5 Simple Tactics for Managing Founder Stress
Taking control over your health is the first step in avoiding burnout, or worse.
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I was lying in bed on a recent rainy Sunday morning, sleeping in for one of the first times in what seems like years. It was one of those rare, comfy and quiet micro moments to myself. However, it was quickly disturbed by the voice of my inner warrior, who basically said I was, "getting chubby, working way too much and not spending enough quality time with my husband.' Her timing is always bad, but maybe her message this day was driven by the new year? Nope. Deep down, these were things I already knew needed addressing immediately, regardless of the date on the calendar.
These "things' had been the source of myriad distractions over the past year and the longer I ignored them the more power they exerted in terms of being able to weigh me down on a daily basis. They were mostly life things and I knew I needed to address them immediately in order to stay happy, healthy and prosperous as an entrepreneur. The first thing was recognizing that I am more than just an entrepreneur. I am also a wife and a daughter and a sister. It just took a direct and forceful reminder from my gut (inner warrior) to turn these "things' into action items, of which I've already accomplished the following tasks:
Stopped drinking alcohol two months ago.
Started reading regularly a month ago.
Started going to bed an hour earlier two weeks ago.
Today, I started running again, even if I had to walk most of the way.
Next month, I start a weekly yoga class
What's the big deal?
Over the past few years a number of high-profile entrepreneurs in the startup technology world have published successful articles about the negative health effects associated with establishing and running a company. Brad Feld, founder of the Foundry Group and a successful venture capitalist, has perhaps provided the strongest voice in the startup tech community regarding this trend by publishing articles and serving as a topic expert for the Wall Street Journal, Techcrunch, and on his popular blog page. In a fairly recent post he stated the following about his own battles with founder's stress:
"I also have to deal with my own stress and anxiety. If I reach my limit, I start reacting to the cumulative stress and anxiety in my system. If I don't do something about that quickly (of which self-care: rest, running, meditating, eating right, spending time alone, not traveling, being with Amy, reading) and in a significant enough magnitude, a depressive episode of some duration starts to loom. In the extreme cases, I tip into depression."
Even though I don't suffer from depression, I empathize with Feld and the struggles of his peers in the tech industry who do. We are now starting to see the same frantic startup culture emerge in the cannabis industry, and while some of my peers are starting to exhibit depressive behavior, most of them are just plain stressed out. I get it. These entrepreneurs are scrambling to stay relevant in a rapidly consolidating marketplace and as a result many are willing to sacrifice the time typically spent decompressing with people they love in order to get more "stuff' done. That's the state I was in before a visit from my inner warrior.
There are those in our industry who are seeking a hand-up financially in an effort to better vault their companies into some form of financial sustainability. Conveniently, venture funds are now in place and ready to serve the cannabis market, but the associated terms often come with an unforeseen, steep price. Startup cannabis entrepreneurs who accept venture funds could easily become the next wave of overworked, stressed and in some cases, depressed entrepreneurs; exact mirrors of what we've been reading about in the startup tech world.
According to a study approved by the University of California at Berkeley Institutional Review Board and published in the Small Business Economics Journal, mental health issues directly or indirectly affected 72 percent of the entrepreneurs in the study's sample In fact, 32 percent of the entrepreneurs surveyed reported having two or more mental health conditions, while 18 percent reported having three or more mental health conditions. In addition, the entrepreneurs involved in this study were more likely than comparison study participants and the general population to experience depression, ADHD, addiction and bipolar disorder by a wide margin, as you can see in the bullets below.
Depression: 30 percent compared to 15 percent (comparison study participants) and 16.6 percent (general population)
ADHD: 29 percent compared to 5 percent and 4.4 percent
Addiction: 12 percent compared to 4 percent and 8.4 percent
Bipolar diagnosis: 11 percent compared to 1 percent and 4.4 percent
If you are one of the lucky ones, like me, you don't suffer from mental health issues, but rather from a lack of knowledge in terms of how to actually manage overwhelming stress. For me, it is about achieving life balance -- work hard, but play and love just as hard -- it is something I stress with my employees too. If they neglect their favorite daily hike, there's a chance they could also fail to achieve the sort of piece of mind that might allow them to solve a difficult problem at work. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki summed up this philosophy nicely in a 2014 Today Show interview about balancing motherhood and a career:
"I think it is really important to take time off, and I've also found that sometimes you get really good insights by taking time off too."
The thing that drives most overworked and overstressed entrepreneurs is our internal voice -- that of our inner warrior speaking to us from our gut. It is this voice that helps us make key product design decisions, the driving force that helps us negotiate big deals and also the guide that helps us manage our personal lives. Fortunately for those of us that can hear this voice, it often sounds important alarms at opportune times. If you are struggling to hear it, try yoga or meditation. Then once you hear it, listen to it. I recently heard it loud and clear and immediately took action, and I have to admit I feel much, much happier and healthier as a result. At the end of the day, that makes me a much better boss.