Two years ago, Aaron Harvey was diagnosed with a mental disorder.
The founder of Ready Set Rocket, a marketing and branding company, Harvey found out he has ADHD, anxiety, depression and Pure OCD (a form of OCD that involves obsessive thoughts but without some of the other symptoms like observable compulsive traits). As an entrepreneur, he had to learn how to cope with the pressures of running a startup by adapting, prioritizing, and avoiding certain situations in the workplace.
It turns out, mental disorders are more widespread among entrepreneurs than anyone realizes. A study from last year by Dr. Michael Freeman at the University of California San Francisco found that 49% of those who start company say they have struggled with some form of mental illness in the past. 32% say they have a lifetime illness.
After struggling with the illness for the better part of two decades, Harvey eventually learned several techniques to deal with his illness. I asked him to provide some tips for anyone else who has struggled to cope. All of the tips below are his (in quotes).
1. Take inventory
"Whether you have a mental disorder or you experience general anxiety, it's important to remember that everything starts with you. Take a personal inventory. When does your anxiety spike? How do you react in those situations? Are you proud of your reactions? Would you do things differently if you had less anxiety when you reacted? By taking the time to learn about yourself, taking a personal inventory of your emotions and responses to stimuli in your environment, you have an opportunity to think freely and independently of your disorder or anxiety."
2. Anticipate triggers
"Now that you have a strong sense of self, you can start to anticipate triggers of anxiety. For example, you may identify that specific situations, conversations, topics, and people cause triggers. By thinking about those possible triggers in advance, you can expose yourself to your fears before they happen. This form of exposure can help you to habituate to your anxiety and ultimately cope better in real-time. The goal is not to avoid your triggers. It's actually the opposite. The more you expose yourself to your anxieties, the more you can habituate and reduce your anxiety."
3. Be mindful
"When you experience anxiety, you have an opportunity to acknowledge it. Instead of reacting to it, let it pass like the clouds. You can learn these techniques in the most simplistic manner by regularly practicing guided meditation. I fell asleep to the "Simply Being" app for about a month, which helped me realize that I have the ability to experience unwanted thoughts, and instead of reacting to them with anxiety, watch them pass. I've only been doing guided meditation apps for about a year, and I am already able to apply this practice in real-time to real life situations of high stress. It's game changing."
4. Make positive associations
"During my two decades of silence, I knew that I had certain things 'wrong' with me. But I knew that these 'errors' in my character were also attributes. For example, I learned that while I couldn't focus on anything, I knew how to assess a ton of information and very quickly determine the priority. This has been critical in running businesses. I also noticed that my constant state of depression gave me a unique empathy for others that was unlike many other business leaders. And I knew my overbearing anxiety was also trying to help protect my family, friends, employees and business. So, you have an opportunity, as hard as it may be, to take a step back and ask yourself, what skills or perceptions do I have that others maybe don't have as a result of my 'disorders'."
5. Prioritize yourself
"Only you know what makes you healthy. For me, I know that I work better when I have space to think freely, create, and associate. I know that, in some moments, it's critical that I put my mental health before the health of others. It's just like a plane that's losing cabin pressure--you must put the mask on yourself before you can help others. So know your limits. Know when you need a break."