Building and running a business is often a difficult, stressful, and uncertain process. In a day and age where we idolize successful entrepreneurs, we are encouraged to buy into the false narrative of the “rugged individualist,” a person who is simultaneously unflappable and confident. In reality, however, this narrative couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Almost every week, I hear from entrepreneurs who have are over-stressed and dealing with anxiety. I’ve cherished the opportunity to talk to these individuals and offer my support. I’ve learned a lot about managing stressful situations while building my company, BodeTree, and I remind everyone that even the most iconic entrepreneurs struggle with uncertainty, depression, and anxiety at different points along their journey. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be ashamed to admit their own struggles. If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, don’t despair. There are ways to overcome these challenges, no matter how large they may seem.
Be open about your challenges.
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, it’s important to stop and seek out a fresh perspective before you fall into a negative spiral. Life, like business, is a journey full of ups and downs. Those ups and downs always seem more extreme to the people experiencing them firsthand than to those on the outside. If you find yourself in a difficult position and feel like the walls are closing in on you, reach out to someone with a bit of distance. Their unbiased assessment of your situation will provide a fresh perspective on things. Chances are, you’ll walk away with the realization that things aren’t as bad as you thought.
Mentors can be an excellent resource for these types of conversations, but if you find yourself without a trusted mentor, reach out to other people you trust, respect, and admire. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, spouse, colleague, or family member. The important thing is that you find someone that you can be absolutely open with no matter what.
Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Stress and anxiety occur when your mind turns against itself, allowing unhelpful and damaging thoughts and ideas to take hold and wreak havoc. One technique for overcoming such thoughts is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. The core idea behind CBT is that an individual can change behavior, thinking, or emotions by understanding and reorganizing the way those three elements interact with each other.
When I’m thinking about CBT, I’m often reminded of a quote by the stoic philosopher Epictetus, who said “People are disturbed not by events, but by the view they take of them.” If you can identify and understand not only what triggers anxiety, but how you respond to it, you can start to deconstruct the situation. Start by identifying your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and even physical reactions to the stimuli that cause stress. From there, try to figure out which element you’re dealing with at the moment, and work to change the situation. If you’re having pervasive and unwanted thoughts, recognize them for what they are and don’t let them take hold. If you’re experiencing a physical reaction such as exhaustion or migraines, don’t try to ignore them. If you commit to taking the situation head on, one step at a time, you’ll find that it becomes far more manageable.
Finally, keep everything in perspective
Business Insider recently published a great article about the depression epidemic in the startup community. According to the article, only 7% of the general population report suffering from depression, but a whopping 30% of founders report dealing with its effects, including anxiety. That statistic is staggering, but entirely believable. Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal journey, and it’s incredibly difficult to separate your individual identity from the business that you’re trying to create. Business setbacks (of which there are many) seem like personal setbacks, and anxiety can quickly take root.
The key is to always keep things in perspective. Life, like business, is a journey full of ups and downs. When talking to entrepreneurs going through a rough patch, I often encourage them to think back to high school. For most of us, there were moments in our high school lives that seemed to be monumentally important that in retrospect seem childish. At the time, of course, the pain and anxiety that you experienced was real and raw. However, the more distance you gain from the situation, the less painful it becomes. While the problems that you’re facing right here and right now may seem insurmountable, it’s important to realize these too will pass and fade in time.
There will be bumps and setbacks on any entrepreneurial journey, but remember that you’re not alone. Find someone to talk to, use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and keep things in perspective. No matter how dark a situation looks, it never is as bad as it seems. Remember that almost every entrepreneur has been in the same situation at one time or another. You can and will overcome.