3 Tips to Beat Founder Stress

Simply put, all founders have to deal with stress and anxiety. On the path to success, you can’t avoid difficult moments, and difficult moments can cause stress and anxiety.

Once you accept that these feelings are a part of the life you’ve chosen, there are ways you can combat this. Here are a few to help:

Write it down

Writing out your thoughts, concerns, and negative self-talk helps you untangle them. It brings mental relief by helping you see what you can do to resolve some of the areas you’re upset about.

I’ve seen this happen in real life. One of the founders I coached came to one of our meetings in overdrive. A lot of problems in the business were coming up at once: he lost a big customer; his key executive resigned; he had a massive disagreement on an issue with his co-founder. All of these issues, layered on top of each other, were understandably causing him a lot of stress.

Related: Founders: Being Busy Doesn’t Mean You’re Being Productive

When we talked, his words tumbled out. We didn’t get to a resolution in our discussion. I’m not a doctor or therapist, but in this case, I told him to journal about all the things that were upsetting him and what he was telling himself.

At our next meeting, he was much calmer. He showed me his journal and told me his insights from writing everything down. He saw that he was obsessing over a lot of things that he thought he couldn’t control, but actually could. His argument with his co-founder wasn’t as serious as he thought and he saw the loss of a customer as a chance to review his sales efforts.

As in this example, journaling gives you the mental bandwidth to see yourself with a bit of distance. It also helps you unpack all the issues that are stressing you out. When you do that you both feel better and are more likely to see solutions.

Move your body

This is one of my favorite techniques and it’s my go-to when I am handling my own anxiety. Just last week I was dealing with a big project going off track and anticipating some delicate discussions I had to have. I could feel the anxiety in my stomach and a headache.

What did I feel like doing the least? Going for a run. What did I do? I convinced myself to put on my running gear and set off on my usual running path. Once I got started I felt better and my headache went away. After about 10 minutes, I was flooded with creative ideas both about how to change up the project and specific ways to handle the conversations. I came home after 30 minutes refreshed, anxiety erased.

Related: The Secret to Strong Leadership is Self-Care

As the saying goes, you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created them. A powerful way to change your thinking is to move. You don’t have to run. You can dance, you can walk, you can do yoga or you can stretch. One way or the other, get moving to change your state.

Tell better stories

Many of the CEOs I coach get trapped in anxiety because they tend to blame themselves when something goes wrong. In those moments, the most natural thing in the world is to pelt themselves with self-criticism.

Feeling like you’ll fail your big presentation tomorrow? Think your networking will fail because no one will think you’re interesting? These are all simply stories, and these particular negative stories simply feed the downward spiral of anxiety.

Instead, think about the same circumstance and tell yourself better stories. For example, if a key executive quits, one story you could tell is “She quit because I’m not a great boss.”

Instead, try “She quit because she got a new opportunity. And, I’m not happy she quit, but since she did it gives us the opportunity to find someone with more well-rounded skills or promote from within.” It’s the same truth, but the way you frame this both gives you a more positive way to view this, which helps you alleviate your anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal part of your journey as an entrepreneur. Too much stress, however, depletes your energy and reduces your creativity. Use these tools to give yourself more perspective so you can combat your own anxiety when it crops up.

Editor’s note: This was originally published on Inc.com and shared here with permission. If you’re having an acute mental health issue, call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727).

Alisa Cohn
Alisa Cohn
Executive Coach

Alisa Cohn is the author of "From Start-up to Grown-up," and an executive coach who works with startup executives to help them develop the leadership skills they need to scale their companies successfully. She has worked with companies from very early stage to Fortune 50. Her clients include Venmo, Foursquare, Facebook, Google, Cisco and Dell. Click here to pre-order "From Start-up to Grown-up"
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