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What to Do When Bad Days Become the Norm

No one needs to tell you that starting a business is stressful. But when every day is a psychological struggle, you need to know when to get help.
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One of the most important moments for me since starting Launchpad came last summer and fall. My close friend and co-founder experienced a family tragedy that kept him out for much of 2013. On top of feeling emotionally shaken to the core by that experience, I knew our company was not prepared for him to be gone. I had been working days, nights, and weekends to keep everything moving forward, continue our growth, and ensure our employees saw that things would be okay with him gone. By the time we won a large new account mid-summer I was already burnt to a crisp.

I found myself being, well, not myself at all. Gone was the guy who laughed all day and loved his job. Instead I found myself barking at people and focusing on minutia. I would actually feel myself getting angry over small things yet was unable to stop it from occurring. Sleep was something that happened in three to four hour increments, separated by long stretches of lying in bed with my wheels spinning. My moods were not restricted to work; I was equally as "fun" at home. For the first time in my life I truly felt that my emotions were not in my control.

One day I looked up the symptoms of depression. Reading each one it quickly became clear to me what was happening. While I was not anywhere near "clinically depressed", many of the symptoms hit pretty close to home. Warning bells started going off in my head. Simply reading about it that day and understanding what was going on was therapeutic. I made a plan to avoid slipping down that hole, and thankfully am back to my old self again.

If you own a business nobody needs to tell you it's extremely stressful. No matter how much you love doing what you do, there are days, weeks and even months that literally kick the crap out of you. I'm not just talking about when bad things happen. Sometimes even the most exciting and positive developments can tax you in a way that few other things ever could.

I've spoken with many people about this and nearly every entrepreneur has his or her own similar experience. It’s clear that a pretty simple human truth exists for all of us. If you own a business, you will ultimately experience symptoms of depression. Recognizing and addressing them could be the difference between professional and personal success and failure.

Everyone deals with stress in his or her own way. From my own experience, below are a few key things can play a critical role in dealing with the stress and getting back on track:

Know when you are not you and recognize it for what it is.

Nobody EVER wants to admit they can't handle it all. But, at least for me, the day I did was the day I started feeling better. It was like a light switch.

Talk about it with those closest to you.

Believe me, they already know you're having problems. Whether your leadership team at work or your family at home, they have been walking on eggshells around you. Talk to them. Explain things. Enlist their patience. They will be grateful you did, and so will you.

Address it head on.

For me, just seeing it in front of me helped. For many talking to a professional will help tremendously. The stress will not go away. If you don't learn to cope with it, it will eat you up

Clear your head.

Yeah, I know. It is impossible to take any time off right now. It always is, but the value of stepping back for a little while and getting just a bit of distance from the triage environment of work is often just what is needed to recharge.

Get out of the weeds.

One of the things that really helped me was realizing I needed to go back to setting clear expectations for people and let them execute, while spending more of my time setting a longer-term direction for my company. Micromanaging too much took away from my team's effectiveness and led me to lose sight of where we wanted to go as a business, which only added greatly to my stress. Re-training my focus helped me feel excited and invigorated again.

Remember why you started your business in the first place.

Remember the early days when your vision and passion drove you to put everything you had into your idea. In the heat of day-to-day business it is so easy to forget why you're here, but stepping back and focusing on that initial vision helps put everything else in perspective.

Last updated: Apr 29, 2014

SCOTT ELSER | Columnist

Scott is the co-founder and president of Launchpad Advertising, one of the fastest growing advertising agencies in the U.S. and 3-time member of the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies. Scott is a marketing consultant, entrepreneur, business coach, speaker, and contributing writer for Inc. magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @scottlpa

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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