I’ve been a healthcare entrepreneur for 12 years now, raised some $30 million of venture capital funding and sold one medical device business, and I can honestly say I’ve never burned out. I have neither suffered from much anxiety and only once have I had depressive symptoms for a few weeks (during a business pivot).
This isn’t necessarily the norm according to statistics on entrepreneur mental health: A 2015 study published by Dr. Michael Freeman at the University of California San Francisco found that 49% of those who start a company say they have struggled with some form of mental illness in the past, and 72% of entrepreneurs reported being affected by mental health concerns.
I attribute much of my good health to developing my own framework that has been extremely useful to me throughout my entrepreneurial journey. I want to share this framework below in the hopes that it could be useful to other entrepreneurs, too.
After I lost my brother to depression, I decided to start psychotherapy. I ended up going for roughly three years, and it was one of the best decisions of my entire life. It helped me process my sorrows and let go, and it allowed me to somehow become whole again. In the process of attending psychotherapy, I remember feeling like I had come home again. This was one of the best feelings. Therapy also helped me restructure harmful thought patterns and learn to know myself better.
I started practicing mindfulness meditation on occasion 12 years ago. I first became interested in meditation through a yoga class that I had attended in Helsinki, Finland. Roughly eight years ago, I started practicing regular daily meditation and began to notice remarkable differences in my sleep, happiness, emotional regulation, anxiety levels, depressive feelings, energy and clarity of thought. I have even found that jet lag no longer really affects me, and while I cannot say this is due to meditation, I can’t think of anything else that could be the reason.
I recommend doing daily meditation. Start with a few minutes per day and slowly build up to 15-30 minutes a day. Like me, you may notice a big difference after only a few weeks. The cool thing from a science perspective is that you can “rewire” your brain with meditation: A Harvard study showed that regular meditation changes your brain in as little as eight weeks.
After few years of regular meditation practice, I learned about Vipassana meditation, which shares concepts with mindfulness. Vipassana is often practiced at meditation retreats that last 10 days and include 10 hours of daily meditation — with a vow of silence. Yes, you heard that right.
I did my first Vipassana retreat in 2016 in Sweden. I was in the middle of pivoting my previous business and remember having depressive symptoms. However, after just a few days of intense meditation at the retreat, my depressive feelings had lifted. A few days later, I was struck by an epiphany of how to build my company going forward. Suddenly, I had all my energy and motivation back. When I returned home a few days later, my co-founders and I started our current business, a digital clinic to promote greater mental health.
These have been some of the biggest moments in my life so far. While this framework will not be right for every entrepreneur or person who is struggling, I’m really grateful for these experiences and thought that sharing them might resonate with others as well. Additionally, I wanted to share a few practical daily mental hacks I use regularly:
1. To fall asleep quickly: If you are stressed and have a lot of thoughts going through your mind, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique while you are lying in bed. In short, the technique involves inhaling slowly while counting to four, then holding your breath while counting to seven and finally exhaling while counting to eight. This technique will force your nervous system into a relaxation state and help you unwind. It is also important to get enough sleep — I sleep eight hours a night on average.
2. To increase your mental clarity and energy levels: In addition to developing a daily meditation habit and sleeping enough, a healthy diet is key. I’ve been following a dietary framework by Dr. Drew Ramsey, and boy has it made a difference for me. This framework involves basically eating whole foods, skipping processed foods, eating vegetables and greens, and going organic as much as possible. More detailed information on Dr. Ramsey’s research on “nutritional prescription for a sharp brain” can be found here, and it’s worth reading.
3. To increase your feelings of gratefulness and happiness: Scientists at UC Berkeley have shown how a gratitude habit changes your brain and improves your life and relationships. Every morning right after I wake up, I hold my hands to my chest/heart and think of two to three things that I’m happy about right now. Despite whatever worries I may have going on, this is the time of day when I solely focus on the things for which I’m truly grateful. This means I never start the day off on the wrong foot. Remember that there is always something to be grateful for.
I hope my story and tips are useful if you are facing mental health challenges in your life or business. It can be helpful to know that you are not alone in struggling or seeking support.