Startup stress is real, and comes in many stages. Most founders will agree that they are personally invested in their startup, and not just financially. Separating work from play is almost impossible. Not to mention that socializing often involves networking events, meeting other founders (where work is inevitably discussed) and catching up with advisors and investors. Switching off is near impossible. But the stress comes with a pretty hefty price tag, and finally, Silicon Valley is taking notice. Now, many investors insist founders receive coaching, and inquire openly into how founders manage their personal wellbeing, not just their business.
Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and If We Ran The World, coined the hashtag #startupstress a few years ago. Her goal was to open up about how difficult the daily life of a female sextech founder is. She says, "I realized it would be easy to look at my social media posts and get the wrong impression about my life...But I also found that it is actually very de-stressing to be completely frank and open about how hard things are, versus the stress of putting up a facade of 'We're crushing it!'". Here are some common ways stress can disrupt your wellbeing, and what to do about it.
Skimping on Sleep
When you're stressed, sleep is one of the first things to go. And ironically, it's one of the things we need most. It is estimated that insufficient sleep costs the US economy $411 billion, and lack of sleep is proven to impair the brain in similar ways to alcoholic consumption.
Try: Being diligent about a sleep routine. Sleep with all your devices in another room. Shut off screens at least two hours before you plan to go to sleep. Read something creative (preferably an actual book) to switch up your head space before you sleep. You can try sleep aids like Smart Aromas (that release essential oils), Smart Pajamas (cools the body's infrared heat emissions to promote long, deep sleep) or White Noise Emitters, but it really comes down to being diligent with a routine.
Haphazard, Unhealthy Eating
When you're stressed you either overeat or forget to eat entirely. Neither of which have positive outcomes for your body. Additionally, taking the time to eat foods that will satiate and support your body's need is often too much of a time commitment. Many founders subsist on a diet of caffeine and takeout, and yet still feel deplete of energy and stamina.
Try: Commit to replacing at least two take-out occasions with home-cooked meals. Use this cooking time as a time to unwind and indulge your creativity; play music, get your comfy clothes on. Make it easy on yourself with meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Plated or Hello Fresh, or even grocery boxes like Imperfect Produce (fruit and vegetable boxes that the stores were set to throw away). Replace some of your coffee addiction with green tea, or even Mushroom Coffees - that promote energy without the coffee crash. And most importantly, stop eating at your desk.
Visible Exhaustion & Tired Skin
Without enough sleep or nourishment, it's unsurprising that your skin takes a toll. Vance Soto, owner of the Ole Henriksen face/body spa explains how stress can lead to hormone imbalances, which then show up on your skin.This may seem like an inconsequential side effect, but when stress shows up on your face, it's noticeable and sends a message about the state of your affairs to your staff, partners and investors. A CEO that looks exhausted doesn't instil confidence.
Try: Putting skin health on your agenda. First and foremost it starts with getting enough sleep. However, you can turn your grooming routine into a meditative experience, rather than something to rush through. Soto says, "Scent is the most evocative sense. Inhalation triggers an intense sense of relaxation. It's an instant hit". Lavender oil is particularly good for relaxation, either inhaled or in a hot bath.
Starved of Creativity & Clarity
Most startup CEO's have no time for themselves. This means they deprioritize the things that make them feel balanced, calm and clear. For many, clarity comes from finding the time to meditate or indulge their creative streak. Creativity can lower stress, improve immunity and even lessen the effects of depression. Creative pursuits are a form of meditation that can help you gain clarity and calm. The important thing is not to write these off as an indulgence; they are an essential way to restore and repair your mind. Tim Chang, Partner of the VC firm Mayfield, spoke at Hustlecon about how they probe on how founders take care of themselves. He says, "They need to look after their own wellness at all levels... even their energy, sleep and soul."
Try: Picking a creative hobby and allowing yourself a little time to indulge in it; it could be sketching, journaling, coloring, pickling or even stitching. Additionally, you can try a meditation app like Headspace, Calm or The Mindfulness App.
Being a founder is a long-term play. Learning to navigate the stress and stay healthy and vital is of critical importance. As Gallop says, "The three most important qualities any entrepreneur needs are persistence, resilience and the ability to manage your own mind. The last is important because you have to really strengthen yourself to get through all the hardships, and so you need to manage yourself to be up to the task."