There are a number of ways we can minimise stress, but you’re in startup land, which generally means you needed to know either three years ago, three months ago, three weeks ago or three days ago. Time is a killer in this world, so however we start to reduce stress it has to be quick, effective and impactful. Below are three quick stress management strategies you can implement today reduce your stress to thrive, not just survive.
1. Stop glorifying the hustle
We so rarely talk about the chronic stress and strain that being in a startup has on every other element of life. But even when we do talk about it, not many people have practical, reassuring or helpful strategies to deal with, and manage, this type of stress. And so, we brush it off and say: “It’s just the startup hustle.” This, my friends, is the least helpful answer and if you take anything away from this article, let it be this – please stop glorifying the hustle.
Stop using “the hustle” as a socially acceptable justification for unhealthy working habits – the crazy hours, lack of downtime, poor work cultures and complete absence of self-care and team care. Being wired and “on” all the time is unhealthy and it is not the hustle. Hustle is focused, meaningful and mission-driven. With focus and meaning comes balance and care, not imbalance and disregard. The more we glorify these elements by throwing in, “It’s just the hustle” or “You just have hustle” at the causes of stress and the warning signs of fatigue, the worst we make it for ourselves, our team and our industry. The more we push people towards burnout.
Let’s agree to stop this now and start a different approach today. Look at what you tell yourself and your team. Are you using hustle as a response to justify unhealthy working habits? Ask your team and see what they say. If you get responses you don’t like – do something about it. Work with your team to set healthy boundaries which encourage balance, downtime and “life time”. This could be the very thing that helps you thrive in your startup journey.
2. Feel – you’re allowed to
This is a big one. Let me be very clear. You are allowed to feel. Feelings are not good or bad – they just are. Just like data, it’s not the data that is good or bad – it’s what is done with it that characterises its traits. The biggest cause of self-doubt, uncertainty and thereby stress comes when we deny how we feel, because we believe we shouldn’t feel that way. We shame ourselves in a conversation no-one else can hear. We tell ourselves those emotions are stupid or foolish. We make ourselves a failure in a false test where there is no grade.
3. Move, sleep, eat, repeat
This is going to sound really basic, but getting enough exercise, sleep and eating well all significantly decrease your stress, and increase your productivity and overall health. Here are some quick facts on why.
Increasing oxygen to the brain (via movement and exercise) helps with executive functioning and emotional regulation, making it easier to dampen your stress and emotionally regulate your responses to stress. Walking (and any exercise) also releases endorphins (the happy hormones), which improves the prioritising functions of the brain. After exercise, even a light walk, you are more focused, less distracted and thereby more productive. Regular exercise ends up saving you time, and money, in the long run.
Getting enough sleep, 7-9 hours a night is vital for a healthy mind and body. Sleep is a restoring, processing and repairing time for your brain. Your brain is incredibly active at this time, and in some cases more than when you’re awake. Sleep is still work and what you need for the working day; it is not the absence of work. Getting enough sleep helps you better manage stress and actually reduces your stress levels. Investing in more sleep is investing into tomorrow’s output.
Eating wholefoods, which have a low Glycemic Index (GI), like whole-grains, proteins and low-fat dairy can help you combat stress and remain more even tempered throughout the day. Additionally, foods which are high in GI increase feelings of stress. The high GI foods which increase the feelings of stress are sugar, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, foods with additives, and foods high in saturated fat. Avoiding these in times of stress and replacing them with low-GI options is a quick and easy solution to help reduce your stress levels. Food is the fuel which allows you to perform, so if you want a high-performing company, choose the right fuel.
I know it’s hard to make time for these things and build a company. But here’s a basic home truth: if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Seriously, nothing works if your body and mind break down. Chronic stress can be fatal, no matter your age or gender. So it’s best to start preventing and/or combating stress as soon as you can.
Let’s not run the risk of letting stress run us. Instead of reading this article and then closing your browser to go back to answering emails, Slack messages, updating your Trello board, whatever, commit to taking action. For the next four weeks, try any of these stress reducing options:
1. Get 30 minutes of any exercise three times a week
2. Sleep for 7-9 hours a night
3. Eat more whole foods that are low-GI and reduce your intake of high-GI food – you can find a list of these type of foods here.
If you can do one of these three things, I guarantee you, you will feel more energised and less stressed. Ultimately, we are never going to eliminate all the stress of being a founder or working in a startup, but hopefully you now realise you don’t have to. All stress, when managed properly, brings focused, committed and motivated working. What we need (and what this article seeks to offer) is a healthier, balanced and sustainable approach to talking about and dealing with startup stress.
When we integrate any stress-reducing strategies on an individual, organisational or industry-wide level, we start to move stress from the negative to the necessary. We stop blaming and denying. We start owning and changing. Mostly importantly, we stop glorifying the hustle and start glorifying our health – the one thing that we actually can’t do any of this without.
Shelley Laslett is the CEO and cofounder of Vitae.Coach – a coaching startup that combines technology with neuroscience to help individuals, startup founders, VCs and accelerators/incubators. Shelley is also a startup advisor, board member, mentor and brain-based coach.