If you let your stress go unchecked long enough, you’ll burn out.
Startup life—with all its moving parts, pressures, and uncertainties—is incredibly stressful.
For busy founders and other key startup figures, it’s all too easy to focus on building a successful business while ignoring the stress building up inside. But this is a mistake as detrimental to a growing company as poor product-market fit or failure to secure ample funding.
If you let your stress go unchecked long enough, you’ll burn out. And when that happens, your entire business operation can go awry.
The good news, though, is that there are many simple, mindful ways to relieve workplace stress.
As a startup founder, I’ve faced some big-time stressors—from dealing with shifting markets to internal cultural issues—on a seemingly daily basis. So to help keep me relaxed and focused when the pressure is on, I’ve adopted a number of incredibly helpful approaches to stress management.
Here are a few:
1. Stop stressing over the things you can’t control.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s absolutely worth a reminder: Focus only on the things within your control.
We all spend too much time worrying about things we have no influence over.
Founders, especially—who often have type-A personalities—tend to try to maintain control over everything. Even the things they really can’t. This considered, your ability to differentiate between what can and can’t be changed is vital.
For example, during an early funding round a few years back, we nearly had to lay off half our team. Needless to say, this was an incredibly stressful experience. With my back against the wall, I focused all my energy on how I could fix the situation—fast—instead of letting the pressure get the best of me. It’s easier said than done, but it was the only way to move forward.
In the same vein, when the worst does happen, it’s important to refocus your energy on what’s next rather than dwell on it. When you lose your job, focus on new opportunities. As a founder, when your company shutters, immediately begin thinking about what’s next. If you hate your job, don’t sulk and complain, either make the best of it and approach your work with a positive attitude anyway or find a new one.
It’s all we can do.
2. When you can change the situation for the better, do it immediately.
The best remedy for a stressful situation is action—working to make it less stressful.
You can find a better job today, or you can wake up miserable every Monday through Friday for the next several months. If you’re unhappy with your weight, you can adopt a new diet and workout regimen or sit around on the couch. When you can impact the situation, don’t just think and strategize—or worse, do nothing—take action today.
Similarly, when faced with an overwhelming situation—a huge project or seemingly insurmountable workload—we tend to freeze up and skirt around actually getting to work. Take that first step now. Then take the next one, and another. You’ll get there eventually. And the sooner you begin, the sooner eventually will arrive.
One of the greatest stress-relievers is checking an item off your to-do list. Adopt this strategy when you fall into a pit of overthinking or feeling overwhelmed.
3. Steer clear of company politics whenever possible.
As your company grows, politics will inevitably manifest and disrupt company culture. And an overly political workplace—one where people constantly speak ill about each other behind their backs—is an incredibly stressful environment.
If you’re a company leader, it’s your job to mediate unhealthy company politics. Action is typically better than inaction. Remember that the situation is rarely black and white, though, so try not to find yourself squarely on one side of the equation. When creating solutions to company politics, all you can do is make thoughtful, unbiased decisions using your best judgment (you won’t always know enough about the situation at hand to determine absolute right from wrong).
The best advice I have here, though, for anyone—leadership or entry-level—is to avoid saying anything behind anyone’s back. Instead, advocate for direct, open, and honest communication.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
In general, we don’t like to ask for help.
But if you’re overwhelmed, you need to ask for that extended deadline or for someone to take some of the load off your back. Remember that, when you ask for the help you need, it isn’t selfish or lazy—it’s wise. You’re helping the project, your team, and your company in the long run.
Ultimately, there’s only so much in life, and work, we can control.
Stress is going to happen, no matter what.
Your success depends on how well you can recognize it for what it is—and move forward.