There is no doubt that running a start-up can be stressful, and similarly there is little doubt that not dealing with stress can have adverse effects not only on your mental health but also on your physical health.
Startup founders are often in the invidious position of having to be all things to all people and at times feel like they have to appear to be as impervious as Superman but the reality is they’re not and they need mechanisms to deal with the stresses and strains that they are under, many of which have magnified during the recent pandemic.
People deal with stress in different ways but many bottle it up and carry around. As an analogy think about holding a beaker of water in your hand with your arm out straight. To begin with you can’t really feel that weight but as time passes it becomes harder to hold that beaker in your straight arm even though the weight of the water in the cup has not increased at all. This is just like stress. The longer you carry that stress around the heavier it feels and the more of an adverse effect it can have. What you want to be able to do is to tip that water out and let it go, the quicker the better.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy so you need to find a mechanism to be able to cope with your stress and I thought it was worthy of a blog post with regards to how I deal with mine.
Sometimes stress builds up because of incidents that are not dealt with that become bottled up. Over the years I’ve become better at recognising these and trying to deal with them quickly rather than stewing on them or avoiding them.
Exercise can not only increase your fitness level it can significantly decrease stress. I start my day with a combination of stretching, weights and yoga / pilates exercises. I’ve adopted something in my morning ‘get ready for the day’ exercises that I read somewhere (but I can’t remember where so apologies I’ve not given credit). I always finish my morning exercise routine with some stretching and complete by taking a sequence of slow deep breaths in and out. On the last breath as I exhale I focus on the things that have been stressing me and visualise that I am ‘blowing them out’. Visualisation is a powerful tool and one that sports psychologists know well and I find this technique really is effective to start the day ‘even’.
On the subject of the visualisation part of de-stressing I have also find that taking 10 minutes out to meditate and clear the head during the day does wonders for distressing and refocusing. There are various apps etc on the App Store that can help with this although I prefer simple breathing exercises. A book that I often come back to from my college days is ‘The Winning Mind’ by Pete Terry which is sadly out of print now.
During lockdown when I’ve not been in an office I’ve also used the above meditation technique in conjunction with something called a bed of nails. Given I can be at my desk for the best part of 12-16 hours back cramps and spasms from bad posture go with the territory. My wife bought me the ‘bed of nails’ after reading about it and to be honest I thought it was a little gimmicky but I give it a go on amazingly I found it really does help open up my back.
Another thing that can lead to stress buildup is simply bad work routine. Take a break, take a 10 minute walk. Change your scenery and refresh your viewpoint. Breathe in the air.
As I often end up working through two time zones I find myself reading and responding to emails as late as 10 pm tonight. This can often lead to me stewing on an email as I head off to bed which leads to me not getting to sleep, not getting the rest I need, and starting the next day more stressed than ever. It’s not rocket science to know that you have to break this routine and now I try to have a rule whereby I switch off from emails at around 8 pm.
I will mention something I am not so good at and that is delegation. Start-up founders have a tendency to try and be all things to all people and to suck up problems and issues and work. In this regard I am no exception. At Storage Made Easy however I do have a fantastic team and it is a daily mantra for me to delegate more something I am sure I will not always get it right but I am working on it !
Lastly there is a great article by Christian Reilly from Citrix on workplace stress in the technology sector that is well worth a read.