Eliminate the brain strain: tips and tools to manage startup stress
Rhetoric dictates that if you’re not working 100-hour weeks, you’re simply not working hard enough. Startup culture and “hustle” have become almost too synonymous over the last few years.
This mentality is problematic for a number of reasons – most notably, the hustle mentality creates a breeding ground for stress; and if you’re always busy, are you taking the necessary time to care for yourself?
In most cases, you’re probably not – and that can negatively impact your overall productivity and trickle down into your team’s performance, too.
In a high-pressure environment, failing to have effective stress management strategies in place can be a silent killer for teams at any stage in the game. It can lead to toxic workplace habits, a depleted company culture and cause employee satisfaction to plummet if it’s not addressed.
Sure, some stress is normal – especially in tech – but, real trouble arises when stress levels soar and it is left unmanaged. No one knows that better than Joel Muise, CEO and Co-Founder of Volta Resident company Tranquility Online.
“Let’s face it, working for a startup is messy,” Muise said. “That can be part of the fun, but it can also be very stress-inducing. One of the largest stressors involved in running or working for a startup is the amount of uncertainty involved.”
Not knowing if funding will come through, if the product will be ready on time, or where your next customer may come from, are just a few instances that can drive founders and their teams to play the “what if” game, which only serves to amplify the stress and impede their overall happiness.
That sort of stress can be difficult to cope with on your own. Back in 2016, Muise wrote a blog detailing his experience with anxiety and how stress affected him. The positive response was overwhelming – it was shared and read more than 4,000 times in 48 hours, and further validated the suspicion that he wasn’t alone in dealing with anxiety and stress-related problems.
From that experience, Tranquility Online was borne to help individuals manage symptoms of anxiety (including stress) using cognitive behavioural therapy in an affordable and timely way. Visit their website to learn more about how the platform can help you.
Undoubtedly, caring for your mental health is integral to your overall well-being. Putting into practice healthy coping mechanisms and activities can help you through life’s unavoidable stressors. There are a number of different tools you can use to reduce stress; we pulled together a few activities, tools and tips you can use to help you and your team de-stress.
Before we dive in, we should say that whichever tactic you opt for, ensure that your new and existing habits are healthy ones. Limit activities such as excessive alcohol consumption and partying, for example, to maximize the positive benefits of these stress-relieving strategies.
Here are just a few ways you can reduce your stress levels:
Do the downward dog or practice meditation
Many successful business leaders recommend some sort of physical exercise as a method for managing stress. Yoga – a mind-body activity that brings together physical poses, controlled breathing and meditation – is a great way to boost your fitness and reduce your stress levels.
Volta recently partnered with Shanti Yoga to bring mindfulness and relaxation into our community. On Fridays at noon, Michelle Robinson leads a one-hour yoga session in our Co-Working Space to help community members set positive intentions and crush their startup goals. Weekly Yoga at Volta is open to founders and employees of Volta companies, as well as our Network Members.
Catch some zzz’s….regularly
Sleep has a big role to play in managing stress. Not getting enough rest at night can lead to elevated stress levels during the day. When you experience more stress than usual throughout your day, you may struggle to get to sleep at night, creating a vicious cycle of sleeplessness and stress that’s hard to escape.
If you find that stress is keeping you up at night, consider exploring the various tech tools out there that help encourage and track sleep. Popular options include Fitbit’s fitness and sleep tracking app, and Calm, an app that includes a “Sleep Stories” feature that has well-known voices read soothing tales to help you relax and fall into a deep sleep. Otherwise, find a track that mimics the sound of ocean waves, heavy rainfall or plain, white noise; but don’t forget to set a sleep timer so it turns off, too!
Try out sensory deprivation
If you’re unfamiliar with the benefits of floating, you may feel a little apprehensive about this next recommendation. Floatation therapy, otherwise known as sensory deprivation therapy, can help reduce stress and improve other aspects of your physical health, too. This tactic, literally, puts you in a dark tank full of water that plays gentle, soothing music while you turn off your mind and simply float. There’s about 1,000-pounds of epsom salts in the average tank that enables you to float without any physical effort, so your mind – as well as your achy joints and limbs – can catch that much-needed rest over a set period of time.
So where can you do this? Here in Halifax, we have the Floatation Centre. Founded in 2015 as Atlantic Canada’s first floatation therapy facility, local entrepreneur and former engineer, Lindsay MacPhee started the business after experiencing the benefits of floatation firsthand in Vancouver.
MacPhee, had recently returned home to Nova Scotia after an opportunity to work in the engineering field fell through. She decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and now helps educate people on the mental and physical benefits of float therapy.
According to the Floatation Centre, floating increases dopamine and endorphins, better known as the “happiness chemicals” in your brain. It also slows cortisol production, which is considered a primary precursor to stress.
If you’re interested in learning more about the services offered at the Floatation Centre, visit their website.
Unkink that tech-neck
Hunched over a desk, looking at a computer screen or smartphone for hours and hours can take a real toll on your body. It seems harmless at first: there’s a slight cramping in your upper back, and maybe a hot bath or Rub A535 will do the trick for a while. But when you’ve habitualized poor posture, your overall health can be impacted, presenting as headaches, migraines, back strain, general discomfort or, stress.
The knee-jerk response is to just say, ‘Straighten up,’ but sometimes it’s not that easy.
Do an ergonomic review of your work station. Is your chair supporting your spinal curves? Are your knees at about hip-height, and do your feet rest on the floor? If not, we definitely recommend making those changes.
How far away are frequently-used items? If you’re always reaching for something, keep it close by. Otherwise, ensure your arms are resting in position where your wrists are below your elbows, and that your monitor height has your neck looking up – not hunched down.
But that’s not all; be sure to get up and walk around at least once per hour. At first you may need to set a reminder on your phone or wearable tech, but trust us, it’s worth it. A change of scenery does wonders for your mind and body.
Finally, if you’ve fixed up your workstation and still have some residual tech-neck or other pain, consider visiting a massage therapist or chiropractor. In Halifax, we are certainly not short on supply, with businesses such as Agricola Holistic Health, Active Approach or Maritime Chiropractic and Wellness and other, similar locations across HRM dedicated to helping you straighten up, increase your flexibility, align your spine and work out those knots.
Basque in the Vitamin D
Startup work hours are rarely nine-to-five. Long days can mean that startup founders and employees begin work before the sun rises and end their days well after it sets. Months of coding and strategizing might cause you to go days without spending some quality time outdoors.
However, you may want to consider taking a break and stepping outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery. In fact, research suggests that getting outside for a break during the workday may actually increase your productivity and strengthen your ability to concentrate.
Not sure where to go? The Province of Nova Scotia has a great resource for people looking to discover the scenic hiking and multi-use trails this province has to offer.
If you can’t seem to pull yourself away from work long enough to take a break, try scheduling walking meetings on nice days to start, and then gradually incorporate getting outside into your daily schedule.
Unplug from tech
When the stress becomes too much, sometimes the only thing you can do is step away from it all. Finding time throughout the year to completely disengage from your work – and all tech for that matter – is important to ensure you maintain enough momentum to accomplish all your goals. It’s a great way to discover something new, and always seems to offer a little perspective.