Sherry Walling, PhD
Dec. 20, 2022
It's the most demanding time of the year. Entrepreneurs are easily overwhelmed during the holidays . Product-based businesses run sales and move more volume, but even companies that go quiet often spend this season working on big-picture strategies. Add to that: staffing shortages and personal obligations. Many entrepreneurs I work with have complicated family dynamics, magnified by the pressure of holiday travel and ambient festive stress.
You might be surprised at my advice to improve your mental health this season. Entrepreneurs, consider doing even more — but for others. Add "giving back" to your holiday checklist or New Year's resolutions. Think of it as a gift to yourself.
The case for giving back
Entrepreneurs are good at many things; we are not known for taking care of our mental health. And the odds are not in our favor.
As a demographic, entrepreneurs are prone to depression at much higher rates. Colder weather, shorter days and holiday hustle can exacerbate these issues. If you run an early-stage startup, you might wire in before sunrise and shut down after sunset.
Some of my clients became entrepreneurs to lean into work, avoid complicated personal situations or gain independence — even escape dysfunctional family patterns. It's often easier to hold those boundaries without holiday-induced guilt. Now, your work commitments might be challenged by friends and family with the retort, "But it's Christmas!" A craving for independence, on the flip side, can come with loneliness.
Researchers have found that acts of service can help alleviate stress. Giving is good for your physical and mental health, with studies suggesting "pro-social spending," including donations to charity, is associated with a boost in happiness , whereas buying new stuff is not. More tangibly, giving is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced levels of depression and increased self-esteem. This "helper's high" might be caused by feel-good brain chemicals released with good deeds, including serotonin and the relationship-fusing oxytocin. Humans are inherently social creatures, and volunteering fosters human connection. For this reason and others, group volunteer activities are also great for team-building.
How to find your cause (and get your business involved)
Besides making the world a better place and improving your health, there's more return on your pro-social investment when your company gets involved. A staggering 82% of shoppers want brands to align with their values. Giving back might secure customers and boost loyalty among young workers seeking jobs with greater purpose .
For better brand integration, consider a cause that complements your core offering. A tech company might run a free coding workshop, for instance, or even a simple Facebook or smartphone tutorial at a seniors' center. Be sure to take these outings on workdays (consider it a great alternative to icebreakers and the forced fun of team retreats).
Sometimes an act of service means aligning your unique specialty with your community, and sometimes it's more loosely tied to your work. Many of my clients are solopreneurs who prefer to volunteer for more personal causes. One client, Chris, sits on the board of several non-profits to offer budgetary advice and help set strategic goals. His business expertise is helpful to small charities, which are often understaffed and under-resourced. While his company isn't involved, he's using his skills.
When I released my book on grieving and loss, I channeled my passion for circus arts into the launch event. I hosted a circus show in my hometown of Minneapolis to benefit the local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in honor of my late brother. Our community of artists offered free tickets to a local BIPOC circus organization, Vivid Black Paint, and the Minnesota chapter of Motherless Daughters, a support group for women and girls who have lost mothers.
For entrepreneurs, altruism means thinking critically about who should be in the room and who is often missing. We have the skills and resources to clear obstacles and open doors. For many, that takes the form of mentoring, teaching entrepreneurship workshops at community organizations or taking part in a high school's pitch day. Or maybe you'd prefer to break from the business while you give back to a cause that fuels a personal passion for the arts or environmental preservation.
I can't tell you what's most meaningful to you, but I can suggest that you make it a habit. Consider making your seasonal giving more than an annual tradition or New Year's resolution . You don't have to become a whole new person in January, but you can make regular donations or volunteer your time every quarter. The return on your investment is happier holidays and a better mood all year round.
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