How to Prioritize Mental Health as a Small Business Owner

Teneshia Carr leads a talk with Bea Arthur and Angela Benton at Inc. Founders House at SXSW.
Teneshia Carr leads a talk with Bea Arthur and Angela Benton at Inc. Founders House at SXSW. Photo: Dennis Burnett.

The Difference founder Bea Arthur and Streamlytics founder Angela Benton shared their wellness strategies at Inc. Founders House at SXSW in Austin.

When Bea Arthur’s telehealth company went under in 2016, Arthur felt like she wanted to die too.

At Inc. Founders House at South by Southwest on March 12, the therapist and founder of behavioral health company The Difference recounted how she called the suicide hotline four times during the last year of her telehealth company’s life. “Talking to them helped me get that negative energy out of my body and let me get on with my day,” she said. The experience taught Arthur a lot about the need for founders to prioritize mental health and wellness, and formed the basis of The Difference, which provides on-demand therapy over the phone. During the panel conversation at SXSW, Arthur and Angela Benton, founder of A.I. training data supplier Streamlytics, offered tips for preventing burnout while running a business.

Listen to your body

People aren’t shy about offering advice to entrepreneurs, but at the end of the day, there’s only one voice you must always listen to: your own. “I always tell my clients that the body is the only thing that doesn’t lie. Men lie. The media lies. Your body will not lie to you, if you need to rest, rest,” said Arthur.

Benton agreed. The Streamlytics founder noted that entrepreneurs need to have enough self-awareness to be kind to themselves and set appropriate boundaries around their work, adding that “sometimes that means canceling meetings. That wasn’t something I would’ve felt comfortable doing at my first two companies. I didn’t have the self-awareness to let somebody else lead. Now, I’ve surrounded myself with executives who I trust to keep operations going when I’m away or I just need a break.”

Arthur, who was the first black woman in Y Combinator back in 2014, said that investors wanted her to live, eat, and breathe her startup, even recommending that she move in with her co-founder. “They want you to be a straight psychopath!” Arthur said. “Not all advice is good advice. Just know yourself. That’s how you grow yourself.”

Don’t forget to decompress

When asked about what techniques or rituals entrepreneurs can practice to improve their mental health, Arthur gave an unexpected answer: “I party.” After joking that being a workaholic can go hand-in-hand with being an alcoholic, Arthur added that combatting the high-stakes nature of entrepreneurship and preventing burnout requires being intentional about relaxing and unwinding from the daily grind.

“I would not have gotten to where I am without my Ayahuasca journey, and I wouldn’t have made it through Covid without mushrooms,” Arthur said. “This is medicine from the earth.”

Prioritize your friendships

Benton said that if she was just starting out now, she would prioritize finding great partners to collaborate with. “I’m looking to partner all day, every day. I can benefit from other people’s experience optimizing what they’re super passionate about. It allows me to take a step back and zoom out and kind of see that 30,000-foot view.”

Arthur urged new entrepreneurs to reinvest in their personal friendships instead of letting their careers erode important relationships. “I was so obsessed with my ambition,” she said. “I was chasing men and money in my twenties, and I was such a shitty friend. When my company died and I was getting evicted, friends- people whose weddings I’d missed because of work- showed up for me. Don’t put too many of your close friendships by the wayside. At the end of the day, what you’re building is just an app. Capitalism isn’t the cure. Community is the cure.”