4 Entrepreneurs on Their Mental Health Journeys

02.23.2020 Career & Finance
Johanie Cools
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Being an entrepreneur is a special position not everyone is able to occupy. And even when you’ve got it down, there are still the growing pains of having a business — often at the expense of your mental health. 41% of surveyed entrepreneurs say they feel stressed “pretty much every day” and more than half said they never “switch off” between work and home. 

I spoke with four entrepreneurs — Nikki Boswick the fullest founder, Sean Donovan co-founder of men’s premium body-care brand Journeymen, Gina Holzer founder of the wellness and beauty brand Wholy Dose, and Elizabeth Grojean, founder of the eco-friendly weighted blanket brand Baloo Living — to ask them how they manage not only their businesses but their health.

What would you say is the most stressful part about running a business?

Nikki: With so many aspects to our business — from media to events to products, the most difficult and stressful part of my job is learning when to shut off. Being a mom reminds me to slow down, enjoy time with my son and family, and be a bit more relaxed. But as soon as there’s a nap or my son goes to bed, I’m back on my work train. I guess it’s safe to say I live and breathe my company and sometimes it’s hard to turn that off.

Sean: The hardest part is finding balance. When running a business, you’re constantly thinking about what you want to do and/or what you need to do to improve things. It’s hard at times to turn it off and focus on what you’re doing in the moment or just to relax and not work. I find that harder as time goes on.

Gina: Full accountability. When you run a business — whether it’s only you, a few employees, or a full team — you’re the first and foremost person who has to make sure everything in and out of the business is running smoothly. It’s a constant crossroads of ‘How do I make sure this succeeds? Is what needs to be done completed? Is it completed right? How do we get to where we need to be? If there’s a dilemma, how do I best rectify it?’ and so on…

Elizabeth: For me, it’s patience, or lack thereof! I think many entrepreneurs have ideas they’re excited by, and the motivation to act on them, but the distance between the vision and the reality is what can be most frustrating. As our business grows, we must balance between setting up strong foundations like product quality controls, organized systems across the business, budgets, and cash flow paired with my desire (and impatience) to move forward with new products, markets, and marketing initiatives.

How do you deal with stress?

Nikki: I used to have a load of destressing routines I would partake in — kundalini yoga, meditation, acupuncture, strength training, walking my dog, restorative yoga, sound baths — you name it, I did it! And it was an all-the-time thing. But now I try to remember that stress is a mindset and that stress used to follow me to those activities and be there before, during, and after them regardless. Now, I’ve learned that stress doesn’t serve me, and once I recognize it, I find I’m in a better place than I was!

Sean: I try to work out every morning and stick to a general routine. What’s been most helpful recently is running every morning. I joke around with my wife that I’ve always hated running, but now I finally realize I am a runner at heart. It helps me clear my mind and become more balanced in life. Outside of that, I also try to play ice hockey once or twice a week. I grew up playing and love it — it’s always been a big part of my life. 

Gina: I’ve had to find ways to destress and learn certain triggers to tell myself that it’s time to use those methods to avoid burnout. Some of my destressing routines include going outside for fresh air and stretching my legs after sitting for long periods of time, consuming certain foods that promote natural relaxation and a calmer state of mind (such as matcha or kombucha), cooking, or connecting with family or friends to talk about something other than work, whether that’s on the phone or in-person.

Elizabeth: I have a typical cave-like bedroom in Manhattan, so I moved the bed to the living room next to bright windows in order to open my eyes to views of trees and sky. The cave bedroom is converted to an office, meaning I can close the door on work, which is mentally important.

I recently replaced my cell phone with an old school alarm clock. Now, I choose when to look at emails rather than being subjected to them before I’m even out of bed. That small adjustment has made a major impact in claiming the morning time for myself.

Here in New York, I take a good hour in the mornings to make coffee, daydream, and plan the day. I sometimes listen to a recording of morning sounds that I made in Bali because it physically shifts my energy to hear the sounds of nature. I prefer to have this time be unstructured, and I intentionally don’t set a specific routine for my morning to give myself the freedom to be open to whatever I really feel like doing.

How often are you able to destress? What is your work-life balance like?

Nikki: For me, it’s about making it a lifestyle so I don’t really need to find a way to destress. But I do enjoy walking around my neighborhood with my son or going to storytime with him. Watching him grow up and laugh and have a personality is my priority so I shift my schedule based on him, and that’s something I feel so lucky to experience and be present for.

Sean: I need it every day. Lately I’ve been trying to focus on it more. Work and life somewhat blend together, I work from home a lot and also from our studio, so that also creates a nice balance.

Gina: I destress twice a day: first thing in the morning and immediately after I’m done working at night. I start my mornings with a cup of fresh matcha or coffee, and in the evenings wind down with kombucha, cooking, or unplug by putting my laptop and phone away.

My work-life balance is relatively balanced but it definitely could be more. I work about 85% of the time and utilize the other 15% for myself, which include my self-care practices, running errands, or connecting with family or friends. 

Elizabeth: My work life balance is quite unbalanced in favor of work. I never could have imagined how much time and energy it would take to build and grow a business. Baloo is a labor of love and a creative outlet for self-expression, so it’s also incredibly rewarding to be so engaged and see it grow. The truth is, I struggle with finding the line, I’m grateful to be passionately committed to something, but there is a point at which it starts to detract from quality of life, rather than contribute to it. This is something I’m trying to find the balance in every day. If the pressure is building up, I find a way to escape the city for a night or a weekend. 

Entrepreneurship has a lot of pros like freedom and independence, but there are a lot of mental burdens that go alongside them. How has that affected your mental health?

Nikki: The pros definitely outweigh some of the negatives, but it’s the optimism that keeps us going.

Sean: I think lately I’ve struggled with this more, but ultimately I believe it’s a great thing. I think when you’re uncomfortable in life, that means you’re on the right path. You’re in the game. I like to push and challenge myself mentally, and although it’s not fun at times, it can be super rewarding.

There’s always room to improve, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to disconnect, reset, and overall handle the stress in a healthier way.

Gina: There are definitely many pros of entrepreneurship but the cons are more common since entrepreneurship only gets harder with time. It has affected my mental health by creating constant feelings of being overwhelmed, significant tiredness, mental fatigue, loss of sleep, and problems sleeping due to excessive worrying and/or excitement.

Elizabeth: The most difficult part of being an entrepreneur is being the sole point of convergence for so many inputs — there is no one else with a more complete view of the business on whom to rely to make decisions, or to ultimately be responsible for success or failure. Entrepreneurship has strengthened my mental health in the sense that my confidence, trust in decision making, and judgment has grown with each success (and with each failure). 

Having to run your own business means everything falls on your shoulders. Do you feel like you’re able to lean on others, whether that be your employees or your family? If so, do you delegate enough? If not, how do you manage that?

Nikki: I am very lucky because I am super close to my employees and definitely feel like they are my friends, but of course, there’s still always going to be some sort of censorship at times. But my husband and family members are always people I can lean on, especially with my dad being a serial entrepreneur and really understanding the highs and lows.

Sean: My business partner, Brandon, for sure. We lean on each other for this. Business is an emotional rollercoaster and you have to enjoy the ride along the way. We’ve always tried to be there for each other, and are constantly working to improve and strengthen that relationship. I also lean on my family a ton, my wife is amazing and a super positive influence on my life in general.

Gina: Yes and no. Yes, because there are people who I can count on if I need a quick opinion, want to vent (it’s crucial not to keep your emotions to yourself), or could use a helping hand. No, because at the end of the day, no one understands or cares for my business as much as me. Even with employees who believe in you and your mission, or family who support you, you are the best person to lean on for the health of your business and when you have people working under you, they count on you and your leadership to guide them.

Elizabeth: We have a very small team, but the people involved in the business are truly special. It is a process to learn to trust others with parts of the business, but over time I have handed over management in some areas. I do stay informed on a granular level, but trust people to make decisions.

Being a business owner is very stressful. That seems to come with the territory. How do you push through your anxieties to get to work every day? Is there a mantra you tell yourself?

Nikki: Anxiety is a result of worrying about the future and not living in the present. 

I try to surround myself with people and things that require me to stay present. It’s really about not giving yourself the option or the time to worry.

Sean: I just try to focus on what I need to get done and stay in a creative mindset. I think that’s where our strengths lie as partners — Brandon and I can always find a way to make things happen if we’re being creative.

Gina: I remind myself why I started and that there’s no time to waste each day. This helps motivate me to get up and do what is needed for what I’ve been working toward.

Elizabeth: Now that I’m running a business, stress feels more like excitement, frustration, or passion than anxiety, which was much more common when I was an employee in an office. When I do feel anxious, which does happen around forecasting for new inventory buys, I use one of my weighted blankets. If I’m still struggling, I may take a nap to reset because sleep is one of the fastest ways to interrupt a thought pattern in the brain. If I’m still struggling, I’ll stop and put the issue aside for another day. 

In my experience, if something feels forced through fear, it won’t result in the best decision or outcome — but there is always a way to make friends with the fear, ask it what it is trying to protect you from, and then give it space to be.

Do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you don’t have to push through?

Nikki: I think there’s a balance there, but there’s also beauty in the hustle. When it’s too easy or you get too comfortable, it may mean you’re not really growing or hitting your full potential!

Sean: I hope for and imagine a day where everything becomes easy, but I also know that’s a false image to a certain extent. There’s always something going on, and that’s what life is all about. 

Gina: Not at all! Entrepreneurship doesn’t get easier, it gets harder. You’re the only person who will push the hardest for your business, so it’s crucial to keep the momentum going, even when you start hitting your goals or when you get discouraged.

Where do you see your business going? What are your goals?

Nikki: I see us building out our product line which is super exciting because that will support our ability to create more content that is free from any sort of agenda and not linked to advertisers!

Sean: We’re currently working on some exciting sustainability-focused projects for the brand that I’m excited about, and talking about how we can bring that to life in different physical spaces/pop retail experiences. I’m really excited to see these projects come to life.

Gina: I see Wholy Dose growing into various markets and distribution channels while keeping our overall mission intact. My core goal for Wholy Dose is to turn as many people into believers of collagen and superfoods as possible because it’s such an incredible and powerful revelation that’s only recently come to light. It changed my life and I hope it can help others in their journey of finding self-love, happiness, and vitality as it did for me.

Elizabeth: Baloo is self-funded and bootstrapped, and my intention is to continue to build the company with new products centered around the idea of nurturing quiet time and comfort. I’m inspired by the way our blankets ground the nervous system and help people connect mind and body. In this state, we can access a quieter space within, to hear our inner guidance more clearly. My desire is to grow Baloo as an extension of this idea, and to find more ways to encourage these conversations within our communities. 

How do you deal when you don’t meet a goal you set for yourself? What’s the aftercare?

Nikki: I try not to stress because ultimately I believe everything happens for a reason — so it must not have been the right time for me/us!

Sean: I go through waves of focusing on goals, and/or what I feel in the moment. I like to just keep plugging away at things and know, over time, good things will happen if you put the energy and work in.

Gina: When I don’t meet a goal, I make sure to continue working on it until I start seeing results. It’s discouraging, but how you handle failure is much more important than the failure itself.

Elizabeth: Not meeting a goal is humbling, but I’m grateful for those times; as a result, I’m reminded of just how much I appreciate the people in my life who love me equally in failure or success. Not meeting a goal is humanizing, and often the better outcome for me. When I can be reminded of the connections and love that is all around, I’m always better off. My aftercare is to spend time with loved ones, perhaps share my sadness, but let the love in.

Would you do it all over again knowing the cons?

Nikki: Yes!!

Sean: I’ve never viewed it as a choice, it’s something that’s been ingrained in me from a young age. It’s the way I view the world and really enjoy the process of self-actualization. I like to create and build things from the ground up. I love the challenge of it in general.

Gina: Yes, absolutely. There will always be cons in any venture, whether professionally or personally, but it’s about learning and growing from those experiences to advance you further than where you were. 

I’ve come to perceive cons as challenges life throws at you, and the only way to overcome those challenges is to keep pushing and continue believing in yourself.

Elizabeth: There is struggle for sure, but I learn so much about myself and the world around me through this project called business where I’m extremely curious to see where it leads and what unfolds. If I can keep myself from getting in the way (trying to control), and trust in the steps I’m shown, I know it’s going to be more amazing than I could ever imagine. 

Where can people find you?

Nikki: @nikkibostwick on Instagram.

Sean: You can find Journeymen at wearejourneymen.com or on Instagram at @wearejourneymen.

Gina: You can find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest at @wholydose or on Facebook at @thewholydose.

Elizabeth: Find Baloo on Instagram at @balooliving; and visit my personal account at @elizabethmanette.

Johanie Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter at @jmartdotcom or on Medium at @jmcools.

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