By Nelson Vinod Moses
There’s plenty to celebrate about Indian entrepreneurship. It is the fastest growing ecosystem in the world, and in 2015, the number of Indian entrepreneurs shot up to third in the world. Every entrepreneur hopes to become a unicorn — a billion dollar enterprise — like Flipkart and Paytm, and be featured on the cover of Forbes and Fortune.
The truth is only 25 percent of all startups end up being successful. The rest of the 75 percent fail. But whether you are successful or struggling, there is a psychological price to be paid by an entrepreneur, one that doesn’t seldom get spoken about, and if does, it gets buried in all the positive news that envelopes entrepreneurship.
So, what can be done to combat crippling anxiety and severe stress?
We researched solutions to entrepreneur related stress and anxiety, got the opinion of a Seraniti expert, and picked the brains of four entrepreneurs to find possible solutions. Here’s the list we made from their collective distilled wisdom:
1) Accept anxiety:
Anxiety or worry is natural says Monisha Sharma, Integrative Therapist, Seraniti. The truth is that all entrepreneurs will suffer from stress and anxiety, which will be more than what somebody employed in a large company will experience. This is because of the number of variables and uncertainties that an entrepreneur encounters is more, just when one fire is doused, and there’s another that gets lit. The constant fight or flight mode, keeps an entrepreneur on edge, and can make him or her frazzled. The first step to tackling anxiety is to accept the fact that anxiety is an occupational hazard and may even be needed. ”Optimal stress levels can help entrepreneurs sustain the motivation, energy, and drive that is essential in running a startup. It pushes people towards optimal performance,” says Monisha Sharma, “I believe stress is inevitable and the ability to handle loads of it as time goes by in a start-up is an evolution of the self,” says Kavitha Iyer-Rodrigues, Founder and CEO of Zumutor Biologics.
2) Stay positive, build emotional resilience and learn to let go:
If anxiety forces us to focus on negative impacts and worry about the future, staying positive flips this by helping us switch on a sunny disposition, and believing that things can be set right. This does not mean being unrealistic, but having an optimistic viewpoint after evaluating all possible outcomes in a objective manner. Emotional resilience is the ability to bounce back from a setback quickly, and by not allowing the failure to affect the entrepreneur for a long period of time. There’s no point in being motivated by Steve Jobs’ success if you can’t also acknowledge that he failed repeatedly, was fired from his own company and nearly gave up. Jobs picked himself and gave it another shot. That’s resilience. “If things are not in your control you should learn to let go. Stress and anxiety is unavoidable so it requires careful thinking and planning. Transform your perceived weakness into a strength. So the next time you are hit with anxiety, instead of panicking and letting it overpower you, simply ask yourself, “What is one thing I could do right now to let go of this discomfort?,”” says Shweta Tiwary, Founder of e-commerce startup, Chungi Store.
3) Mindfulness and meditation:
Oprah Winfrey, Tim Ferris, Jerry Seinfeld, Padmasree Warrior and Kavin Bharti Mittal all practice mindful meditation. And, why not? It is known to boost emotional intelligence, makes one calm, alert and increases memory retention. Studies have shown that mindful meditation practices lead to better outcomes for those who suffer from anxiety. Mindful meditation practices can be learned easily (podcasts, Youtube or a few quick classes) and practised anywhere and anytime, and all the time. Sign up for Dr. Shyam Bhat’s mindful meditations available on the Cult.Fit app to beat stress and anxiety. If there’s one thing that an entrepreneur can start with immediately that has tremendous benefits it should me mindful meditation.
4) Exercise your anxiety away:
This is a no-brainer. Exercise is one of the best antidotes to anxiety, not to mention, also helps with cardiovascular health, improved focus, increases energy, and generally puts you in a good mood. Entrepreneurs agree. “It serves a multitude of purposes including an avenue of release of stress, relaxing the mind and body, recharge, boosts creativity, provides fresh perspective on return to name a few,” says Sudan Mylsamy, Co-founder and Managing Director at Aesthetix Technologies. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for this. Choose an exercise regimen that suits your personality and that can easily be slotted into your schedule. “Go for a walk, don’t forget to exercise daily because health is wealth,” says Shweta.
5) Get your fill of family, friends (and pets!) time:
Research suggests that having the social support of near and dear ones helps in fighting stress and anxiety. Being an entrepreneur is a long and lonely road, and sometimes can lead to a feeling of isolation, which in turn can lead to anxiety. “I have found interesting company in my peer groups and family that’s kept me connected at various levels to handle the pressures of work. There have been overwhelming moments leading to tears. I am blessed that I have a close-knit, empathetic family for support,” says Kavitha. Pets are great stress busters. Did you know Mark Zuckerberg has a canine named “Beast?” “My stress busters are my two cats, they don’t judge me. Whenever I am under stress or anxiety I play with them, they give me unconditional love. Adopt a pet,” says Shweta.
6) Retreat, take a break:
Sometimes it just pays to take a step back, pause, and then get back to the game. “In some instances I have isolated myself to introspect,” says Sudan. Being in the middle of a blurry, fast-paced environment, daily can be unsettling. “To perform optimally, entrepreneurs need to replenish their psychological resources of positive emotions, resilience, support systems, effective ways to deal with stress, physical and general health, sleep better and focus on nutrition and other lifestyle choices,” says Monisha. Unplugging from their busy environment and withdrawing to a quiet spot within oneself could be helpful. “I tend to go into a hole and find my answers when the situation around me becomes difficult. And I’ll come out of it, stronger and with a new plan – and that is always the case,” says Vijay Anand, Founder and CEO of The Startup Centre.
8) Find your own sweet spot for anxiety release:
There is no cookie cutter approach to keeping your head above water and swimming in the choppy waters of entrepreneurship successfully. You can figure out your own brand of anxiety fighting weaponry. “I do laundry when I am down and nothing is going my way – the smell of fresh clothes and that sense of accomplishment gets you out and back in the game sometimes. So you evolve these coping mechanisms to keep you on the track,” says Vijay. For Kavitha running and workouts have not only helped her personally and professionally, but gives her much needed family time. ‘I have found my peace with running. I have also used workouts and running as a form of meditation to keep me going during these tough times. Longer distances, the rhythm of running, company of fellow runners has kept my adrenaline pumping, given reason to wake up an ungodly hours and put in mileage. This sport has also ensured that my entire family runs,” says Kavitha.
9) Separate work and home:
Having a barrier between the work environment and the home territory can be an effective way to keep stress at bay. It gives you an opportunity to use the space at home to unwind, relax and not think about the stresses at work. “I believe stress is inevitable and the ability to handle loads of it as time goes by in a start-up, is an evolution of the self. I have seen my fellow entrepreneurs go through extended periods of anxiety and this has a profound impact on the families too. Over time I guess the learning is to disengage between the blur of the two worlds of work and home,” says Kavitha.
10) Don’t underestimate good health, sleep and diet:
Entrepreneurs who keep a close eye on the bottomline, sales targets and customer satisfaction would be also be well-advised to keep track of their health. A well functioning body will help tackle stress and anxiety. “I believe health is the next new serious investment to make which includes mind and body. The two are closely related and as a biologist I can justify that at a hormonal level too. The mind, both at a physical and metaphysical state is the root of cognitive feeling, and this can be very ably influenced by a body and it’s physical machinery,” says Kavitha. For most entrepreneurs sleep is a luxury and they are mostly sleep deprived. But ask Arianna Huffington about the importance of sleep. She’s written a book called “The Sleep Revolution” on why sleep is critical. A balanced diet can keep your body humming and your mind sharp.
11) Have a plan and stick to a schedule:
Shweta believes in the adage: “Let’s simplify our daily job list.” She says sticking to her schedule helps her staying focused and lowers her stress levels. Monisha emphasizes this: “While the uncertainty of reaching outcomes can potentially be overwhelming, entrepreneurs who follow specific thought frameworks such as design thinking, scrum, etc, find it effective in articulating their goals, devise sub-goals to help them reach the outcome they want and also plan for exit strategies, and contingency plans to help them navigate.” Vijay avoids burnouts by sticking to his routine. “There are days when I am depressed. But then you evolve a set of routine to get you out of it and keep moving,” says Vijay.
12) Have fun, make place for hobbies and interests:
Most successful entrepreneurs have avid hobbies and interests outside of work. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both love playing bridge. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square prefers hiking. Anil Ambani is known for running. Ratan Tata flies planes. “It’s very important to have a life outside work, Pursue your hobby. Meet your friends on a regular basis, laugh and play with them. Give time to your family. Spending time with loved ones will help in unwinding,” says Shweta. Making place outside of work for activities that bring genuine joy, fun to indulge in, and helps takes your mind off work, can be relaxing and stress-busting.
13) Self-discipline and self-compassion:
For most entrepreneurs, the road of entrepreneurship is a long and lonely road, and the person or thing that can impact their lives the most; is themselves. Vijay says that the greatest challenge to overcome, is yourself. The important thing, he says, is balance, since pushing oneself to succeed requires copious amounts of self-discipline, it critical to imbibe self-compassion as well. Shweta believes that while talent and ideas may help build a great business, it is self-control and discipline that help sustain it.
14) Seek help, from a therapist, family or friends:
Prudent entrepreneurs know that they don’t have all the answers and are willing to turn to outside help to deal with issues and challenges at work. This includes a psychotherapist, peers, friends and family “I have known some very close people who have sought a therapist to counsel them and this has had an enormous impact. Though I personally haven’t been to a therapist to deal with stress and anxiety. I believe this is a go-to option and would work well,” says Kavitha. “When I’m chasing a white rabbit, my friends understand it. But they also know when to pull me back when I’m walking towards an abyss. I think having that support system is your greatest asset,” says Vijay. Sudan believes that a therapist can serve as a guide or awaken one to deeper understanding, but the actual effort of moving forward comes from within. Talk therapy can be effective as a pre-emptive measure, and not just as corrective one. The use of pharmacotherapy (medication) is also effective, as and when required.
About the author
Nelson Vinod Moses is a Bangalore-based, award-winning mental health journalist, and Founder of Suicide Prevention India Foundation. His writing has been featured in Fortune, Quartz, The Times of India, HuffingtonPost, and many other publications. He is on a quest to bring mental health conversations out in the open, improving mental health literacy, and talking about the importance of mental health self-care.