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Discussion – 


How to Combat Stress as a Founder

endless checklist: how to combat stress as a founder

When we think of start-ups we don’t often think or talk about the stress and anxiety that comes with being a founder. There’s a never-ending list of relatable feelings, situations, and events that can and do happen in the start-up world. Here’s an overview of some of the challenges of being a founder, with tips on how to combat stress and help you find a path towards better mental health.

As a Founder, Any Situation Can Get Stressful

Entrepreneurs can experience high levels of stress and anxiety when their start-up isn’t doing well and when it is doing well. Sounds ridiculous? It actually makes sense.

Start-ups frequently hit problems like running out of money, failing to deliver to a client or not making as much money as hoped. On the other hand, start-ups that are doing absolutely fine can also be extremely stressful environments to work in. There’s a huge pressure to continue growth momentum, hire the right people, secure more rounds of funding and make your business actually work.

Anti-stress tip: stress causes us to physically tense up all the time. As you read this, unclench your jaw and relax your mouth. Unfurrow your brows and wiggle your nose. We spend so long in physically tense states that it’s important to check in and give yourself two minutes to relax. This is the first step to managing stress, especially if you can’t peel yourself away from your computer.

1. Founders Are More Likely to Have Mental Health Conditions and Developmental Disorders 🧠

You may have experienced working with a founder and perhaps thought they were brilliant, wacky, intelligent or eccentric. The reality is that, as well as all their good traits, many founders have mental health conditions and developmental disorders. Issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD present daily challenges for founders. One study found that entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to have one or more of these conditions. These developmental and mental issues make founders far more vulnerable to substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and impulsive damaging behaviours. 

Anti-stress tip: take your mental health seriously. No one is born to handle intense pressures that come with running a start-up. Learning coping mechanisms takes time and is a skill you must work on. Talk to your friends, partners, and family members, even if you don’t feel like you need the support.

2. Founders Are Likely to Encounter Isolation 🪑

Loneliness is a silent killer in many countries and studies show that ‘chronic loneliness’ affects millions of people. Founders are affected by loneliness too. Unplanned and unwanted Isolation is hellish and for those who’ve never experienced it. 2020 has been the year in which millions of people have been plunged into loneliness. We can experience horrible feelings of being left out or always being busy with an endless list of tasks. We can feel disconnected or too depressed to be worth talking to. These are experiences that we can often relate to. It’s common for founders to encounter these feelings at some point in their start-up career.

Start-ups always require so many things to be done to make them work. As a founder, you probably have lists that are never-ending and cause you to regularly miss out on social events with loved ones. When the pressure increases, you respond by doubling your workload. It’s—oddly—the natural response to how we handle most emergencies. However, by making ourselves horrendously busy, we ignore our basic needs of rest and social connection.

Anti-stress tip: take time out and reconnect. Other founders can especially relate to how you’re feeling so dive into Reddit or Google and look for communities that speak to you. Talking to a friend can help boost serotonin, the chemical that research shows helps motivate people to perform better. So, take your mind off your business, and give your brain a break from running over-time all the time. 

3. Founders Can Lose Their Identity Within Their Company 🕳️

For some founders, being so close to their start-up can result in them becoming the company. Ever happened to you before with a school or work project? It can be good in that you can pour your heart and soul into your tasks. However, the flip side is that you can start to take any event or outcome within your business really personally. You lose sight of your team, you lose sight of external factors that affect your business, and you become personally bound to the company’s success and failures. This is an emotional rollercoaster that you have to get off.

Anti-stress tip: cultivate emotional intelligence. There are plenty of books on the topic and you can build up your sense of self independently from your company, without losing your passion for your project. Also, make sure you have other things happening in your life that you enjoy. Give yourself time to be with family. Pursue one or two other hobbies or responsibilities that gives you time away from your start-up. These are important steps you can take to grow your self-esteem an identity independently from your start-up.

4. Founders Can Suffer from Acute Financial Stress 💳

Launching a start-up involves risk, comes with highs and lows, and often requires an endless volume of cash. Founders are the first to go without a pay check or sell or re-mortgage their homes. Founders are also much more likely to take on additional work to save costs. They are often also mentally prepared to land in financial ruin at any given moment.

Anti-stress tip: learning how to use your excitement to stimulate you to build your business is key. Long-term low-levels of stress (chronic stress) and short bursts of high-stress (acute stress) are scientifically proven to damage your health. You need to aim for ‘eustress’—the feeling you get when you’re really excited. This is a positive stressor, driving you to achieve your goals in a healthy way.

5. Founders Can Suffer from Imposter Syndrome 👨‍⚖️

The crippling fear that one day you’ll be exposed as a fraud can be absolutely terrifying. Jacinda Ardern recently admitted that she suffers from Imposter Syndrome and it’s thought that 70% of the US population suffers from it too. Regardless of the evidence that you’re capable of delivering excellent results, as a founder it’s easy to think your entire start-up is a hoax. The fear that it’s only a matter of days before the gig is up often is very real and impacts negatively on your performance and decision-making. 

Anti-stress tip: it’s really important to accept that Imposter Syndrome is real. Support yourself (and others) by verbalising the achievements you have accomplished. Get help if your Imposter Syndrome is causing you to flounder or become depressed. Above all, don’t believe the voice in your head telling you “it’s all going wrong”.

6. Founders Are More Vulnerable to Burnout 🔥

Once a badge of honour, now a sign of overworking and physical, emotional and mental exhaustion; many founders have experienced or come close to burnout. Overloading yourself with work, burning the candle at both ends and trying to fit more hours into your day all result in burnout. The never-ending days and your never-resting mind will actually decrease your productivity in the long run and make you unwell too. People turn to stimulants, legal and illegal, to keep them going, resulting in addictive behaviours, low levels of sleep, and a more emotionally reactive style of leadership. Eventually, you crash and can’t get up for weeks because of it.

Anti-stress tip: break the mentality that burnout is something to aim for. Instead, go for a balanced approach with smart working hours and lots of time to rest and recuperate. Our best ideas tend to occur outside of work. Also, the time you invest in avoiding burnout will almost certainly be half of the time you’ll take to recover, should you hit the wall.

7. Founders Can Suffer From Anxiety Disorders 💭

Start-ups are by nature incredibly inconsistent. Nothing is ever certain, from your next pay check, to what your company will look like in the next few months. It’s the perfect breeding ground for new or underlying anxiety disorders to emerge. Anxiety can greatly impact a founder’s ability to perform basic tasks and function normally; the constant worry, the overthinking, and the overwhelming uneasiness consumes a lot of time and energy.

Anti-stress tip: build healthy behaviours by taking your anxiety seriously and giving yourself the support you need. Exercise, relaxation, and meditation help release endorphins, focus the mind, and build healthier habits to reduce anxiety.

As a Founder, You Are Not Alone 

A quick Google will give you a handful of helpful resources. From support for anxiety to Reddit threads with tips on how to recognise and avoid burnout, there are practical steps you can take to protect your health. In a nutshell, connect with your friends and family, give yourself time to rest, and seek help where you need it. Meditation and exercise can help you find balance and quiet in busy months of start-ups. Above all, remember that you are not alone. Call your friend, take a break, and prioritise your mental health. Your business will thank you for it.

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