sex, gambling and other things we may not see as being a potential problem.  The dictionary states that an addiction is having a compulsive type of behavior that mentally suggest one needs this “fix” frequently to maintain a sense of control or comfort. On one hand, a “fix” can produce a calming effect and can heighten the senses as well as increase the brain’s ability to produce at higher levels before crashing. On the other hand, excessive or overuse can be deadly to the user or those around him/her.

For example, when an entrepreneur is creating, planning or implementing they will usually burn the midnight oil or forgo sleep and adequate rest.  Without proper rest, the brain cells cannot regenerate as fast or as healthily and it begins to turn into mush, so to speak. And what happens next? You go for whatever is going to stimulate you to help you complete the task at hand or keep you in a calm state to finish your work. Sometimes you may also take things to help you sleep or simply maintain a functioning state of mind.

Overtime the use of these items can become a bad habit and hard to break. Whereas you needed it every now and then, now you’ve become hooked and you are spending more money on it and requiring larger amounts to meet your needs.

We’ve seen this in alcohol and substance abuse but sex and food also creates the same stimulation as the above mentioned items and when overused they can be just as deadly. You’re probably thinking how can sex and food be just as deadly?  Sometimes overuse of sex is like never getting enough of sex. Such behavior can cause illicit sex, it can cause one to seek multiple sex partners outside the relationship because your partner can’t meet your needs, and it can cause one to be careless and risk putting their life in danger for sex, as well as place their partner at risk.  

Overuse of food is an addiction, too because it can cause life threatening diseases, obesity and other ailments of poor health and the erosion of self-esteem.

These are a few examples of addictions we see everyday and some of us have a handle on them but many of us do not.  Often times when it becomes a problem it is usually at the crises stage where others may try to intervene and it’s harder to get a breakthrough from it.

Being someone who has battled food addiction, there is nothing more annoying than someone who has never had a fight with food trying to give me advice.  I use to hate it when “skinny” people who never had weight problem or self-image issues wanted to give me advice on how to get better or tell me how to stop eating so much or tell me don’t take this diet pill, eat this and don’t eat that or just workout.  (I lost the weight (220lbs) naturally without all of that. And that’s another story.)  But I do have some good news regarding all addictions and it is something I have personally done. (E-book will detail how soon!)

When you are ready to stop, you will stop.

Yup, it’s that simple.

I’m talking cold turkey stop.  Yes you will have withdrawals and set-backs however, when you are able to admit to yourself that you have a problem AND when you can be honest with yourself, it’ll be easier to win and stay winning.  

Eliminating addictions ain’t easy. To start the process, one of the best things to do is own that the addiction exist. Then seek to create ways to help yourself overcome it. Keep in mind that your plan has to be specific to your addiction, so what works to wipe out food addiction may not work for alcohol dependency. I also know that your environment and support systems are KEY.  Just like I no longer buy junk foods to stock up on because it is a guarantee that I will eat it, a person with alcohol may want to be careful keeping alcohol at the house to remove the temptation.  In addition, look for those who will support you when you relapse or have an emotional moment when you decide to do differently.  They should not berate you or be condescending or have the “I told you so” on repeat.  Watch how you are treated especially during an argument. Are they throwing it in your face that you have a problem and using it to hurt you when you are at your lowest? Are they building you up when they know you have fallen off the wagon?  

If you are choosing not to seek help or don’t think you have a problem, the risk you take by not seeking help is that your support system can decide it’s safer to leave you to your own self-destructive devices therefore you will have to find your own way on your own and you may just end up alone.

The bottom line?  No matter what you do, keep going, keep seeking to be better and keep trying until you win.

ANXIETY

Anxiety is defined as having a constant worry or fear of something with an uncertain outcome.

One thing an entrepreneur is not always sure of and that is knowing the outcome of something she’s invested in. But it’s taking the risk that ultimately lets her know if she was successful or not. During this process, although your faith may be in place you may still be dealing with the ongoing effects of restlessness, being easily irritated, having sleep problems, or having a hard time concentrating and thinking as you attempt to accomplish your goals.

Sometimes things can become so overwhelming, you may start having thoughts of things to come which haven’t happened and when those thoughts escalate into a worse case scenario in your head, you can have panic attacks, you might isolate yourself from others, or make yourself feel physically “sick’.

Yes, I’ve dealt with this, too in the form of procrastinating.

Case in point. I procrastinate at times and although I am working on it, I sometimes wait until the last minute to do certain things. Why?  I feel the adrenaline rush I get from it causes me to create some of my best work. However, I tend to get freaked out when deadlines are approaching. I can’t sleep, I don’t want to eat, I have writer’s block and I am easily annoyed by any interruptions even when I’m ready to go to sleep…I do not want to be interrupted for any reason by anyone.

Then somewhere in my mind a chatterbox turns on and I start to think of all the excuses I can give and how the person on the other end will not respond with understanding or perhaps blow up. By the time it’s all said and done, I’ve replayed this crazy movie in my mind, I’ve worked up a sweat, my heart is racing and I’ve accomplished very little and the deadline is still looming.

Yet, at the last minute, I jump into action and go for it…sliding in like a baseball player trying to make it to home base… “SAFE!”….and with a lot of “mental” bruises. Can you relate?

Now, the general audience doesn’t see me going through this mental agony, but my partner usually does.  Every now and then, this can cause relationship issues for us because it can mean there is another commitment I can’t make or I am causing myself unnecessary pain and stress when I could have started earlier and he has to hear about it and try to help me.  

In order to get a handle on this I had to create a schedule from wake-to-sleep in which I could follow and one that was practical. I put these schedules all over the house, my office and in my purse. At first it was difficult trying to adhere to it, but once I started setting aside time for things, it got easier.

From time to time, I still lapse but I’m striving to perfect being better and no longer making excuses for when I choose to procrastinate.  I’m also learning to appreciate the adrenaline rush of completing my task ahead of time so I can relax if nothing else.

Whatever your anxieties are there are ways to overcome them. Acknowledgment is the first step, then wanting to do something about it is the next step. Keep taking baby steps and soon you’ll look back to see just how far you’ve come.  If your partner wants to help, the best thing he/she can do for you is NOT be an enabler by pacifying the behavior or acting like it doesn’t exist but they need to allow you to work through your issues with how you see things in your mind, not how they want to see it for you.

Here are some ways to help cope with anxiety that are free and medication-free:  

  • Avoid alcohol and reduce caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Eat better foods
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Talk about it and fix it

DEPRESSION

“I’m good.” —-The phrase some entrepreneurs use to mask the truth about the bullsh*t they are dealing with because they want to be viewed as strong and capable of handling life’s adversities and all that comes with being an entrepreneur. Besides, how will you be viewed if you told someone you wanted to kill yourself or give up? You already know.

Depression is often defined as intense sadness, helplessness or worthlessness.  Outside of grieving a loss, or being injured many people will have a bout of depression in their lifetime. However, entrepreneurs may see it more often but not be able to recognize it.  

Depression is seen in many forms such as having a loss of energy or being tired on a daily basis, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, a decreased interest in pleasurable things like sex or socializing, overeating or loss of normal appetite or having the feeling of emptiness/suicidal thoughts.

You may ask yourself why would an entrepreneur be depressed when they’re building their life and living their dreams and goals? While these things may be true, some entrepreneurs cover up their feelings to make others think they’re “ok” when they are not.  Maybe the depression comes from not feeling one is good enough; maybe things are taking too long; maybe where you are and where you want to be are miles apart and the gap seems to be widening; maybe it’s being financially strapped after depleting their personal funds; maybe it’s not having enough help or talent to pull off their plans; You can choose any other “roller-coaster” of emotions associated with being an entrepreneur to fill in the blanks.

What I’ve learned is depression is experienced more in entrepreneurs than the average American. In general, entrepreneurs like to stick with the venture at hand and not deal with the dark side of what it takes to be successful.  Unless one is telling his or her testimony, dwelling on how he’s feeling may be taboo to him or it makes her feel like she’s weak and can’t handle it.

Before many entrepreneurs “make it”, they may find themselves on the edge of a financial collapse and mental breakdown trying to encapsulate it all and feeling as if they are alone, because in many cases they are alone until they have a team to help or the money comes in.  Thus, the cliché “it’s lonely at the top” can seem real.

As if that’s not enough, sometimes society will put successful entrepreneurs on a pedestal as someone to emulate and follow. We idolize these people and add pressures to their lives to be perfect, politically correct and we expect them to be the voice of the people who have no flaws and make no mistakes.

All of these influences and inner voices can cause a myriad of emotional instability leading one to mask their fears, pains, concerns and insecurities under the umbrella of depression.

The scariest part of depression is it is a leading cause of suicide. It is also noted that over 90% of those who die by suicide had some form of mental illness with depression being the number one cause.

According to websites such as www.SuicidePreventionLifeline.org and www.Save.org, statistics show that every 12.3 minutes a person commits suicide in the United States and every 40 seconds in the world. (1-800-273-8255)

This topic is heavy because I’ve experience depression and once I was given a set of pills by a military physician to help me “feel” better. Maybe one can cope with depression using pills, but that didn’t work for me. And to be honest, I deal with it even now at times.

What I’ve learned on this journey is this. I am my biggest cheerleader whether others are rooting for me or not. I am also exactly where I am suppose to be in life, regardless of where my competition or peers are. My walk in my walk.  

Here’s how you can began to turn your depression around into a victory.

Surround yourself with like-minded people who will tell you the truth. For instance one of my mentors is tough on me and gives it to me straight with no chaser. I use to be afraid to reach out to him because I didn’t want to feel I’d let him down. Truth is, it was me I was letting down. I had to assess my life and praise myself in areas where I did well, and own up to when I failed. Further, being connected to my mentors and staying plugged into the community helped me to create a better environment and it gave me a place to go to where others understood me and were on the same journey as me.

Acknowledging your developmental needs (weaknesses) and work to change those things to help reduce the depression.  When I feel a cycle trying to show up, I immediately pay more attention to what I’m watching, listening to or reading. I also keep watch of my circle at work and at home to block bad energy and their problems.

As an entrepreneur I can’t afford to keep starting over or taking a chance that I’m “ok” when I know I’m not by staying in places which don’t work for me.

Talk about it with someone you trust. When you let someone in, you also make yourself vulnerable for ridicule, rejection and abandonment. If you can trust your partner, then that’s who you may want to choose first. If not, then there are resources where you can get help and remain anonymous.

Change your environment and unplug. A visit to the park or a mini-vacation can sometimes do wonders. Unplugging from your electronics and being unavailable can help you feel better and improve areas in your relationship, too. With everything happening in the world from police brutality saturating the media, reality TV, women oppression, religious and lifestyle groups having the light shined on them and possibly your own inner demons……disconnecting from media outlets can turn things around immediately.  We internalize things we see and hear and the more we pollute our minds, the worse depression can get.

Write. Getting it out on paper [and destroying it as you please] helps release a lot of cluttered space within your mind. Hopefully you have sacred book you can trust no one to look in and there are also online diaries as well to help get things out of your head. Write often and write what you want. When you’re done you can call your mind the “clear-port” and be ready to take on more.

Lastly, look at ways your food habits, your fitness levels, your relationship happiness and how you handle your finances are playing a role in your depression and make changes where you know you need to change. No one can save you from depression but yourself.

Self-Worth.  It’s Yours to Increase.

Whether you are battling depression from PTSD because of something that’s happened in your life or from war, whether you are considered to be clinically depressed or filled with anxiety, whether you are constantly taking “pills” trying to feel better or whether you can’t seem to stop eating…know that you are not alone.

The fact that you’ve chosen to take the path of being an entrepreneur says more about your ability to embrace who you truly are inside. Many do not have the guts to go for it. Many are afraid to lose money or afraid they won’t be successful therefore they chose the “safe” route and rely on a 9-to-5 job without ever attempting to take a chance at the entrepreneurial path.  

What others may not know is that on this journey, one’s self-confidence can take a beating from those who don’t support them and from within.

But your self-worth is totally in your control.

No one can control your thoughts nor how you feel. They are yours. You may have read my words before stating the brain can only remember for 8 seconds. What I should say is I’ve also read the brain can hold about 7 pieces of information for 30 seconds. The reason we latch on to hurt and pain vs good times is because it is our mind’s way of protecting us from future harm. So it replays the negative things over and over again. The control you have is you can think about something else as much you choose to.

Have you been emotionally abused? Were you physically abused? Homeless? Lived in poverty? Escaped war torn countries? Had your heart broken? Have you been cheated on? Did you die?

That’s my point. You didn’t die. Reach down and remember what pulled you out of that situation. Remember why you started your entrepreneurial path in the first place. Know that this walk isn’t for everyone and that’s perfectly ok, too.

Be in charge of what and whom you allow in your life. Only subscribe to things which serve your best purpose in life. If that means certain people can’t go, then they can’t go. Know and stand by your personal values and what you believe to be good for you. Let your “yes” be “yes” when you want it to be “yes” and let your “no” be “no” when you want it to be “no”.  Always be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling then create ways to feel better and don’t dwell on what can never be undone.

Above everything I’ve written, know that when you can stand on the truth, you are standing on the safest ground there is in order to help you overcome whatever you are facing…..and that you are not alone.

Temeca Magee is the Editor-In-Chief of the Milso Guide, a social media platform designed specifically for women and the those who love them who are in need of relationship answers on how to make it work. Milso means "Military Significant Other". Her passion for helping increased tremendously from being a part of the military community during pre/post war times. However, her work has branched off from just serving the military and it is trending to encompass all women who can relate to the journey of being a woman.
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