This past June, the world was dealt two blows, when iconic entrepreneurs Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives. Here we are four months later on World Mental Health Day, and while there seems to be a rise in global conversations about mental health and collective steps being taken to remove the stigma surrounding the disease, there is still a lot more work to be done.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety. In addition, a study by the ADAA indicates that 16.1 million Americans suffer from Major Depression.
Given the headlines and statistics (women are diagnosed twice as often as men), we’re also starting to pay much closer attention to the emotional and psychological toll entrepreneurship takes on female founders.
I spoke with Dr. Lauren Hazzouri, psychologist and champion for girls and women, speaker, and founder of Hazzouri Psychology, about some of the lifestyle changes that female entrepreneurs can make to help ease some of the feelings of anxiety and depression — and what we can do collectively, to help each other.
Before we dive in, here’s a disclaimer from Hazzouri: “Entrepreneurial lifestyle patterns certainly do not cause mental health concerns, though they may contribute to them. The first action toward emerging — regardless of symptoms and/or diagnosis — is making a change. Remember that our bodies and our brains require daily maintenance. Getting your body working for you rather than against you helps level the playing field, so we can see what remains for us to tackle on the emotional front.”
Let’s get started.
Self-Care: Change Lifestyle Patterns
Hazzouri feels you: “Lifestyle patterns are tough to change, especially when you’re not feeling so great, have no energy, can’t motivate yourself, and can’t get comfortable. I know it’s hard. For many who are suffering, that means establishing a treatment plan with a professional, which may or may not include medication. It also means creating a healthier physical regimen. To feel better long-term, you’re going to have to do things that aren’t comfortable today. At least this discomfort is a means to a better end.”
Exercise regularly: Exercise is important for everyone, but for those with mood concerns and/or anxiety, it’s critical. Research suggests that a 30-minute run gives us the same boost in serotonin levels (the brain chemical that makes you feel good) that we could expect from a low dose of a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) like Zoloft or Prozac.
Sleep consistently (at least eight hours): Our bodies thrive on the concept of a schedule. Go to sleep every night aiming for at least eight hours of sleep. Get your circadian rhythm working for you, rather than against you (it will help in regards to mood, anxiety, focus, etc.)
Co-work to avoid isolation: “I suggest that entrepreneurs work in community spaces, such as WeWork, The Riveter and The Wing (or a local one in your city). Even without significant engagement with those around us, being in the company of others often feels better than being alone, day in, day out. We need each other to feel good.”
If you’re not ready to join a co-working space, see if there are female entrepreneurs in your network that you can plan “co-working days” with, if only for motivation and human connection IRL.
Take control of your thoughts: Mark down your thoughts, feelings, and the situation or possible triggers. Hazzouri explains: “Whenever you’re feeling anxious, afraid, uncomfortable, uneasy, or sad, write it down. Each one of us has both a positive and a negative thought voice. The negative voice is the part of you that has internalized all of the warped messages thrown at you by society since birth and works overtime to shame you into fitting in with societal norms. Society fuels self-destructive thoughts. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions. To change the way you feel (a.k.a., less than), change the way you think. Identify thought patterns that lead to unwanted feelings. Thoughts are not facts, so show your negative thoughts who’s boss. Write them down. Replace them with truth. Get on with your day. Remember, each one of us came with everything we need to get through this life in a healthy and happy way.”
Come together & build your tribe: “Remember, we are better together. You’re not alone. When we come together and stand in our power, there’s no stopping us. Reach out to your squad, tribe, coven. Share. Connect. Repeat. “
Collective Care: How To Show Support
Support those conducting mental health research: Hazzouri explains: “It seems that in our well-intentioned outpouring of loss, shock and sadness when a high-profile tragedy involving mental health strikes, we’re projecting what we do know onto that which we don’t. As a result, there’s an influx of people sharing personal stories about experiences with mental health, Facebook shares with offers of everything from open doors, cups of coffee, a shoulder to cry on, and Instagram posts with compassionate nudges to reach out to ‘strong’ friends. It’s a relief to see our society stepping up, having the conversation, and doing the human being thing so well. At the same time, it seems we’re reaching for really simple solutions to complex problems that are hard to understand and still require a lot of research. How about in addition to offering coffee to those friends with a history of depression, we support those conducting mental health research? As a society, we need to put our money where our mouths are this week and for weeks, months and years to come.”
Support entrepreneurs by offering discounted fitness rates: Hazzouri continues: “As a society, we can also offer discounts on gym memberships and sports leagues for entrepreneurs, taking a lead from the education system. For example, when children or adolescents are home schooled, they are encouraged to engage in the extra-curricular sports, arts programs, clubs, and other school activities provided by their home school district. Once we graduate, our human need for connection doesn’t decrease, yet organized opportunities do. So, it’s important for entrepreneurs to integrate being human and being successful, according to society’s standards. This can help decrease the feelings of isolation often felt by entrepreneurs.”
And to the female founder who’s unsure about seeking help or treatment, or talking about her struggles, because she fears it might harm her public persona?
Hazzouri offers this: “I can’t imagine compartmentalizing success and well-being. To me, they are one in the same, especially for females. With social norms contributing to our mental health concerns, it’s no surprise that many women struggle with anxiety, depression, and the like. As a woman, a human-being, you deserve to be successful: physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. Showing up means shedding the impact of society and bringing all that you are into all that you do. That’s when true success unfolds.”