Managing mental health while running a business has always been a balancing act for one local entrepreneur.
“It’s my heart and soul that goes into my business. My blood, sweat and tears, so I’m afraid that customers won’t like what I do and it spirals,” said Jenni Kreller, owner of Maple & Rose, a woodworking and laser engraving business in St. Albert.
Kreller has struggled with anxiety and depression since she was a child. As a youth, she often struggled at academics in school, but thrived creatively. When she found woodworking, Kreller said she fell in love with the craft.
In 2013, Kreller – who is a Red Seal journeyman – left her job as a cabinet maker to start her own business. She said the new venture was terrifying but exciting.
Since starting her woodworking business, at times it’s been difficult for Kreller to manage her mental health. The entrepreneur operates out of her home, which means she relies heavily on markets to promote her business.
But every time Kreller gets ready for a market, she’s overwhelmed with social anxiety. She often brings a ‘safe person’ to help her through the day.
“I’m trying not to let it affect me during a show, so after a show is done I just release it all, all the stress and the fears ooze out of me. My husband is pretty good at watching for that,” she explained.
Additionally, Kreller said generalized anxiety breeds insecurity when it comes to her product and customer satisfaction.
According to an ATB financial report looking at mental health among Albertan entrepreneurs, the emotional state of many business owners is directly tied to their business.
The survey noted 72 per cent of business owners typically put their business needs above their personal needs.
Kreller learned the necessity of personal and professional boundaries the hard way. Last year, she took on too many orders, prompting a nervous breakdown. Turning to her friends and family, she temporarily halted her business to heal.
Now the entrepreneur puts herself first. She no longer works weekends and has hired an assistant to deal with online messages. Kreller also won’t bend on timelines and will never take an extra order beyond her limit.
“You need to take time for yourself,” she said. “I’m not running myself ragged.”
Like Kreller, 86 per cent of surveyed entrepreneurs said they were either very or pretty happy when they put their own needs before their business.
From the survey, entrepreneurs said their happiness (61 per cent), sense of self-worth (56 per cent) and mental health (54 per cent) was attached to how well their business was performing.
Additionally, around 80 per cent of Alberta small- and mid-sized business entrepreneurs felt their business was at the core of their identity.
While it may seem alarming to have a business attached to one’s identity, one mental health professional disagrees.
“Our identities are often what help us determine our career paths,” said Lori Tiemer, registered psychologist at Rivers Edge Counselling Centre.
“When our careers (and) jobs are in line with our identities – so our interests, our abilities, personality, values – people often do have a greater sense of job satisfaction.”
It becomes risky when an owner over-identifies with their work, though. By losing sight of who they are outside of their business, they lose themselves if they lose their job.
That’s where a psychologist can help. Often, Tiemer will help people define their goals, skills, values and talents in order to build back into their sense of self.
Another key component to managing mental health is leaning on familiar support systems. That could include family or other entrepreneurs.
“Even if it’s someone that’s not the same industry, just being able to connect with people who have gone through the same process of starting a business is huge. It can help normalize some of the struggles,” Tiemer explained.
“It’s when we feel isolated, feel like we’re the only ones struggling that we really suffer.”
Entrepreneurs across Alberta apparently agree.
According to the report, around 76 per cent of respondents said they felt they could turn to family and friends if they struggled with mental health issues.
Another 53 per cent said they would turn to counsellors, psychologists or other mental health professionals to get support for mental health issues, while 42 per cent said they could lean on their business network.
For Kreller, a few business networks in St. Albert and through social media have helped her realize she’s not alone in her struggles. She hopes her story will help other entrepreneurs in St. Albert who are struggling with mental health.
“Anybody who’s teetering on starting their own business, but are worried because of their anxiety or mental health, take that leap. You can do it,” she expressed.
ATB surveyed 300 randomly selected entrepreneurs in Alberta to take part in the phone survey. Agriculture, government, financial institutions and companies with more than 500 employees were excluded from the survey.