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Mental wellbeing for entrepreneurs: keys to restoring mental health on holiday

Anxiety, stress or fatigue are some of the problems that startup creators often face. Summer can be a good time to focus on how important it is to protect your emotional wellbeing and strike a balance before getting back to the routine. Learning to manage failure, knowing how to delegate and enjoying time to disconnect are some of the things that experts recommend for taking care of mental health.

Convincing investors to back the idea, launching a product on the market in record time, fine-tuning the business model to attract customers, building a cohesive and growing team... When it comes to launching a startup, every entrepreneur has a long to-do list to think about. This can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, which is what happened to Carlota Mateos, founder of hospitality company Rusticae. She went on holiday after dealing with the financial crisis in 2008 and had an anxiety attack when she returned from her trip. “My arms and legs started to fail,” she said. “I went to the psychologist and he told me it was a problem of imbalance.” The entrepreneur had focused on her business but had neglected to take care of her wellbeing. “If you’re not well, you're going to crash,” says Mateos.

Developing strategies for mental health prevention and care is an aspect that the World Health Organization (OMS) has identified as urgent. The workplace is one of the areas where these issues tend to show up. According to Infojobs, one out of every two mental health problems in the workforce is work-related and 32%  of employees who are thinking about quitting their job cite protecting their mental health as the main reason for wanting to leave. Another recent study published in 'Molecular Psychiatry' magazine indicates that reducing work-related stress could prevent almost one in five cases of depression.

From his own experience as founder of the corporate wellbeing startup Emocional, psychologist Pedro J. Espinosa lists the risks that can affect the mental wellbeing of entrepreneurs. First, founding a company "exponentially increases the degree of uncertainty in life and requires learning how to deal with loneliness." Coping with rejection by investors, clients or family members is another risk factor. “If every day you’re told that your idea is worthless, by day 30 you end up thinking that it is,” Espinosa says. Once the startup is launched, there are other challenges that can lead to stress, like learning how to manage a company, product development, hiring employees, closing investment rounds and growing the company.

“Having a certain personality can be a good buffer from risk”

Understanding the factors that affect the development of mental health problems is the first step towards solving them. And the summer holidays can be a good time for entrepreneurs to set goals to strengthen their psychological wellbeing before getting a fresh start upon their return. Experts explain how to make this happen.

Introspection: developing emotional intelligence and disconnecting

Rafael San Román, psychologist at ifeel, the leading emotional wellbeing service startup for organisations and insured employees, believes that “external factors, such as inflation or geopolitical uncertainty, and internal factors, like personality traits, influence entrepreneurs’ mental wellbeing.” Facing these challenges and working on personal development are some of the keys to progress. “Having a certain personality can be a good buffer from risk,” says San Román.

Having a purpose also helps to ensure wellbeing. Espinosa recommends "finding the ultimate reason why you do what you do." This passion has a lot to do with the Japanese cultural concept of 'ikigai', a reason for being. As it was explained a few months ago at a BBVA Open Talks, an event organised by I BBVA Open Innovation, this philosophy holds that you have to tap into your life’s purpose to be happy: enjoy the moment, take life slowly, balance your career with your free time and stay active.

However, learning to disconnect is tough when the responsibility for success seems to fall entirely on the entrepreneur and passion for the project is taken to the extreme. “Early mornings don't mean early mornings, but entrepreneurs are afraid that the sun won't rise and that's why they can't sleep," “No matter how early you get up, you can't make the sun rise any sooner,” says San Román. “But entrepreneurs are afraid that the sun won’t rise and that’s why they can’t sleep."

Psychologist Emma Iglesias explains why this disconnection is necessary. “Emotional wellbeing is like a chair: for it to do its job and be stable, it needs four legs and a backrest. It’s the same with mental health: we can’t rely on just one leg. Our life can’t just be about work, we need to rest,” she says. Carlota Mateos agrees. Following the pandemic, she has had to face other tough professional moments: “I calmly dealt with them because I had previously put in the work on self-awareness, relaxation and serenity.”

“Our life can’t just be about work, we need to rest”

As Espinosa noted, managing rejection is another challenge for entrepreneurs. His advice is to “steer clear of external approval” and learn that “failure is a sign that you’re innovating.” He adds, “you never know if it’s a failure or if you’ve planted a seed that will bear fruit over time.”

Surrounding yourself with the right people to boost resilience

There’s a key aspect of the journey in search of the innovative solution, and that’s the company you keep, whether it be project co-founders, mentors or friends and family that can offer support. “Seeking company and advice to help you climb out of a hole has a lot to do with being resilient,” Espinosa says, reason enough for entrepreneurs to work on strengthening this skill.

Gabor Balogh, founder of Trucksters, a relay freight transport company that has launched a pilot project with BBVA Open Innovation and collaborates with the bank, underscores in this article how important it was for him to bond with his co-founders. “People aren’t machines and we don’t put out constant results and, when you’re in a valley, someone else might be at a peak.”

 “It’s extremely important to know how to identify what’s in your control and what’s not”

Surrounding yourself with the right people isn’t only useful when you’re down, because having a solid team is crucial for the business. Which means entrepreneurs can’t infect the professionals around them with their uncertainty and stress, focusing instead on taking care of the team’s mental wellbeing. Being empathetic, knowing how to negotiate and practicing systematic thinking are some tips for being a good leader. Learning to delegate for the good of yourself and others is also key. “It’s extremely important to know how to identify what’s in your control and what’s not,” says Espinosa. Knowing how to identify the workload that you can take on is another useful emotional intelligence skill for entrepreneurs, agrees San Román. “We all have a limit and it’s better not to reach it.”

Entrepreneurship and mental health, a relationship of balance

The balance between professional and personal life when you’re an entrepreneur means being staying away from the edge of the abyss, where getting a balance back becomes more complicated. If you feel like you’re pushing the limit, the best thing to do is seek out a professional who can help you find solutions to your problems before they become even more serious or develop into illness.

Since prevention is better than a cure, rest is even more important during the summer season. Holidays can be a good time to reflect on the importance of mental health before getting back to the routine and how you can nurture your wellbeing. Recharging your batteries is a key step towards taking on new challenges with fresh energy and enthusiasm.