Many entrepreneurs say there’s nothing like the freedom of running your own business. But while growing your company can be thrilling, not all that glitters is gold.
More than 72% of founders say the job has affected their mental health, an April 2023 study by Startup Snapshot shows. When asked about the issues they’ve experienced since starting their businesses, 38% of founders admitted they’ve dealt with depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse.
How can entrepreneurs take better care of themselves so they can care for their teams and businesses?
From exercise to cow hug therapy, meditation, and doodling, here is how 10 founders protect their mental health so they can thrive in business – and in life.
Dr. Letitia Wright: “Get untraditional!”
“Over my years as a founder, I’ve found that reducing stress means trying and doing different things than I’ve done before. Getting untraditional. I needed more stress relief and a twinge of adventure as well.
Recently, I decided on a new way of releasing stress: Cow Hug Therapy. This form of stress relief resonates with me because it involves several of my favorite things: sunshine and animals.
Sitting down in the dirt and giving a hug to a warm, loving cow is a beautiful experience. As I pet their head, my stress and anxiety melt away. These cows are rescue cows and have a lot of love in their hearts for people, despite what they’ve been through.
Releasing stress and anxiety for me means getting out of my comfort zone and adventuring. Trying new things. Growing myself. Expanding myself.
When I first heard of Cow Hug Therapy, it felt out of my comfort zone, but now? I couldn’t imagine my life without it!
Be brave enough to get out of your normal and adventure to find a stress reduction activity that excites and lights you up, even if it’s a bit untraditional.”
— Dr. Letitia Wright, Founder and CEO of Wright Place Studios and Executive Producer of Wright Place TV
Eric Melchor: “I doodle three things that made me happy that day.”
“Not long ago I was in a stressful job and developed shingles.
I consider myself to be resilient and mentally strong – I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to work out, which is not an easy thing to do. But I was having a lot of anxiety and insomnia mainly due to this new manager I was reporting to.
Aside from leaving that job, I began a little habit that helps me stay grounded and has helped with my mental health.
Every night, I doodle three things that made me happy that day. They can be something as simple as kicking the ball with my son, having a new podcaster join my network, had a lovely dinner with my wife, or having gone for a run.
Doing this one activity helps eliminate any worry, allows me to go to sleep with good thoughts, and has improved my mental health.”
— Eric Melchor, Founder of the Innovators Can Laugh Podcast Media Network
Christie Mann: “Find your Center.”
“Many daily habits help me counteract anxiety/stress/depression and make me a more effective leader.
The first is a teaching from Embodiment & Movement studies. Before we begin, we find ‘Our Center.’ During times of crisis, chaos, and constant change, I repeat these words several times a day to myself, my clients, colleagues, and loved ones: ‘Find your Center!’
I start my day with Kundalini yoga and meditation. We practice breath, sound and body postures to cultivate our Neutral Mind, which acts as a scale, balancing the positive and negative minds before making any decisions. It is calm, centered, precise, less attached to outcomes, and more interested in intrinsic motivations.
This means I can move through my day from the most resourced and creative point within myself, and when I lose my center, which is often, I practice the above to recover and find it again.”
— Christie Mann, Co-Founder of UpLevel Productions
Scott van den Berg: “Now, I prioritize working out.”
“As a solo entrepreneur, my company relies on me. That’s why I have to be in the best shape possible. So I exercise five times a week.
In the past, I’d sacrifice working-out to take more meetings or research a new idea. As a result, I started struggling both physically and mentally. But now, I prioritize working out. First, it helps me disconnect from work and strengthen my body. It also helps me relieve stress and provides me with new energy and ideas to tackle problems.
Even the most difficult business issue or dilemma seems easier to approach after a good workout. My mind is clearer and calmer, and when you operate from that place of clarity and calm, you make better decisions.”
Rachel Baldi: “I disconnect by removing myself from technology.”
“As a co-founder of an organization, disconnecting from work can be challenging because there is always work to do or a place that needs our focus.
The practice of ‘disconnecting’ allows me to step away from the stress, anxiety, and overwhelm to find spaciousness, restore my nervous system, and be a better leader. I disconnect by removing myself from technology, entering nature, and moving my body.
Going for walks allows my senses to be curious about the world around me. I let my eyes be attracted to the nature around me, my nose to take in the smells and air, and my body do the work of walking. All of this allows my mind to have a break.
Walking with my kids is even better because children have a naturally curious nature, which is contagious. This practice allows me to return to work as a calmer, creative, and resourceful person.”
— Rachel Baldi, Co-Founder of UpLevel Productions
Liviu Tanase: “Do something fun every single day.”
“Many entrepreneurs I know – including myself – have a lot of passion for what they do. That passion and enthusiasm gives us energy and can keep us going for long periods of time. But eventually, if all we do is work, we run out of resources and our businesses suffer.
Taking two vacations a year helps, sure. But with the amount of work I have to do in a typical day, those breaks aren’t enough. So, a few years ago, I realized how important it is to do something fun every single day.
There are several good habits I’ve developed to help me cope with stress. Exercising regularly gives me a huge physical and mental boost. I also play chess daily – I’ve loved chess since I was a kid.
But the habit that helps me the most is to always have dinner with my wife. Sharing a great, home-cooked meal with her has such a calming effect on me. It’s rare that we don’t have dinner together – only if I’m on a business trip. Otherwise, we dine together every evening and for me, it’s the most pleasant and peaceful moment of the day.”
— Liviu Tanase, Founder and CEO of ZeroBounce
Whitney Bonds: “I have to get things crossed off my list.”
“My daily to-do list keeps my sanity. I have so many ideas, and there’s much I want to do. If I didn’t have what I’m supposed to work on the next day, I wouldn’t get anything done.
Every night before I go to bed, I write down what I can realistically get done the next day, so when I wake up, I’m laser-focused and get things done. It’s a game I play to make sure I can cross as much as possible. Whatever I didn’t get accomplished, I’m working on first the next day.
I have to get things crossed off my list. It’s my sense of accomplishment.
This daily activity helps me with stress and anxiety.”
Lynn Abaté-Johnson: “I pause to breathe deliberately.”
“Life’s been ‘life-y’ lately. My life is no exception. Between my empathic nature and an unfamiliar emotion of rage invading my thoughts, fears, anxieties, and concerns, I find that my old style of ‘toxic positivity’ doesn’t cut it anymore. I am unable to mask or wish away the drama and trauma that’s literally in my face, especially since my mom’s death, my bestselling book being published, my layoff, and my return to founder life.
(Yes, my sense of humor remains intact. It’s just more challenging these days.)
My antidote? Square breathing.
As a recovering Type A person, breathing was something I took for granted. Now, every day –morning, afternoon, and evening – I pause to breathe deliberately.
Those few seconds of intentional breaths re-energize and center me. I can feel my nervous system calming and my shoulders lowering as I chill out.
Ahhhhhhhhh. Breathing. Can’t live without it. Literally.”
— Lynn Abaté-Johnson, International Bestselling Author, Speaker, Global Community Builder, and Business Consultant
Amber Powers: “EFT tapping techniques have helped with stress management.”
“Being the founder of a startup is no joke. I wish someone had warned me before I took the leap. The ups and downs of launches, failed launches, finding the right contractors, losing the wrong contractors… It all takes a massive toll. It can often leave us questioning whether we’re ‘good enough’ for this massive undertaking we imposed on ourselves.
If I could go back to 2020 (before my business Shop From Her was even an idea) and tell myself anything, it would be this: Founder life is a mental workout – and if you aren’t intentional about taking care of your mental wellness daily, it will take a toll.
It was soon after founding Shop From Her that I learned the importance of meditation. I integrate that with EFT tapping techniques that have significantly helped with stress management and keeping imposter syndrome at bay.”
— Amber Powers, Founder of Shop From Her and Powers Digital Marketing
Kirk Anderson: “Today is going to be a great day.”
“What I did to address stress and anxiety was something I read in a book, and it was very simple yet incredibly effective.
Every morning when I wake up, I say, ‘Today is going to be a great day.’
I was surprised that after a couple of weeks of doing this every morning, it improved my mood. I felt less overwhelmed, and my sleep quality improved.”