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Six Steps for Entrepreneurs to Boost Mental and Physical Health this Winter


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

9 minute read

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As an entrepreneur, it is easy to get lost in your work. When you are solely responsible for the success or failure of your business, the tendency is to adopt workaholic habits. Hard work is of course vital to success, but often this comes at the expense of mental and physical health. Studies show that 49% of entrepreneurs experience mental health issues at some point, compared to just 32% of the general population. This is a staggering statistic of which we need to be conscious.

In addition to taking care of your mental health, it is important to take care of your physical health as well. This is particularly important with winter approaching, as this is the season for colds and viruses. The last thing you want is to come down with an incapacitating illness that forces you to take time away from work during the lucrative holiday season. Besides, it would be a shame to have your holiday plans with friends and family hindered.

We want to help get you on the right track to optimizing your mental and physical health this winter, so we’ve listed our best ways to start.

Get Plenty of Sleep

It may sound like a cliché, but it really is essential to your health that you get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

A 2013 study on sleep deprivation found that even a five-day period of restricted sleep—meaning less than 7 hours per night—resulted in a drop in cytokine production. Cytokines are proteins released by certain immune system cells, and they help to boost the growth of other cells of the immune system. In other words, five days of sleep deprivation was enough to lower the effectiveness of the immune system in test subjects.

In addition to a negative impact on your body, sleep deprivation also has significant effects on your mind. According to a 2018 study, getting six hours of sleep or less over four days causes significant reductions in cognitive and emotional abilities. Attentiveness, ability to reason, and moods are all affected by lack of sleep.

These negative effects of sleep deprivation cannot be ignored. You may think you are helping your business by putting in longer hours, but realistically the productivity during those long hours is reduced because of sleep deprivation. This means the net impact of working longer hours is mostly, if not completely, nullified compared to working fewer hours while you are well-rested.

Assuming that you are genuinely trying to sleep enough, but you struggle to either fall asleep or stay asleep then you should adjust your sleep environment. Here are a few ideas that may help.

  • If you typically go to sleep with the TV on, turn it off. This is highly recommended regardless, as the light from the TV can reduce melatonin production, which is the hormone responsible for sleep induction.
  • If you struggle to sleep in a completely silent room, which commonly leads to a wandering mind, then you may benefit from a white noise machine.
  • If your issue is the morning sunlight waking you up earlier than necessary, a set of black-out curtains should do the trick.

Get Outside

Another side effect of entrepreneurship is the tendency to spend all our time indoors, either in the office or working from home, which can lead to several issues.

First, not getting enough sunlight can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythms. We all have a circadian rhythm that acts as an internal clock and is essentially what lets us know when we should be awake and when we should be asleep. This is normally regulated by the light of the sun.

However, if we spend all our time indoors, we never get true sunlight and instead are bathed in artificial light, sometimes late into the night. This will throw off your circadian rhythm, and your sleep patterns can be highly disrupted.

A lack of sunlight can have even greater consequences, such as depression. Studies have shown that the brain produces more serotonin when it is sunny than when it is cloudy. When you are indoors all the time, your brain never gets that serotonin boost it needs to lift your mood, and this can result in depression over a prolonged period. Sunlight is already at a premium during the winter months, which leads many to develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so you should get out into the sunlight any chance you have.

Being inside all day can also lead to the dreaded “cabin fever,” which presents as a feeling of restlessness, irritability, and boredom that is onset by being stuck indoors constantly.

Get Moving

A list of self-care tips wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the big ‘E.’ Exercise.

Making exercise a part of your daily routine can be challenging if it is not something you are accustomed to. It’s also easier for us to make excuses in the winter as to why we can’t exercise on any given day.

The fact is, every one of us can find time throughout the day for a short exercise session. This does not have to be a hardcore cardio session that leaves you in a crumpled heap when you are done. The important thing is to get your body moving.

According to a great podcast episode by world-leading brain coach Jim Qwik, “As your body moves, your brain grooves.” Exercise has benefits beyond trying to be physically fit. When your body is moving it gets your heart rate elevated and sends a rush of oxygen into your brain. Exercise also releases hormones that assist in the growth of new brain cells, as well as stimulating neurogenesis—which is the growth of tissues in the nervous system.

Try to find a minimum of thirty minutes throughout the day to go for a walk regardless of how much work you have. If you feel your workload is too heavy to do this, you may need to consider offloading some of your non-critical, time-consuming tasks to a virtual assistant. This do-it-all mentality that many entrepreneurs hold onto can lead to some success, but much more frequently it will lead to burnout.

Don’t be ashamed to enlist some help, especially for simpler tasks. Effectively managing your workload will leave you much more time for the important things that keep your body and mind happy and healthy.

Try Nootropics

Nootropics, often referred to as “smart drugs,” are a type of supplement that can boost energy, memory, focus, and cognitive abilities. No, these aren’t miracle pills that will magically give an average Joe an IQ of 180, but they do help to enhance the mental capabilities that are already there.

Nootropics can help anybody, but they will be most effective if you are struggling with a lack of energy or mental clarity, which can be brought about by not getting enough sleep or exercise, among other causes.

To many entrepreneurs, a morning coffee is the nectar of the gods and is a requirement to function at full capacity. Coffee, however, doesn’t provide all the benefits of nootropics. These “brain boosters” have a similar effect to coffee on energy levels, but also have the added benefit of aiding your cognition. Even if it is only for a trial run, try switching out your morning coffee in favor of a nootropic for a week and see how effective it is for you.

Many people are already seeing the benefits of nootropics. For example, successful entrepreneur Tim Ferriss (author of “The 4-Hour Workweek”) is a big proponent of using these supplements. He has a daily regimen of nootropics that he sticks to that he says benefits him greatly.

Stay Hydrated

You will undoubtedly have heard this a million times before, but the importance of keeping well-hydrated bears repeating. However, we know how easy it is to fall into the trap of forgetting to drink enough water when you’re busy working on your business.

The value of proper hydration is immense. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. Even in a mild form, these effects are not conducive to working at your best.

There are also many positive effects of being properly hydrated, rather than just the negative effects of dehydration. For example, remaining well hydrated boosts your energy and brain function. Additionally, if you suffer from headaches, increasing your water intake may help with that, as a study has shown that drinking an extra 50 ounces of water per day—compared to your normal intake—can improve migraine symptoms.

In theory, it is easy to know when you need to drink water. Thirst should be an obvious trigger to drink, but sometimes it is easy to ignore this. What may help is to purchase a large water bottle of at least 32 ounces in volume and make a habit of keeping it right on your desk. This visual cue can serve as a reminder to make a conscious effort to drink more water.

Eat a Good Diet

We all know it’s important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet year-round. However, extra care should be taken in the winter months.

Our bodies need plenty of vitamin D, as this essential vitamin is responsible for assisting with calcium and phosphate absorption in our bodies. Our bones, teeth, and muscles are all kept healthy when we get enough of these minerals.

The trouble with winter is that the sunlight does not produce enough ultraviolet B (UVB) rays for our skin to produce enough vitamin D for our bodies. Because of this lack of UVB rays, it’s important to eat a diet that includes foods high in vitamin D to replace what we would normally get from spending time in the sun. Some healthy examples of vitamin D-rich foods are oily fish, red meat, and egg yolks.

In addition to vitamin D, it’s important to include plenty of immune-boosting foods in your diet. Citrus fruits, broccoli, garlic, spinach, yogurt, almonds, and poultry have all been proven to boost your immune system.

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for maintaining normal brain function, and a study has even shown that omega-3 supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of depression. Foods to incorporate into your diet for sufficient omega-3 intake include salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil, herring, walnuts, and soybeans. You’ll notice most of these are fish. If you’re not a big fish eater, you can also take fish oil supplements (vegan versions are also available) as part of your daily routine.

Final Thoughts

The demands of being an entrepreneur can often take its toll on your mental and physical health, but the lack of sunshine and fresh air in the winter months can exacerbate this.

As a result, we need to be extra-conscious of how we are treating our minds and bodies during this time. Taking the time to stay hydrated, eat the right food, get enough sleep, and put those extra layers on to go outdoors will be worth it when it means we can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest.

If your upcoming New Year’s resolution is to be more focused, improve your organization, or have more energy, you may want to consider giving nootropics a try. You might be surprised by the effects of these supplements on your cognitive abilities and energy levels, and the benefits this will have on your work output.

The key takeaway here is to always take care of yourself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first wealth is health”. While we’re busy building our empires, we mustn’t forget that our minds and bodies help lay the essential foundations for success.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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