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5 things that every founder needs to learn about managing stress

For a startup founder, stress is an inevitable part of the job. Here’s how one CEO learned to manage her stress and turn it into an advantage.

5 things that every founder needs to learn about managing stress
[Photo: MangoStar_Studio/iStock]

I’m not a stressed-out person. Now, don’t get me wrong—running a business is definitely a stressful endeavor. You have to ride an unpredictable roller coaster every single day, and your ups and downs are exponentially bigger swings. You could close your first million-dollar deal, and hours later your lead investor pulls out of a negotiation. It’s a wild ride.

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That’s why it’s critical for startup founders to establish tools for managing the highs and lows of a startup. That starts with understanding your own personal stressors. For me, I tend to get forgetful and scattered when I’m stressed. I’ll misplace my keys or my phone. I forget to eat lunch or look up at the clock and realize it’s 8 or 9 p.m. and I haven’t taken a break. Physically, my stress manifests as headaches. I’ll get gentle nudges from time to time that remind me I haven’t had a glass of water in a while.

In the 10 years that I’ve worked in startups, I’ve figured out how to manage my stress and turn it into a strength rather than a weakness. Here are the biggest lessons that I learned.

1. It’s important to keep learning

While it seems counterintuitive, staying occupied can actually help manage stress. This is something I discovered as a kid, as I hopped around from ballet to tennis to softball to debate to violin practice on any given day. When your brain is active and learning something new, it can bring greater focus to daily tasks. Right now, I spend Sundays and occasional evenings evaluating companies to invest in for XFactor Ventures. It doesn’t take too much time, but I get to see how other founders are running their business. This may lead to an investment, and it also makes me a better founder. I also read while I fly for work.

2. Spend time alone when you need to, but lean on others when it makes sense

Balancing thinking and talking time can be a great way to manage stress. This is especially true for solo founders that don’t have a business partner to lean on for advice. There are a lot of things I work out by myself, but there are other things I need help with. In those circumstances, working with my board, my team, my husband, or other founders is the better option. When I’m stuck on something, I typically need a bit of alone time before I can work through it. When I need to lean on someone else, I always make a point to indicate whether I want to vent, or whether I’m looking for feedback. There are so many occasions where talking something out helps unblock the issue, and I don’t necessarily need any external inputs or opinions.

3. Focus on your health

As a busy startup founder, it’s easy to put fitness and health on the back burner. Last year, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), a hormonal disorder that affects diet, energy levels, stress levels, anxiety, and a number of other things. In December, I worked to completely overhaul my diet and started working with a personal trainer. I now work out six days per week, even when I’m on the road.

4. Establish a travel routine

Many founders find themselves on the road a lot. Pitching, speaking, meeting clients, attending events, and visiting customers. Traveling is the easiest way to get out of a routine and disrupt well-being. Introducing a few simple products and habits into your routine while on the road can make a big difference. Before bed, I wash my face, make a cup of tea, and put on a face mask while answering the final emails of the day. In the morning, I work out before any meetings. I’m also an aggressive disinfectant user on airplanes. That, in addition to an Emergen-C every morning on the road, has prevented me from getting sick despite all the flying.

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5. Spend time away from the business

Every once in a while, it’s good to hit reset and get away from the business. I know—it sounds scary for founders. However, it’s often the best way to get back into a productive mindset. I’ve got a bunch of things I do to get out of my head. My husband and I like to choose a show and watch an episode or two during the week (right now we’re watching old episodes of Castle). I love cooking and baking, so I try new recipes. I spend time with family or friends. It’s not possible to do all of these things, but it’s good to set aside some time when you need it to reset.

At the end of the day, stress affects everyone differently. So it’s important to understand your own triggers, and experiment with different ways to combat them or use it to your advantage. Building a startup is one of the most rewarding jobs imaginable. You just have to make sure that you take care of yourself in the process.


Allison Kopf is the CEO of Artemis.

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