Mental Health Hazards of the Entrepreneur and Career Professional

The white collar America is internationally notorious for its “work ethic.” We take less vacations, work more hours, and work longer into our lives more than most of the developed world. For the most part, we tend to think of all this as virtuous. After all, it’s at least better than the alternative, right? However, our culture of “If you work hard you will succeed, and if you aren’t succeeding, then you should work harder” has it’s toll. The truth is that we aren’t always aware of the very real cost our ambitions take on our mental and emotional health.

Adrenal Fatigue - The diabetes of high performers.

Adrenaline is the hormone our body uses to prepare us for stress and give us our “get up and go.” If we are healthy, large surges of adrenaline only happen occasionally during exceptional circumstances. But for many entrepreneurs and professionals, it becomes tempting to LIVE on adrenaline.

We can accomplish great things during an adrenaline rush. We can finish a large report, focus for hours, or stay awake and get through a pile of work. The super-productivity we feel during an adrenaline rush can give us a false expectation that we should be able to ALWAYS be that productive… and that’s where we set ourselves up for big problems.

I call adrenaline fatigue the “diabetes of high performers” because it presents similar symptoms, both externally and internally. If you have been trying to live on adrenaline, you will eventually start wearing out your own internal organs, much the way diabetes would. Symptoms list by are:

  1. You feel tired for no reason
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour
  3. You are feeling overwhelmed
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness
  5. You crave salty or sweet snacks
  6. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day

The Tyranny of Our High-Work Ethic Culture

It sounds good, but probably not the best motivation for work...

It sounds good, but probably not the best motivation for work...

There is nothing wrong with having a good work ethic, but in many ways we have crossed a line. I have personally seen how young interns are abused for their energy and current health to work on adrenaline non-stop. When the effects start to catch up with them, the bosses say, “Well, they have obviously lost their enthusiasm,” and let them go.

The reality is that people today are working longer for less money, and we don’t notice because of our cultural “work ethic.” We feel like we aren’t supposed to complain, and any issues we have with making ends meet are just because “we need to work harder.” In the meantime, we are addicted to coffee, energy drinks, and anti-depressants.

There is Little Temperance in Capitalism… So Far.

The world of entrepreneurship is made to be glamorous and bold for those who are “risk takers.” The reality is that capitalism is still young, and we haven’t done a good job yet of helping people navigate their way through the world of business. Entrepreneurs often end up with disorders like manic-depression or bi-polar mood disorders due to the conflict between the “glorious promise” of success around the next corner, and the brutal and uncertain causality of day-to-day life.

We have a cultural imbalance in our perception of success. If you got a normal job and get a steady paycheck, then you can be considered successful. However, if you are an entrepreneur, then you are either a millionaire or a failure. Just pick up any magazine like Inc., Fast Company, or Entrepreneur and you will see a constant pining for fame and fortune. The reality is that we aren’t encouraging people to become adept business leaders, we are wanting them to be celebrities.

Update: 1/6/15 - The Adrenal Fatigue Solution

After writing this post I was privileged to be sent a copy of "The Adrenal Fatigue Solution" by Fawne Hanson. It is a wonderfully comprehensive book on the causes, symptoms, and effects of Adrenal Fatigue on the body. I appreciate the exhaustive breakdown and explanation of the body's different hormone and endocrine systems and how they respond over time to stress. This book truly described and answered my own experiences with this issue. You can get is here:

The Future of Healthy Entrepreneurship

Someday, we will realize that great business leaders aren’t born overnight through risk-taking. In reality, they are tempered with years of experience to the point where what looks like a risk to us, was actually a calculated and logical next step to them. While we have exceptions like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, they are still the exception. Also, even he wouldn’t be there without the seasoned professionals around him.

There is much more sane and consistent culture of work out there; one that values perseverance and a healthy pace over rushed and panic driven work. We need to realize that we actually get where we want to go faster with a good night’s sleep, rather than hyped up on sugar and caffeine. Let’s stop killing ourselves, and each other, in the name of “work ethic.”