Startup founders are known for going all-in for their companies, but everyone has their limits. Working too much could drive anyone close to the breaking point, but when you’re building something from scratch, it can be hard to know when to stop.
This daily stress can be worse for one’s mental health than an isolated traumatic event. Studies have shown that daily stressors were more related to negative mood and symptoms than potentially traumatic life events, Professor Patricia Frazier, Ph.D. and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, said.
Having started two companies, Sean Higgins of BetterYou has experienced his fair share of stress since jumping into the startup sphere in 2012.
“It’s an anxious, stressful life, but it can be the most gratifying,” Higgins said.
Officially founded in the spring of 2019, Higgins describes BetterYou as a digital wellness coach that helps users spend less time on their phone and more time on what they actually care about.
“Starting a company, it’s not an easy path, it’s for people who want to do something that matters,” he said, mentioning that failure is just as much — or more — a part of it as success. “It’s not rainbows and sunshine, it is a struggle and a roller coaster ride.”
Clarence Bethea of Upsie can attest to this. Since launching his company that works to provide affordable and reliable warranties on electronic devices in 2016, he’s wanted to quit, felt burnt out, and gone through depression.
“I used to subscribe to that [hustle] saying, getting no sleep, working all the time,” he said.
But going through depression in the winter of 2016 reset his mindset on that outlook. He now sees that working all the time is how people get burnt out.
He might be onto something, too. Professor Frazier mentions that other studies show daily events are more related to mental health symptoms than major events. So, it’s not always one big failure or roadblock but just the day to day stressors of working constantly.
“Things are never going to happen as quickly as you think, [and] burning into midnight isn’t gonna make it any easier or faster,” Bethea said.
Thankfully, his team of angel investors and colleagues recognized that he needed a break and allowed him time and space to reboot. Now, he is much more intentional with his time and mental health, mentioning the importance of therapy and making time for family and friends.
“You have to be really protective of your time,” he said, giving examples like walking the dog every day at 5 p.m. and spending one day per month uninterrupted with friends watching basketball.
Higgins, having formerly experienced the grind with ilos videos (now VidGrid) which he co-founded in 2012 and has since left, has also discovered ways to manage his time and deal with those failures.
“Don’t ride the highs too high, or the lows too low,” he said, mentioning that getting too excited or too upset can make these moments even harder.
For Higgins, meditation and setting aside time for himself has helped provide less anxiety and more control. Five years ago, he admits his former self would have just kept grinding and going until he couldn’t, but has since learned the importance of checking in.
“Meditation is a huge one for me; the self-awareness and recognizing when you’re feeling too many things,” he said.
To ensure that he is setting his course for the day and “not getting stuff thrown at him,” Higgins doesn’t look at his phone for the first 30 minutes of his day.
“I want to frame my own day,” he said.
The “hustle, hustle, hustle” is bogus, he said. It’s not about working harder and harder, but about, “creating something sustainable, and being surrounded by people who can support you.”
Creating a support system is one way to deal with startup stress and figuring out personal ways to deal with it is another. Learn more about how Carlos Seoane from Extempore and Matt Raskin from Bootstrappers.mn have found their own ways to cope so that they bring their best to their teams in next week’s edition of Work Well.