The highest of highs and the lowest lows.
Natasha Hatherall, the co-founder of her own public relations agency, describes her entrepreneurial journey with these words. It has been a hard and difficult 12 years, but Hatherall, like most other entrepreneurs doesn’t regret choosing this path.
Being an entrepreneur is far from easy, of course. You might have to be available all the time, downtime might be a luxury and it’s a life of uncertainty, as the entrepreneurs explain. Being your own boss comes at a price. “The reality I’ve discovered is that being your boss does allow you to make certain decisions that you couldn’t make as an employee, but you still need to deliver to keep the business going, and for this, you can never be out of reach,” explains Rachel Lloyd, who is a partner consultant with Naheed Maalik and co-founder of The Loop, a boutique marketing, communications and public relations consultancy.
The reality I’ve discovered is that being your boss does allow you to make certain decisions that you couldn’t make as an employee, but you still need to deliver to keep the business going, and for this, you can never be out of reach
According to a 2023 study conducted by American researchers, 31 per cent of business owners, startup founders, and entrepreneurs actively feel burned out, with more than 96 per cent having felt burned out during their career. Sixty four per cent of entrepreneurs are more stressed now than they were two years ago, and they are about twice as likely to develop depression, if they don't tackle the onset of burnout in a timely manner.
Yet, the pride of creating something from scratch has trumped the hardships for many entrepreneurs. “I don’t regret choosing this path at all,” says Mehreen Baldoni, who started her own interior design studio in 2017. It’s difficult and there are euphoric highs and devastating lows, but at the end of it all, you have created something of your own. That’s what I feel so proud about. You have a feeling of ‘this is mine’, and ‘I built something from scratch’,” she says. That sense of pride and achievement overpowers the gloom of hardships.
At the end of the day, you have created something of your own. That’s what I feel so proud about. You have a feeling of ‘this is mine’, and ‘I built something from scratch'...
Mareva Koulamallah, the founder and CEO of a consultancy agency, Marevak Consulting, feels that she wakes up every day doing something that she enjoys, and something that impacts others. “That’s what drives me. It’s a life of sacrifices, and I would advise anyone who wishes to start this journey, to ensure they have money on the side, to invest in themselves and their business and skills,” she says.
It's a tough life, but the entrepreneurs have some hacks for those venturing on this path. Here’s how they maintain their sanity and stay at the top of their game.
How can you prioritise your mental health while running a business?
Stop trying to decode ‘who’s boss’
It’s exciting to be your own boss, but if you see only yourself in charge and giving orders, that can take a toll on you, as it can estrange you from your team as well.
Look at it as a collaboration, a group effort and co-operation, rather than trying to see yourself as a boss, feels Akram Kanso, co-founder and managing director of Prosper Real Estate, who firmly disagrees with the notion of “boss” in a startup. “This feeling of interconnectedness is what propels us toward the ideal results we strive for in life. Our main priorities are about creating a cohesive team, inspiring team members, and guiding everyone toward attaining our shared goals. I place a great deal of emphasis on this strategy,” he says. The only boss here are your clients, says Hanan Negi, the founder and CEO of Human Network International, a company based in Dubai.
I disagree with the common idea of a ‘boss’ and favour terms like cooperation, collaboration, and group effort. This feeling of interconnectedness is what propels us toward the ideal results we strive for in life. Our main priorities are about creating a cohesive team, inspiring team members, and guiding everyone toward attaining our shared goals....
Moreover, don’t set unrealistic expectations, as it can lead to stress and burnout. Make sure that your goals are clear and communicate them to your team members. This also helps in keeping their stress levels low, and so they do not get overwhelmed. Encourage your team members to share their problems openly, so that you can foster healthy communication lines, says Kanso. Put more emphasis on team-building activities, so that you build a better relationship with your team members.
Keep the home and the office separate
For starters, learn the ability to disconnect and realise that your personal and professional life needs to be different. “For most of us, work and family are the two most important things in life. However hard it is to manage, try and give them equal time, you won’t appreciate one without the other,” explains Lloyd. She adds that while disconnecting is usually the “last resort” as an entrepreneur, but it is a necessity to reset focus.
A mental distance is not just enough; you need the physical boundaries too, explains Lloyd. “As a home-based entrepreneur, finding somewhere different to work, whether that be inside or outside your living space, is vital for on-the-job productivity and maintaining personal boundaries,” she says. “The physical separation of work and home life helps preserve the psychological division between professional commitments and family time,” explains Lloyd.
Khalil Alami, the CEO and founder of TELR, adds to this and says that it is crucial to set boundaries between the work and personal life. "When you're your own boss, it's easy to blur these lines," he says. "Prioritising mental health is an ongoing process. It's important to regularly evaluate how you are doing and make adjustments as necessary. Self-care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are essential for success," he says.
Determined self-care and mindfulness
Mayowa Adegoke, co-founder of Archgoke Interactive, in her own words, “juggles several hats”. The Dubai-based Nigerian entrepreneur has the exhausting job of managing clients across multiple zones, building a team, as well as managing her own roles as a mother and a wife. It has been difficult for Adegoke, as she reveals that she hasn’t taken a holiday in four years. Nevertheless, she says that she learned a few tricks to maintain her balance, which involves delegating duties, trusting her team more to take on work, and journaling for herself.
Speaking about her “unconventional” methods to unwind, she says, “I get a monthly facial. There’s something about lying down, getting pampered, unable to hold my phone that puts my mind in instant relaxation. For one full hour, I am able to shut everything out and just enjoy the beauty session. Secondly, I get in the play-pen with my toddler and enjoy everything he does. This is perhaps my biggest de-stressor and it’s no surprise, playing is scientifically proven to improve well-being and creativity, help adults cope better with stress, so why not,” she says.
I get a monthly facial. There’s something about lying down, getting pampered, unable to hold my phone that puts my mind in instant relaxation. For one full hour, I am able to shut everything out and just enjoy the beauty session...
Pritha Sood, the co-founder of Mudra, a Dubai-based wellness platform, has introduced several changes into her hectic routine to ensure her own well-being. “One of my favourite nighttime rituals is massaging my feet with oil in circular motions after a long day. This simple practice not only helps in relieving fatigue but has also drastically improved my sleep quality,” she says. She also finds 15 minutes every day to do breathwork. “When I am particularly stressed and overwhelmed, I take a break of 10 minutes to focus on my breathing, which helps my mind immensely to break free from the constant mental chatter and improves focus,” she adds.
One of my favourite nighttime rituals is massaging my feet with oil in circular motions after a long day. This simple practice not only helps in relieving fatigue but has also drastically improved my sleep quality...
A good workout routine does go a long way. "For me, daily physical activity, be it hitting the gym or swimming, serves as a great escape," explains Tarun Gupta, the CEO and founder of Coinshift, a treasury management platform that helps businesses and decentralized autonomous organizations manage their assets easily. "It not only helps me release stress but also offers a moment of reflection and clarity."
Gupta continues, "The challenges of building a startup are undeniable, and the stress can be relentless. However, I've learned that embracing this stress and finding effective ways to manage it is the key. Leadership, in my eyes, is about navigating through multiple times with a clear vision and making decisions that steer the ship in the right direction," he says.
For me, daily physical activity, be it hitting the gym or swimming, serves as a great escape. It not only helps me release stress but also offers a moment of reflection and clarity
'Learn to delegate with checklists'
"I think stress is an integral part of human life, with experience you learn to minimise it or learn to peacefully live with it," says Chirantan Joshi, the National Director of CorporateConnections UAE. "The sooner you learn that, the better is the quality of your life," he says. He provides a few tips, which include delegating with checklists. "Learn to delegate with checklists, so that you can inspect the bottlenecks at the critical points before they become problems," he says.
Learn to delegate with checklists, so that you can inspect the bottlenecks at the critical points before they become problems...
He also advises surrounding yourself with trustworthy mentors and advisors who can help you in accelerating the process of right decision making in situations which can reduce the stress considerably.
Rachel Godfrey, the co-director of Chase Life Consulting, says she is "ruthless with her time". "I have a few non-negotiables, when it comes to prioritising and protecting my mental health, no matter how busy and chaotic my life and business get," she says. "I no longer involve myself with areas of the business that do not need my day-to-day attention;I don't join meeting unless absolutely necessary." Godfrey also follows the idea of "walking meetings". "My creativity and problem-solving is improved and I can cut through small talk, as meetings are generally more conversational," she says.
Following a separate passion, outside the family and professional zone
Theatre is Rhiannon Downie-Hurst’s escape. A Dubai-based multi-entrepreneur, Hurst has a busy life as she runs several businesses. Nevertheless, she determinedly puts her mental health first and follows a hobby. “Outside of work and my family, I have my passion, which is musical theatre in Dubai. That is my escapism. I make sure that I make time for myself, away from everything else,” Hurst says.
Leisure activities are not a waste of time
Netflix. Walking the dog. Having a cup of coffee with friends. It’s viewed as a luxury for entrepreneurs. However, Pragya Sood, the co-founder of Mudra, realised that this sacrifice of not pursuing her leisure activities, harmed her own productivity. Sood confesses that there were times when she felt guilty for taking breaks or watching Netflix. However, as her draining lifestyle began to weigh heavily on her, she realised she needed to hit the reset button.
“I was checking my phone at 4am. This mindset led to anxiety and overexertion, which ultimately hindered my performance,” she says. “I needed to redefine my understanding of mental health to safeguard my well-being. It meant listening to my body's signals when I felt tired or weak, actively engaging in self-care rituals,” explains Sood.
Prioritising my mental health meant engaging in activities that, as an entrepreneur, I might have considered a waste of time last year, such as binge-watching a trending Netflix show, or taking long walks with my dog while listening to my favorite music albums
She feels that this learning this self-awareness gave her the liberty to recognise the challenges that came with establishing a business, rather than constantly working towards maximum efficiency. “Prioritising my mental health meant engaging in activities that, as an entrepreneur, I might have considered a waste of time last year, such as binge-watching a trending Netflix show, or taking long walks with my dog while listening to my favorite music albums,” she says.
Keeping your friends and family in the loop
Hurst also advises co-working with like-minded friends. She maintains different circles of friends, and confides in them about the difficulties of entrepreneurship. “I have co-working days, as sometimes working alone really gets to me,” she says. “Identifying stressors and working towards minimising them by openly discussing the challenges I face on a daily basis with my family has also been crucial in reducing stress,” says Sood.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
“If I had to give my advice to anyone, I’d say: Think through your end goal early on, as this will dictate the path you want to follow,” says Hatherall.
“For example, if you want flexibility and life balance now, if you want to earn more money in the short term, be able to travel or work around your life, then the freelance and sole trader model is the best way to achieve this. As soon as you hire others and grow, so do your responsibilities and you become more tied to an office or location. If you want to create something, build a brand and create something of value to sell and fund your future, then that is a different path in the majority of cases,” she says. “In essence, have a soul search and understand your motivations and why you are choosing this path.”