How Hardworking Entrepreneurs Fight Burnout and Depression – and How You Can Too
Grinding out 90-hour workweeks to get your business off the ground is the norm.
Heck, entrepreneurs wear the amount of time they put into their startup like a badge of honor. Tack on the immense stress from investors, competition, and the worst stressor of all — yourself – and you’ve got one hell of a recipe for depression and burnout.
While startups are great for getting an idea up and running as fast as possible, the industry isn’t great about discussing mental health. Well, until now, that is.
Spotify recently launched a podcast called Killing It – Adventures in Start-Ups and Mental Health. The podcast discusses the mental health issues that come with being an entrepreneur — and how to overcome them.
The trio of hosts includes Petra Velzeboer, a therapist who grew up in the cult The Children of God (she’s since left it, as you probably guessed), James Routledge, founder of Sanctus, “mental health gym,” and Aleks Krotoski, a successful British tech journalist. Together, the hosts represent a mixed bag of experiences that sets them apart from other startup podcast hosts (no offense, other hosts).
The show is six episodes in and has featured guests including Alex Depledge, the serial entrepreneur behind Hassle.com and resi.co.uk, Michael Acton-Smith OBE, the creator of Moshi Monsters and co-founder of Calm, Nafisa Bakkar, CEO of Amaliah, a website dedicated to Muslim women, and Tom Foster-Carter, COO of Monzo Bank.
If you’re worried that a show about depression will be a straight-up bummer — don’t be. Killing It is relaxed, inspiring and seriously fun.
Goalcast asked hosts Velzeboer and Routledge to share some of the lessons they’ve learned from entrepreneurs about overcoming mental health issues
Goalcast: What are the 5 best tricks you’ve learned for overcoming depression and burnout?
- I’ve found that sometimes depression symptoms are a sign that someone isn’t living their own version of their life. Instead, they’re living someone else’s and they aren’t expressing how they truly feel. Speaking with a coach or friend to map out the life you really want can make a real difference to our sense of fulfillment and happiness.
- Prevention is easier than cure. If we can get into balanced habits around things like exercise, food, alcohol, connecting with the right people, and being aware of what’s going on in our minds and bodies through things like mindfulness, then we’re more likely able to put things in place before we reach crisis point.
- Understanding how your mind works is key. We can each be more productive at certain times of day, so understanding our patterns can allow us to be productive and give us permission to switch off. This isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign that we’re sustaining our mental health long-term.
- Move your body to change your state. I know that sounds crazy, but when we’re in a depressed state we don’t want to move, we want to stay stuck. Going outside, moving our bodies even if we don’t feel like it boosts the serotonin in our brains and can give us a different perspective.
- If there’s a chemical imbalance in our brain, we may need to look into medication or talking therapy. Sometimes this can be just the boost we need to get us out of a particularly dark time and help us find out how to manage our symptoms.
I’ve found that sometimes depression symptoms are a sign that someone isn’t living their own version of their life. instead, they’re living someone else’s and they aren’t expressing how they truly feel.
- Talk openly about mental health. If we talk about mental health like physical health, we’re more likely to catch and notice problems before they become problems.
- Create a support network, have people around you who you can be open and honest with, without feeling judged.
- Find out what works for you; it might be yoga, it might be bare-knuckle boxing – whatever gives you a sense of release or whatever feels good for your mental health.
- Learn how to say ‘no.’ This has been a big thing for me, but creating boundaries and saying no prevents you from becoming overwhelmed, but also says a lot about who you are.
- Start to look inwards. Coaching and therapy are great for this and meditation can be, too. But starting to understand yourself and your values is an amazing start to develop your mental health.
GC: Is there anything you’ve heard that anyone — entrepreneurs or not — should do if they find they’re about to reach that breaking point?
PV: Ask for help. This seems counterintuitive in an age of self-sufficiency, but talking is key. If you’re not ready to talk, try writing down your thoughts and feelings to help you process them.
The ones who seem to have the strongest habits around self-care are the ones who’ve reached burnout once or twice and have learned the hard way but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn from people who’ve done it before you and put healthy habits in place to prevent burnout now.
The ones who seem to have the strongest habits around self-care are the ones who’ve reached burnout once or twice and have learned the hard way but it doesn’t have to be that way.
JR: Talk to someone who you feel comfortable opening up to. Mental health is something you can’t deal with alone and often isolation or disconnection play a big part in people feeling down. Opening up to someone is usually always the first step.
GC: What was your best interview so far and what was the biggest thing you learned from that entrepreneur?
PV: It’s been so exciting having these open conversations, I’ve enjoyed every single one. I particularly enjoyed the final episode with Tom Foster-Carter from Monzo Bank (Ep.6).
The way he’s utilized his trauma to drive his ambition and is leading the way in creating a mentally healthy work-culture really inspired me as its part of how I’ve focused some of my own trauma.
JR: They’ve all been amazing and genuinely very inspiring. I think the best one is going to be different for everyone. Alex [Depledge]’s (Ep.1) felt really powerful to me and considering she’s acheived so much it felt amazing to hear the full realness behind the headlines.
I learned how important it is to say ‘no’ and felt inspired to just be myself. She’s very authentic and that’s very endearing and kind of demands respect.
Mental health is something you can’t deal with alone and often isolation or disconnection play a big part in people feeling down.
GC: In the start-up world, entrepreneurs often brag about putting in, say, 90-hour weeks into their business. Do you foresee a world where people talk about mental health issues that are associated with that?
PV: I think we’re seeing this more and more, it’s impossible to ignore as the lack of mental health support is costing UK employers up to £42 billion a year according to the Thriving at Work Report.
Change takes time, but it’s conversations like these that are already shifting the way people talk about mental health and the cultures they want to create.
We’re getting to the point where we are moving away from 90-hour weeks being ‘cool.’
JR: I’d like to think this podcast is an example of that happening. We’re getting to the point where we are moving away from 90-hour weeks being “cool.” It’s getting to the point where talking about mental health is acceptable and to talk about how our working lives affects that is an obvious next step.
I believe we’re going to enter a phase where the new cool will be looking after your mental health to optimize your performance.
PV: When we know our people well enough we can more easily notice subtle changes in their behavior that could indicate a mental health issue. Things like a change in mood, isolating themselves, being distracted or unfocused can all be signs that they are facing a difficult time in their lives.
Being brave enough to ask people how they are, say what you’ve noticed and genuinely wait for an answer, can make all the difference. The person suffering is often just waiting for someone to notice so they have permission to talk.
Don’t worry if they don’t tell you everything right then, you’ve planted the seed so they know they can talk to you when they’re ready. The best way to ensure people talk to you if they’re struggling is by talking about your own mental health and leading by example in creating a culture where its ok to ask for help.
The person suffering is often just waiting for someone to notice so they have permission to talk.
JR: If you’re close to someone, just notice your feelings and response to their actions. If you feel like they’re not being themselves, you’ll know through your gut instinct.
There are some obvious unhealthy habits to look out for; long working hours, excessive drinking or eating, lack of care for physical health, appearance or hygiene too.