Self-care can help entrepreneurs keep on track

FORT COLLINS — In all the important considerations entrepreneurs need to think of when building a business — finding partners, raising capital, making the first employee hires — one thing that often gets forgotten is the importance of maintaining mental health.

“Breaking the Silence: Mental Health and Entrepreneurship” was a panel at Fort Collins Startup Week that aimed to spotlight the importance of focusing on self-care and mental health as an entrepreneur.

From left, Robyn Mourning, Victoria Benjamin, Ali Owens, Sierra Frost and Chrysta Bairre discuss the importance of entrepreneurs maintaining their mental health during a panel at Fort Collins Startup Week. BizWest/Jensen Werley

“When I heard the theme this year was diversity and inclusion, I felt this was an important conversation to have,” said Chrysta Bairre, a career coach and the moderator for the panel. “It’s not talked about a lot how mental health and mental illness can impact us as entrepreneurs.”

One important way to focus on mental health is to take self-care as needed. Self-care looks different for everyone, and it’s also dynamic. What helped make you feel better five years ago might not be the same thing you turn to today. For entrepreneurs, it often helps to set firm boundaries.

“Decide when you’re going to check your emails,” said Ali Owens, an entrepreneur and author. “Are you going home and staying glued to your phone? Doing things like that without a sense of boundary can lead to burnout and that can be a trigger for mental illness to start rearing its head.”

Owens added that self-care doesn’t have to look like bubble baths and manicures. For her, she often turns to tidying the house because letting her house get too piled up can trigger her anxiety and depression. Self-care for her is also allowing herself to feel whatever it is she feels.

“I’ve had depression for 20 years, and most of that time I tried to power through it,” Owens said. “You try to keep going and not let it get to you. But if I can say, ‘hey, this is how I feel today, I feel depressed,’ and not fight it, I’ve found that’s a tool to get over it faster. If I sit in it, it washes over me and goes away faster.”

As a society, we’ve normalized coping mechanisms for stress that might not actually be the most helpful tools to use.

“There’s a huge elephant in the room of what I call socially acceptable addiction,” said Sierra Frost, a recovery coach and owner of Invitation Wellness LLC. “There’s the pressure when we get home from a stressful day to drink or smoke pot or eat or shop. There’s this sense that’s an appropriate way to deal with stress or anxiety or depression.”

Frost said that doing those things aren’t the wrong way to handle stress. But often, when people are experiencing a mental health challenge, there’s a root cause, then a layer of anxiety or depression or PTSD over that. By adding another layer of addiction to numb those feelings, it might not actually help. Frost instead recommends people practice feeling uncomfortable.

“If you can be uncomfortable, nothing can stop you. That’s what we’re doing when we’re reaching for wine or smoking a bowl, we’re covering that discomfort.”

Sometimes entrepreneurs have their triggers come up at inconvenient times, such as when they’re working with a client or have a meeting. Victoria Benjamin, a victim’s advocate and massage therapist, said this can happen to her, especially when she’s working with other vicitm’s.

“In those moments, I separate it,” she said. “I recognize I’m here for this survivor and then give myself permission later to do what I need for self care. I imagine a box. I’m putting that trigger in the box, and I’m closing it because it’s not time for it right now. Later on I’ll pull it out and move forward.”

Benjamin added that it’s important to process that emotion. Often when people experience their trauma, they’re held in fight, flight or freeze. Often people freeze on that feeling and don’t process it.

“Let it be what it is, then let it exit the body and move on,” she said.

Building a business and raising a business — just like having a child and raising it — can bring up a lot of feelings and past traumas, said Robyn Mourning, a psychotherapist and founder of WellSoul Wellness.

Many times, people work in businesses or industries that don’t appreciate the importance of prioritizing self-care. Owens said she used to work in the mortgage world, which was fast-paced and demanding. She said she didn’t feel like she was able to say she needed to practice self-care, so instead she would take little moments where she could get them. She would take a five-minute breather in the bathroom or sit in her car during her lunch break and meditate. Those little moments helped her center herself again when she was feeling panicked.

Having those conversations with coworkers about your need for self-care can be difficult but the important thing, Owens said, is to focus not on their reaction but on honoring yourself.

“It doesn’t matter how others respond,” she said. “That doesn’t have any bearing on your self-care needs; that’s them and how they’re reacting. The fact is that you’re saying this is what I need and that is a huge, giant step. It’s not easy if it doesn’t go well but the fact you’re putting yourself in that position is huge and should be celebrated.”

The fact is that in certain industries, especially ones that are male-driven and oriented, it can be hard to have room to talk about self-care given the way people are socialized. It can be especially difficult for women.

“There is a societal fear, for real reasons, that I’m going to appear incompetent and unreliable because I’m an emotional, soft woman,” Mourning said. “That’s the social narrative. In my experience in the tech world before moving to mental health and wellness, it was a much different dynamic when a man approached or talked to his team about his needs and boundaries. They take up their space and are very good at voicing what they need. I didn’t know a lot of women who would stand up and do the same.”

But part of being an entrepreneur means being a little rebellious and doing things even when scared.

“You’re gonna have to do it and you cannot control how they respond,” Mourning said. “They might say ‘no sorry I can’t build that in for you’ and then you get to decide what you do with that. Do it even when you’re uncomfortable and scared and not knowing how it affects your job. Because the more you own it and own your space in the world, the more likely they will see you’re worth it.”

 

FORT COLLINS — In all the important considerations entrepreneurs need to think of when building a business — finding partners, raising capital, making the first employee hires — one thing that often gets forgotten is the importance of maintaining mental health.

“Breaking the Silence: Mental Health and Entrepreneurship” was a panel at Fort Collins Startup Week that aimed to spotlight the importance of focusing on self-care and mental health as an entrepreneur.

From left, Robyn Mourning, Victoria Benjamin, Ali Owens, Sierra Frost and Chrysta Bairre discuss the importance of entrepreneurs maintaining their mental health during a panel at Fort Collins Startup Week. BizWest/Jensen Werley

“When I heard the theme this year was diversity and inclusion, I felt this was an important conversation to have,” said Chrysta Bairre, a career coach and the moderator for the panel. “It’s not talked about a lot how mental health and mental illness can impact us as entrepreneurs.”

One important way to focus on mental health is to take self-care as needed. Self-care looks different for everyone, and it’s also dynamic. What helped make you feel better five years ago might not be the same thing you turn to today. For entrepreneurs, it often helps to set firm boundaries.

“Decide when you’re going to check your emails,” said Ali Owens, an entrepreneur and author. “Are you going home and staying glued to your phone? Doing things like that…