Working in a startup is extremely demanding. Startups exhaust just about all the resources a person has. For most people, their finances, physical energy and mental capacity are all impacted by involvement in a startup.
As it relates to finances, there’s really only so much a person can do. Generally, they’re either hustling to raise money with investors or they’re anxiously watching their personal bank account deplete month over month. Neither option is ideal.
In either case, a person’s mental well-being is always at stake. This is true even when their physical energy is depleting, as the link between one’s physical well-being and their mental well-being is undeniable.
As a result, it makes good sense to focus on concrete ways that those in startups can focus on their mental health. The first tip is to notice an important distinction.
1. Understanding The Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Indulgence
This tip is absolutely crucial. And it really is a tip because if you fail to recognize this, your mental well-being will be vulnerable.
According to a popular definition of self-care, whatever we do for the self counts as self-care. Often times, this includes activities like Netflix binging, consuming drink and food with little regard for its impact on the body, and endless social media scrolling.
Are these activities, by themselves dangerous or harmful? Not necessarily. We can all enjoy a Netflix binges here or there; a cocktail alongside some yummy food; or an hour or two zoning out on social media during the week.
The problem is when these activities consume all or most of our free time in the name of “self-care.” You can tell that these activities are better described as “things done for the self” rather than self-care. How can you know this?
Well, imagine if most or all of your time was consumed by these activities. After a short period of time, you’d likely not be in great shape.
Self-care is marked by an improvement in your well-being.
Not everything we do for our selves improves our well-being. If you’re working in a startup, it’s crucial to assess your self-care activities. Do they contribute to your well-being?
2. What You’re Doing Outside of Work Matters Just As Much As What You Do Inside Work
When people are looking for ways to pay attention to their mental health in their work, they often look for a better work habits.
For some, this looks like cutting down the number of meetings they might have during a day. For others, it looks like limiting their time on Slack or email. Both of these ideas aren’t bad.
In fact, if you could genuinely take control of your meetings and time spent on the computer, your mental health probably would be improved.
When you only pay attention to what you do when working, and not to what you do when you’re not, you’re vulnerable.
As it turns out, burnout is both a product of our work rhythms and our non-work rhythms.
If you’re working for a startup, nothing is more difficult than taking a day off. That is, literally the whole day: no email checks, no Slack, no conversations with team members about work. The failure to take quality time off when you’re supposed to be not working is critical to your mental health.
It’s already difficult enough that you probably can’t stop thinking about your startup on your day off. Your brain is constantly running about new strategies, new ways to bring in revenue, creative marketing strategies. The list goes on.
Want to see gains in your mental health? Take an actual day off. Then, use that day off to notice everything that comes up for you in your mind.
Are you prone to feeling guilty for not working?
Do you worry about your self-image to the rest of the team for not responding?
Do you find yourself thinking about how the startup might not make it if you don’t __________ right now? (This is common thought. Everything feels both urgent and important.)
3. For Your Mental Health It’s Time To Find Someone To Process With
Read back through those questions at the end of the last section. Did you answer “yes” to any of them? Perhaps you answered “yes” to all of them? While it’ll be tempting to give a disingenuous answer to these questions, being honest is the most important thing you can do for your mental health.
(Who, after all, would like to admit such things? Not many.)
Many of the mental health issues in our culture are being facilitated by intense avoidance. In some cases, it’s just straightforward dishonesty. The way forward is to get honest.
If you’ve been at the startup journey for a while, maybe locked in the grips of a draining work routine, it may be time to be honest about what’s going on.
The best tip here is to find someone to process with. A therapist, a coach, a mentor, a good friend. The most important requirement is that they’re good at listening and that they value mental health. It won’t help to process what’s going on with someone who takes up all the space and couldn’t care less about mental health.
Answering “yes” to any of the above questions is a good cue that you’d be a good candidate for processing what’s going on.
In reality, everyone is a good candidate for processing their life. Answer “yes” to the above questions makes you a really good candidate.
So tip number three is to find someone who you can process your life-in-a-startup with. Find someone who gives you space to be honest about the ups and the downs. If you can, make the processing a weekly or bi-weekly practice.
The more you engage the process, the more you’ll come to love it and learn that you need it.