Ways to Stress-proof Your Startup Life

startup stress

startup stressI don’t think I’ve gone one day without running into at least one person who says they’re stressed; honestly, it’s usually me. Stress seems to have become a part of modern life and while no one likes feeling that way we’ve all accepted it as part of our day. I think this is particularly true in the startup community. It’s part of the startup life: late nights, always online, high risk/high reward, and constant stress.

According to a survey 92% of people say stress makes it difficult to work. That is a pretty staggering number and considering how many people say that their stressed, it’s having a huge impact on our startups.

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Lets look at the top stress inducing aspects of work and how to keep them from killing your productivity and creative process.

1.) Getting Along with Others

38% of the people said that getting along with others (most likely the opposite) stressed them out at work. We are, by nature, social animals so, when there is conflict in the herd it impacts everyone, particularly in a small startup. If you’re having it out with someone at work, find a way to repair the relationship: take them out to lunch, stop by their desk an chat, find one thing that the two of you can connect on. I know this sounds difficult, especially when you’d rather sit and imagine dumping your fair-trade coffee on their head (hey, at least the coffee’s ethical). Trust me, sitting with conflict is much more difficult than trying to repair a relationship; in fact, having positive relationships is a great stress-proofer.

it can feel like drifting out to sea, but with more insecurity and less sharks

2.) Problems with Founders

Founders, they can be inspiring, creative leaders one minute and cold, distant robots the next. 68% of people reported problems with founders as a source of stress. When the direction of your startup and the future of your work depends so much on one or two people, mistrust or doubt can definitely be stressful. The majority of us feel secure when we have a leader we can look to when things feel uncertain and without one it can feel like drifting out to sea, but with more insecurity and less sharks. To make it through these ups and downs it’s important to use your empathy skills. It’s easy to idealize our founders because we have to place so much trust in them, but its also important to remember that they have the same insecurities and vulnerabilities to stress as we do. Being able to recognize this allows a greater feeling of connection with your founder and keeps you from questioning whether their moods swings are because of you.

3.) Leadership Style

42% of people listed leadership style as a source of stress at work. Having a founder you connect with and who understand you can make going to work everyday exciting. If the fit between you and your founder is a bit of a mismatch you can end up dreading going to work everyday. This can make building relationships and empathy a challenge. The hard part is this is one of those things that is hard to put into words or to talk about with someone. You can’t really go to your boss and say, “I don’t know what it is, but you’re really annoying and you’re not the boss of me”. (Even though we might want to) As hard as it is to put these disconnects into, lets say helpful, words; the reality is they probably feel it too and are unsure of how to proceed. One of the best ways to fix this is to ask for regular “sit-downs” with your fearless leader for mentoring. This environment gives you a space to say, “I’ve been really challenged by this lately…” or “I think I work best in this structure…”. When done in a way that involves them in a conversation, most likely they will want to work to support you.

When we are under stress, especially when it comes to our livelihood, our bodies go into what we call a stress response (often known as “Fight or Flight”)

4.) Uncertainty

This is perhaps one of the hardest things about working in startupland. Things can move fast and as a small company you are often riding the waves rather than buffering them (usually in a scary Pointe Break kind of way). 54% said uncertainty about the company was stressful, 23% said it was uncertainty about their job, and 15% said uncertainty about the future. Unfortunately, working in such a dynamic, high risk/high reward environment there is not much you can do to directly influence outside stress. What you can do is manage how you deal with it. When we are under stress, especially when it comes to our livelihood, our bodies go into what we call a stress response (often known as “Fight or Flight”). Since we are not cavemen and work in a civilized environment (right?) fighting and running away are not really options. What we do instead is get angry, yell, shut down, hide in our office; none of which are particularly helpful. When this happens day after day we are experiencing chronic stress, which affects our relationships, our emotional and physical health, and how we feel about ourselves. To combat these stress responses one of the most effective ways are patterned, repetitive, rhythmic activities. So, whether you like deep breathing, walking, music, Candy Crush; find a way to make your body deal with the stress so you can focus on more important things. (like Candy Crush)

5.) Life Outside of Work

This wasn’t actually mentioned in their study, but I think our personal lives have a huge impact on how we experience and deal with stress at work. When we are having relationship, health or financial problems it can throw off our whole process at work. We want to think that it shouldn’t effect our work or be afraid that our team won’t understand. This isolation of having so much to deal with and no where to go with it totally effects how stressed we are and how we manage it. So, find someone to talk to, someone you can trust and rely on. This could be a certain person at work, a mentor, or maybe most helpful, a therapist. Thinking about working with a therapist can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before but, having someone you can go to outside of your network can really be great. I would highly recommend it.

So to recap:

Relationships, Empathy, Communication, Rhythmic/Repetitive Activities, and Finding your Person. It sounds easy, right? In many cases companies aren’t built to facilitate these types of experiences. Building your startup with the emotional health of your team in mind can really make an impact on how you grow. If you are just beginning or getting ready to scale creating a supportive environment could be that X-factor that makes your startup succeed.

by Wilfred J. Krenn


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