Being your own boss is a dream for many, but according to studies, self-employed women are at a greater risk of mental illness.
Over a period of four years, research by resurgo.co analyzed the pressures facing self-employed women and how these impacted their mental health. What they discovered was that one in five self-employed women had considered suicide, while one in five described their mental health as ‘bad’.
What’s more, the risks aren’t as great for the menfolk. There was a huge disparity between male and female entrepreneurs, with the research concluding that women were at a greater mental health risk.
Why is self-employment a greater risk to women’s wellbeing? The research says ‘gender obstacles’ and ‘isolation’ are to blame. “Research has shown that women benefit more from same-sex social interactions than their male counterparts and that they are more sensitive to the release of oxytocin which is linked to social bonding and wellbeing,” explains qualified and accredited counselor and psychotherapist Fiona Hall.
“When women are self-employed and particularly if they have moved from being an employee to being self-employed, there is the loss of the casual camaraderie around the water cooler. These social interactions can make us feel more supported and grounded. The loss of these interactions can negatively impact our mental health and wellbeing and lead to a greater risk of mental illness.”
As a self-employed woman, you may also face sexist obstacles that can have an impact over time. “Focusing too much on gender obstacles can deflate a woman’s confidence and affect her ability to work towards where she wants to be. It can create doubt and frustration,” Hall surmises.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help”
Fiona Foster, a holistic therapist and Reiki master, who has opened Studio 52 – Divine Wellness Therapy , believes her mental health has actually improved since going self-employed, but notes that running a business is not without its challenges. “With my business being new and in a very rural location, many local people were reluctant to believe it would work, wish you well or even help spread the word. [In business] you come to realize that not everyone is happy for your successes.”
Fiona is proactive about minding her mental health and finds it helps her to manage those challenges. “I meditate regularly to keep any stresses at bay, to promote my emotional well-being and to enhance my self-awareness,” she explains.
“If I were to offer advice on looking after your mental health, I would say check in with yourself every day, or at least once a week,” she adds. “Listen to your body and mind and allow yourself time out if you need it. If things are overwhelming, prioritize, and make yourself the number one priority. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll solve a problem or get certain tasks addressed and who knows what doors may open for you.”
Taking Fiona’s advice on board, what else can you do to protect your mental health while being self-employed?
Aim For Balance
Life shouldn’t be all work, work, work, no matter what line of work you’re in. “Having a balanced life which includes exercise, socializing, and most importantly taking time to have fun, is really important in maintaining mental wellbeing,” Hall notes. “Sometimes, we can become too focused on our work to the detriment of our mental health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, this may only become apparent when mental illness arises.”
If your home office is getting you down, you don’t have to go it alone. “When you are self-employed, it can be beneficial to rent a desk in a co-working environment with other self-employed women,” says Hall. “Having a place to go to every day separates out the stresses of work from our home life and can provide the social interactions that are so important for our mental health and wellbeing. Co-working situations can provide self-employed women with a supportive, creative environment where we feel part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Have Other Interests
“Interest and hobbies outside of work are key to maintaining wellness,” Hall explains. “A lot of clients I work with report having no hobbies or interests because for the past number of years their time has been focused exclusively on building their businesses. However, we all need a break away from our thoughts and worries. Having creative outlets takes us out of our heads and away from our stresses.” Find that thing that lights you up outside of your work, whether it’s crocheting, reading crime novels, eating out, or something entirely different.
If your work is your life, it can be difficult to give yourself a mental break from business, but it’s important that you do. “Boundaries around work are very important in managing mental health and reducing the risk of mental illness,” says Hall. “Working long hours, seven days a week over an extended period of time can take its toll. It’s important to stick to a healthy productive routine and allow time for ourselves to rest and regroup.” If it helps, grab your weekly planner and make space for downtime.
Avoid The Comparison Trap
If looking at others in business is getting you down, Fiona says to remember that comparison is the thief of joy. “If we compare ourselves negatively to others we can feel overwhelmed and less than. I advise clients to ‘stay in your own lane’, focus on your strengths, and work on what you wish to improve,” she explains.
Being self-employed has its challenges, both in the business sense and in terms of mental health. It’s important to prioritize the latter and mind yourself.
When the going gets tough, take heed of Fiona’s words of encouragement: “Always remember doing your best is all you can do and, at the end of every day, praise yourself for doing just that.”