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Mind Games: Managing the Psychological Strain of Being an Entrepreneur

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Striking out on your own is exciting. Fulfilling. Even a little sexy.

To an outsider, creating, owning and running a business seems extremely glamorous. After all, you get to set your own schedule, make your own rules, wield power over employees...who doesn't want that?

But it's also nerve-wracking. Exhausting. And extremely risky.

I can tell you first-hand just how draining - physically, emotionally and psychologically - it is to shoulder the responsibility of being an entrepreneur. And I'm talking more than just your "garden variety" assortment of work worries. On the whole, we entrepreneurs pay a high price for this career choice, and are prone to:

• Anxiety. The worries of an entrepreneur are relentless. Over time, high levels of stress, coupled with non-stop pressure to perform, can fuel chronic anxiety which can devastate even the most psychologically stalwart professional.

• Depression. Entrepreneurs are prone to clinical depression due to the isolation they experience and the long hours they work. The demands of business often take precedence over personal demands, undermining a healthy work/life mix - and ultimately leading to feelings of hopelessness, isolation and negative self-worth.

• Addiction. The risk, excitement and intense emotions associated with entrepreneurship create a "rush" similar to that produced by gambling. And, as with gambling, entrepreneurs can become addicted to it. In fact, research published in the Journal of Business Venturing found that some entrepreneurs exhibit symptoms of behavioral addiction - things like obsessive thoughts, neglecting friends and/or outside interests, and negative emotional consequences when forced to turn away from their businesses - which are very real and very destructive.

If you own your business, how can you manage the psychological strain? Here's how to protect yourself from the roller coaster of highs and lows that go hand-in-hand with being an entrepreneur:

Take care of your body. Startup founders are notorious for foregoing adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition in order to successfully launch their businesses. The human immune system is not immune to such chronic abuse, making entrepreneurs particularly vulnerable to infection.

So take care of yourself! Pay attention to your diet. Set a sleep minimum - and stick to it. Schedule time for exercise, just like you schedule time for staff meetings. Treat your body well, and your mind will reap the benefits.

Laugh more. Believe me, I know that some aspects of entrepreneurship are no joke - the stakes are high and the risks are real. But being able to find the humor in situations is a great way to defend yourself against the daily psychological stress of leading a company.

Feeling blocked or just plain-old grumpy? Try laughing (out loud) at yourself the next time you make a small mistake. Interject more fun into your meetings (find a funny video like this one on "email in real life" and share it before you get down to business). Do what you can to have a good laugh during the day. It may not eliminate your problems, but it will definitely improve your attitude and boost your mood.

Get help from your peers. When big decisions rest squarely on your shoulders, it's a heavy burden to bear - and it can be a little lonely. One way to manage the stress and feeling of isolation is by surrounding yourself with a great group of peers.

Connect with, and build relationships with, other successful entrepreneurs. Share your challenges and worries with them. Ask how they've handled similar issues, and offer your help to them. Simply having someone who understands and appreciates what you're going through can greatly alleviate the pressure of going it alone.

Play a "mind game" with yourself. In other words, be realistic! Entrepreneurship may be exciting - even a little sexy - but it also requires exceptional resilience, persistence and focus, as well as massive amounts of good-old-fashioned hard work.

So guard your thinking against those romanticized notions of being your own boss. Adopt a realistic attitude - one which acknowledges both the positives and the negatives of entrepreneurship - to protect your mind from the psychological toll it can take.

How do you manage the stress of entrepreneurship? I'd love to hear about strategies that work for you - please share them below!

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