Managing Mental Health Challenges: Guidance for Entrepreneurs, Business Owners, and Career Professionals

May 15, 2024  | 

Taking care of your mental health as a business owner or career professional may not seem like a priority, but it is a key to your ultimate success (however you define success for yourself!). Emotional wellness can truly make or break your business life and your personal life, and if it breaks, it’s a long road to get back to where you need to be to live fully in the ways you want.

For many of us, we have not only conflicting demands in the workplace, but also the added challenge of prioritizing all of the components of our lives: family, social relationships, advancing our education, financial obligations, and the practical limitations of time. This generally means putting ourselves and our needs last on our to-do lists, and we may not even get to the bottom of the list before bedtime. There just doesn’t seem to be time to take care of you, right?

The importance of caring for ourselves as business professionals is imperative if we want to live our lives fully. As the sayings go, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and “You need to put your own oxygen mask on first.” Truly, you’ll be more effective as a leader in your business and personal life if you tend to your own needs. Strong and healthy mental wellness has a positive impact on entrepreneurship and resiliency.

If your mental health is not in the best place or has taken a back seat to other priorities, you’re not alone! The recent studies are concerning.

The Stats are Alarming!

In May 2023, the findings of a study by Silver Lining and Wells Fargo Foundation published in Inc. revealed that:

  • 75% of small business owners are concerned about their mental health.
  • 50% say stress and mental health issues are affecting the success of their business.
  • 46% feel their stress and mental health are impacting the people they care about.
  • 71% try to solve their stressors and mental health challenges alone, without asking for help.
  • 56% have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or stress-related problems by a medical or mental health professional.

In January 2024, a NAMI-Ipsos poll (from the National Alliance on Mental Illness) focused on over 2,000 full-time workers employed at companies with at least 100 employees, found that most Americans believe it’s appropriate to talk about mental health at work, but many do not feel prepared or comfortable talking about mental health.

  • 15% of employees (ages 18-29) rated their mental health as “somewhat poor.”
  • 36% say their mental health has suffered because of work in the past year.
  • 52% of employees reported feeling burned out in the past year because of their jobs, and 37% reported feeling so overwhelmed it made it hard to do their jobs.
  • 33% noticed their productivity suffered because of their mental health, and conversely, 36% noticed their mental health suffered because of work demands.

A Mental Health and Entrepreneurship survey by IncFile in 2022 surveyed over 2,000 business owners, and found that mental health is on the minds of the small business leadership, with 77% of small business owners prioritizing mental health since the onset of the pandemic.

  • 65% have struggled with anxiety (Anxiety is the most common mental health struggle amongst entrepreneurs)
  • 52% have struggled with depression.
  • 24% have struggled with issues related to ADHD.
  • 17% have struggled with substance use.

The majority of small business owners are working to support employee mental health. 33% say they offer flexible hours and time off for mental health, and 29% say they offer benefits and counseling to employees. However, 17% say they do not offer mental health benefits but would like to, citing cost as a barrier. Sadly, 12% say these are not services they’re interested in providing to their employees.

And finally, according to a study at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, 72% of entrepreneurs in this sample self-reported mental health concerns. Entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%), and bipolar diagnosis (11%). The study found that entrepreneurs were 30% more likely to experience depression than the general population. As we sadly know, there are too many CEOs and Founders of companies who have died by suicide over the years and left our world far too soon.

Why Me? Why Us?

The demands of being an entrepreneur or business owner are often overwhelming, and as a result, many business owners face challenges with their mental health. Entrepreneurs, business owners, and career professionals tend to be high-functioning and well-educated, but their lives may be unraveling because they’re not addressing their mental health.

Many business owners are lonely, rarely ask for help, and run themselves into the ground. The majority of working professionals aren’t just tired, burned out, or overwhelmed: they’re anxious, overly stressed, and even depressed. Many business owners suffer in silence when experiencing anxiety and depression, and commonly also have somatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and other health issues.

What Can I Do About It?

Address Old Belief Systems and Patterns

Working with a mental health professional to explore old belief systems and patterns, and release expectations around perfection, people-pleasing, over-working, imposter syndrome, and the lack of boundaries, can be liberating. Many personality traits are influenced by how we were raised and the experiences we’ve had along the way, as well as components of intergenerational traumas. Exploring the impact of these effects can be eye-opening and life-changing to bring clarity and change to your life.

Recognize Your Go-To Behaviors

When you aren’t getting the mental health support you truly need, you may tend to want to disconnect from the world after work, so behaviors like bingeing on food, streaming services, gambling, shopping, or scrolling social media and news outlets become a close frenemy. Seeking a specialist in mental health can help you with practical mindfulness and slowing down, which can bring healthier and more enjoyable ways of living. Support, encouragement, and accountability for engaging in healthy choices and behaviors, such as quality time with family or friends, exercising, volunteering, or resting, can be beneficial to the mind and body and can yield amazing results.

Remember Your Why and Craft Your Vision

Remember why you are doing the work you are doing in the world. Come back to your values and vision. You may know what’s not working for you, but do you have a clear vision of what you do want? Can you use all your five senses to truly experience your vision? Keeping your end goal in mind, you can ask for help along the way to enjoy the process, and not just focus on the destination. Be flexible as you are traveling on your journey, as the only constant in life is change. Perhaps try a new pathway, if an opportunity presents itself. See obstacles as offerings, and work through your fears and challenges to bring your vision to life.

Small Steps to Reach Larger Goals

Actions that are in alignment and consistent with your goals are invaluable and important for the health and well-being of you and your business. Start with your endpoint in mind, and create a practical roadmap for meeting your goals, by making small strides, one step at a time. Having a loved one, business partner, or mental health professional provide encouragement, help you problem-solve, and bring creative ideas to the table can help you succeed, step-by-step, in your personal and professional visions.

Create Clear Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life

Remember the slogan, “Just say no” from the 1980s and 90s? Keep that in mind as you practice staying no by graciously declining requests. Prioritize high-value tasks and asks from others, and only say yes to the ones you can complete. Delegate the rest, if possible. Or just say no. Set your business hours and stick to them. Set your family time as sacred, so you can be fully present with your loved ones. Leave the work at work. In the end, you’ll only regret that you didn’t spend enough time with your loved ones.

It Starts with You

If you’re a business owner, remember the culture starts at the top. Regardless of how large your team is, you set the tone for your company by prioritizing your health and wellness. You can set an example by acknowledging your team’s gifts and hard work, encouraging them to take time off, and creating a welcoming environment where everyone feels they belong. Support mental health days, frequent check-ins, and an open-door policy to talk about stressors. Offer programs to prevent burnout and be aware of the signs employees may show if they are struggling with their mental health. When you take care of yourself and your team, productivity, happiness, and success will follow.

Prioritizing Your Self-Caring Routines

Ensure you spend time in the morning and evening caring for yourself, as well as moments during the day. Spend time focusing on nutrition, hydration, mindfulness, relaxation, enjoyable activities, and sleep. Prioritize the important things that align with your values. Utilize peer support groups, mentors and coaches, and therapy to live your best life.

Slow Down and Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a simple (yet not always easy) way to take a proactive step toward maintaining your mental health. Mindfulness practices can help us reduce stress and cortisol levels, and decrease blood pressure. Mindfulness also helps us to improve focus, creativity, and clarity, and to cultivate more ease and flow in our lives. Implementing mindful meditation, breathing, walking, and eating can lead to not only personal well-being but also business success and an overall sense of harmoney and peace.

Build a Supportive Network

Gather your support network of friends, family, colleagues, and a medical care team (including your primary care doctor and mental health professionals). Consider joining a group or having a network of peers who understand the unique challenges of business, and you can all provide each other with support and guidance (a support group or network outside of your workplace can be a non-biased, non-judgmental place to share and receive support).

Reach Out to Someone to Share How You Feel (in just into two sentences)

  • “I’m (depressed/anxious/suicidal). I’m not sure what to ask for, but I don’t want to be alone right now.”
  • “I’m struggling with my mental health and what I’ve been trying isn’t working. Can we (meet up/Zoom/etc) on (date) and come up with a better plan?”
  • “I don’t feel safe right now. Can you stay on the phone with me or come over until I feel better?”
  • “I’m not doing well emotionally, but I’m not ready to talk about it. Can you help me distract myself?”
  • “I’m having a hard time. I need extra support right now with (task); are you able to help?”
  • “I’m struggling right now and close to my limit. Can I give you a call tonight to brainstorm and problem-solve?”
  • “I know we’re not close, but I’m going through a hard time right now. I feel like you’re someone I can trust to talk to, and I’m wondering if you are free to talk (day/time)?”

Get a Therapist

Everyone needs it, at some point in their lives Isolation and very little outside understanding are common in the world of business. The journey to career success can be incredibly misunderstood. Having a therapist is becoming more and more popular, and even expected, in the world of entrepreneurship. Reach out for professional support. Website directories, like ZenCare, Psychology Today, Therapy Den, and Mental Health Match, can help you find a therapist.

Other Local and National Supports

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

  • Dial 988 or visit
  • A free, 24/7 confidential support for people in distress that offers prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – Call 1-800-662-HELP: A free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • SAMHSA’s Drug-Free Workplace Helpline – Call 1–800–WORKPLACE: A free, confidential support line for creating and maintaining drug-free workplace programs.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

  • NAMI HelpLine – Call 1-800-950-NAMI: A helpline for support, information, and resources. This is not a crisis line (Dial 988 for crisis support).
  • NAMI Massachusetts Resources and Groups
  • NAMI Affiliates in Massachusetts for Groups (based on geographic area)
  • NAMI Massachusetts Helpline – Call 617-704-6264 or 1-800-370-9085: Compass is the helpline at NAMI Massachusetts. Compass provides free information, ideas, resources, and support to help people across the state navigate the complex mental health system and related systems of care. The Compass Helpline is staffed by people with first-hand experience navigating the mental health system for themselves or a family member.

Free Guidebooks

What is one change you can commit to making today to support and improve your mental health?

This blog post is contributed by Joanna Barrett, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC in Massachusetts) and an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (worldwide), offering in-person and virtual Psychotherapy and Emotional Wellness Yoga to career professionals and entrepreneurs, holistic wellness practitioners, and introspective individuals with high-stress levels, busy lifestyles, anxiety, depression, past traumas, and/or complex family dynamics. Joanna also works in partnership with companies of various sizes to craft comprehensive programs for employee well-being.

Please fill out our contact form if you’re interested in contributing a guest blog to Massachusetts Business Network.

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