On the surface, being your own boss sounds enticing. You get to set your own hours, travel frequently, and enjoy complete freedom. It’s a nice dream, but it’s not reality. As most new entrepreneurs find out, running a business can be incredibly demanding, taking a toll on your health and relationships. While getting your business to succeed will give you more pride and satisfaction than most can imagine, this comes at a price. Understanding and accepting the health hurdles and risks associated with entrepreneurship can help you overcome them.
Health Risks for New Business Entrepreneurs
You’re the captain of the ship and whether it sinks or floats depends on you. Considering that most startups fail, this is an incredible amount of pressure for anyone to bear. Yet, this is precisely what most entrepreneurs have to endure and it truly is lonely at the top. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs face a higher risk of stress disorders and lifestyle diseases.
While stress in itself may not seem threatening, prolonged exposure to high-stress levels can give rise to chronic stress disorders that also have physiological consequences . These risks can include impaired cognitive function, suppressed immunity, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal complications, as well as other metabolic disorders. Although few studies have looked specifically at the physical health consequences of the entrepreneurial lifestyle, research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine  helps put things in perspective. Researchers found that heart disease prevalence had a strong association with longer work hours. Considering that entrepreneurs put in twice as many hours into being productive workers as compared to regular employees, the risk of heart disease is significantly higher among entrepreneurs.
The mental health impacts of entrepreneurship are a lot clearer as this has been the focus of many studies in recent years. The findings of a study that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Small Business Economics  are revealing, to say the least. It found that mental health illness affects nearly half of all entrepreneurs, covering a wide spectrum of disorders, from depression to bipolar disorder. Entrepreneurs were found to be at a 100 percent higher risk of depression as compared to healthy adults and they are also twice more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Similarly, researchers recorded higher prevalence rates of illnesses like ADHD, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse or addiction.
All of these risks are further aggravated by lifestyle choices that don’t really seem like much of a choice when you’re running a business – frequent meals out, increased consumption of junk food, coffee, and energy drinks, sleepless nights, missed holidays, infrequent breaks, social isolation, and scarcely any exercise.
Strategies to Lower Health Risks
Trying to overhaul your entire lifestyle to safeguard your health can be overwhelming and will only add to stress levels, which should be the first thing that you address. So, instead of looking at the bigger picture, use your business acumen to break this down into more achievable goals and take it one step at a time.
- Get Organized: Effective time management involves planning tasks, prioritizing work, scheduling and delegating work, and reducing distractions. These skills aren’t just essential for business management, but can also help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Research shows  that the effective use of organizational and time management strategies can help reduce job pressure, making you feel more in control and motivated at work.
- Eat Healthy: Healthy eating will be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Instead of reaching for sodas, coffee, and energy drinks, call for fresh fruit juices, smoothies, green tea, and just drink more water. Cutting back on your sugar intake is one of the best ways to lower your risk of obesity and a wide range of inflammatory disorders. When eating out, you can opt for healthier choices like salad bars over burger joints.
- Improve Work-Life Balance: It’s easy enough to tell you to stop obsessing over your business stats, but that’s not helpful. Instead, start compartmentalizing. Retrain your brain to only think about work while you’re at the workplace and make it a point to take regular breaks. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance , with clearly allocated time for work, relaxation, exercise, and personal life can have a profound impact not just on your health, but also on your productivity.
- Get Active: A large part of the health risk associated with entrepreneurship stems from a sedentary lifestyle. Starting your day with exercise instead of with a screen can help improve fitness and also lower stress levels , equipping you to deal with the challenges of the day. If you can’t make it to the gym, even mild and moderate-intensity activities like yoga, walking, cycling, or swimming will help.
- Manage Stress Effectively: Stress doesn’t diminish over time but continues to grow as your business grows and you find more success. The key to surviving it is to learn how to better manage stress at the workplace. While exercise and timeouts are essential to lowering stress levels, you also need to use techniques like mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises to lower stress levels when you’re at work.
While these are good starting points to help transform your lifestyle, this isn’t all that you can do. Try to incorporate a culture of fitness and healthy eating at the workplace to help you stay the course. This will also make you a better role model for your employees. As every good business leader knows, healthy and happy employees are a lot more productive and have greater loyalty to their organization, so start leading by example.