Tawanda Chirenda, Founder, Becoming a Willing Student, Toronto, ON

Starting your own business can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. However, being an entrepreneur also comes with several mental health challenges, the most common being anxiety. I know because I personally struggled with entrepreneurship anxiety before I finally reached out for help. I am glad I did because it helped me to significantly improve my mental health and increased my productivity and effectiveness as an entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur, you have to juggle many roles; you have to call your own shots, lead the strategy, choose employees, choose suppliers, and so on. The uncertainty, setbacks and risks involved in making all these decisions can result in unbearable anxiety, feelings of helplessness and depression.

As entrepreneurs, we are driven to innovate, to make a difference, to challenge ourselves, and ultimately to achieve financial freedom. However, the very drive that inspires us to innovate and pursue our dreams, can also lead to disaster if not managed very well. In my own experience, I have discovered that the energy, creativity and motivation that drives my entrepreneurial efforts, can also sometimes produce strong emotional states like depression, despair, and anxiety. I believe there are many entrepreneurs dealing with different levels of anxiety and are still struggling with acknowledging and talking openly about their anxiety problems. Unfortunately, when prolonged the consequences of anxiety to our mental health, businesses and personal lives can be significant.

The stigma around mental health makes it difficult for many founders and entrepreneurs to seek help before things get worse. One common misconception about mental health is that those who need it are inherently defective or have something “wrong” with them. While there are definitely those who suffer from genetic and trauma associated mental and emotional problems, there are many entrepreneurs who will benefit from some form of mental health coaching even though they have no acute mental deficiencies. It takes a greater level of vulnerability to accept that you are struggling and need help. However, because of stigma, many people would rather struggle silently than seek help.

Because there is little correct information on mental health and entrepreneurship out there, many entrepreneurs are afraid of being labeled. It is hard to cope with anxiety or depression if you feel like you are being judged by friends, colleagues or your partner. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t want their family or friends to know they have a mental health problem they are struggling with. People tell me all the time, “I would rather keep it to myself than telling my partner or my family.”

We have to end the silence and stigma. Starting your own business is a hard thing to do and you should not feel ashamed when your mental health gets challenged along the way. It does not mean that you are a weak person or that there is something wrong with you. It only means that there are a few adjustments you need to make in how you approach your business and your life. Don’t be bothered too much about what other people think. Focus on improving your own health and mindset.

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