Entrepreneurs urged to monitor mental health
Entrepreneurs in the Ignite Bermuda hub are encouraged to keep constant tabs on the health of their businesses. Now, they have been reminded to focus on their own wellbeing, too.
Adriene Berkeley is a chartered psychologist and registered neuroscientist who works at Solstice Bermuda, the holistic wellness centre in Hamilton.
Invited to address the Ignite cohort, she told them about her “entrepreneurial equation”, where their personality traits and personal characteristics, combined with vulnerability factors related to their entrepreneurial endeavours such as stress, uncertainty, self-doubt and social isolation, produced a dangerous cocktail that made them 50 per cent more likely to report having a mental health condition.
She said they were twice as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, six times more likely to suffer from ADHD, ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder, twice as likely to have a psychiatric hospitalisation, twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts, and three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse, including alcohol.
Dr Berkeley says mental health is on a spectrum, and includes wellbeing.
She said: “Who they are as entrepreneurs is a factor making them vulnerable to mental distress, or having a mental disorder. Their personality already leads them to this side of the spectrum. It's who they are.”
Entrepreneurs must be able to recognise warning signs of difficulty, including issues related to emotions, behaviour, and cognitive ability as well as physical manifestations such as fatigue, increased heart rate, breathing problems and fluctuations in weight, she said.
Dr Berkeley said a sound business plan should include provisions for self-care.
Self-management strategies, she says, can include taking breaks from work, putting aside regular times for relaxation, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritious meals.
“Not one person in the cohort could say they were doing all these things,” Dr Berkeley said.
Strategies to optimise wellbeing, she said, can include forming a network with others who understand the demands on entrepreneurs, catching up with a friend, visiting a favourite place, incorporating spirituality, finding an appropriate work-life balance, looking after one's physical health, doing things that genuinely make one happy, and learning how to say “no”.
Dr Berkeley said: “Get off the hamster wheel. If you have a home-based business, downtime needs to be downtime. You have to create boundaries.”
Entrepreneurs could mark the end of their work day with a ritual, Dr Berkeley says. That could be a session of mindfulness, or a period of reflection, or even writing in a gratitude journal.
“Find a strategy that helps you to unpack the end of the day,” she says. “Whatever you decide, it can't be a chore to do. Be kind to yourself, that is what self-care is all about. It is not selfish to care for your needs.”
She added: “A lot of mental disorders are the result of a lack of appropriate coping skills. You can't change something that you are not aware of so I showed the cohort how their mindset and personality can contribute to psychological distress and mental disorder.
“Having that awareness means that they are more likely to change their behaviour and actually take on these strategies.”
The benefits of self-care, she said, include an improved quality of life, better relationships, a reduction in the symptoms of ill mental health, greater productivity, better physical health, and a greater capacity to manage stress.
Helping people to cope with stressors is a passion for Dr Berkeley, a Saltus Grammar School graduate who attended the University of Reading before earning a master's degree in neuroscience from King's College in London, and a doctorate in psychology from City University, London.
The level of stress involved in modern workplaces, Dr Berkeley says, has become normalised.
“Jobs are more likely to cater to you if you have a physical issue,” she says. “Society has made it normal to be under psychological strain or distress, we have been conditioned to be okay with living with mental stress. I see it all the time in corporate spaces. It's the norm, but you're not meant to live like that.”
Her talk seemed to resonate with the Ignite cohort, Dr Berkeley said.
“Definitely, a lot of people took on board what I said, and reached out to me,” she says. “People recognised that they had these difficulties. I just wanted to create awareness and try to prevent ‘volcanoing', where things start to build to the point of erupting. That is the point of self-care. Putting your needs first is not selfish.”
Sean Reel, executive director at Ignite, said: “It was great to have this talent in the hub, talking to entrepreneurs and bringing clinical experience and an understanding of neuroscience.
“The thing that surprised me was that the mental attributes that we associate with being an entrepreneur make good mental health and wellness a challenge. When she showed us the data, it was enlightening and frightening.
“Emerging entrepreneurs need to be more open about our challenges, and feel comfortable about talking to others about these challenges.
“Since Dr Berkeley's visit, there has been a period of reflection about what this means for entrepreneurs, and how we help them navigate high performance while maintaining optimal mental health.”