7 strategies to stay sane through startup stress

Starting a business — and growing it — can present stressful challenges. With your ever-growing to-do list, clients to call, people to hire and manage and everything in between, it’s no wonder that entrepreneurs experience inordinately high burnout rates. Entrepreneur stress is real — but there are ways to manage startup stress to avoid burnout.

Related: Quiz — Do you have what it takes to be your own boss?

7 strategies to slay entrepreneur stress

Burnout is the dark side of the passion that motivates many entrepreneurs to push themselves to their limits. It doesn’t have to be that way.

  1. Take a breather.
  2. Identify the underlying issue.
  3. Figure out the whole story.
  4. Restructure your thoughts.
  5. Find a supportive community.
  6. Let tech give you timeouts.
  7. Write down your experiences.

Try one or more of these strategies to manage the stress that often accompanies starting a new venture.

Related: 3 tips for solopreneurs to avoid burnout

1. Take a breather

One of the most helpful things you can do to combat entrepreneur stress is to step away. Leave your phone on your desk, find a quiet spot, and take a deep breath. It may sound simple, but it can help you calm down as well as think clearer.

It makes you believe a situation is worse than it really is, and calming your mind even a little can help you find solutions you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Here’s one method of breathing deeply that really works:

  • Breathe out to empty your lungs completely.
  • Breathe in slowly, taking three seconds to do it.
  • Breathe out again over three seconds.
  • When your lungs are almost empty again, say “relax” out loud.
  • Repeat as many times as needed.

Related: 5 essential steps to make space in your life for a digital detox

2. Identify the underlying issue

Once you feel calmer, you can start working on the root cause of your stress, which may not be related to starting your business. Often, it’s not the immediate situation that’s actually causing anxiety.

Our current situation reinforces negative thoughts we already believe about ourselves, others or the world. These negative thoughts and beliefs are called stuck points.

If you don’t resolve your stuck points, your stress will keep coming back.

For example, you might get stressed by planning a marketing campaign. You may think the solution is extending your deadline, but it doesn’t help. You may actually be stressed because you think you’re not capable or good enough.

Unless you resolve that underlying thought, marketing will continue to stress you out.

Once you identify the root cause of your stress, you can kick it to the curb.
Once you identify the root cause of your stress, you can kick it to the curb.
Photo: Thought Catalog on Unsplash

3. Figure out the whole story

Fortunately, you can use some of the methods from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to retrain your brain to think more positively and reduce your overall stress.

As previously mentioned, the more you do this work, the greater the stress relief you’ll notice over time.

First, you need to identify your stuck points: “concise statements that reflect a thought — not a feeling, behavior or event,” according to the Center for Deployment Psychology.

To do this, remember the moment when you started feeling stressed. Then, remember the negative thought that was going through your head when it happened.

This is often your stuck point. Write it down along with any more of these negative thoughts that came up.

4. Restructure your thoughts

Once you have identified your stuck points, you can reframe your thoughts to reduce their severity.

Pick a stuck point and decide whether this thought is a habit of yours or based in fact.

Look for evidence that your thought is true. Chances are, you won’t find any evidence that is based in fact. Once you realize this, you can retrain your brain.

To help you come to this conclusion, ask yourself if you’re distorting the truth by:

  • Exaggerating
  • Overgeneralizing
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Filtering out positive events
  • Thinking in terms of “all or nothing”
  • Minimizing your situation
  • Not interpreting the situation accurately
  • Taking things out of context
  • Basing your thoughts on feelings, not fact
  • Focusing on irrelevant factors
  • Ignoring important aspects of your situation
  • Oversimplifying
  • Assuming you know what others are thinking
  • Feeling something and assuming it’s for a negative reason

It can also be helpful to ask yourself whether the thought comes from a cultural or societal bias. Maybe someone said something that sprouted this negative thought long ago. In these cases, ask whether the source for this information is reliable.

Once you have come to the conclusion that your stuck point isn’t based in fact, come up with a statement that’s related and states the opposite. It should also be balanced, meaning the statement isn’t too negative or too positive.

For example, “I’m not good enough” would become “I am good enough.”

See how that statement feels. If you don’t believe it to be 100 percent true, try a different statement that’s closer to your original.

For example, “I’m good enough sometimes.”

Over time, as you continue this work, you can adjust the statement to reflect the balanced thought you want to believe.

Whenever entrepreneur stress strikes again, repeat your balanced statement to remind yourself of the work you did, unraveling your stuck points. You should notice a reduction in your overall stress level.

For details, check out 25 CBT Techniques and Worksheets for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Entrepreneur Stress Person on Top of Mountain
Stress can feel like an unclimbable mountain. Keep going and you can reach the top.
Photo: Tory Morrison on Unsplash

5. Find a supportive community

Finding others in the same boat can help you find strength when you need it. Knowing you’re not alone can provide you with some much-needed relief.

There are many free Slack groups for people like you who are starting a business, including:

You can also look for local meetups and professional organizations, in addition to finding a mentor who can share their own experiences with overcoming startup stress.

Related: 14 startup resources for female founders, 6 top-ranked business networking groups on the web and Finding a mentor

6. Let tech give you timeouts

Godaddy Smartline Help With Entrepreneur Stress

Like the tech tools mentioned above for connecting with a community of like-minded individuals, there’s a wealth of technology available to shoulder some of the stress that comes with starting a business. Here are just a few favorite tools:

  • IFTTT. This web-based service easily enables you to automate projects ranging from automatically posting Instagram photos to your Facebook page to converting files and logging finished to-do list items on your calendar.
  • SmartLine. The line between business and personal gets blurry for many entrepreneurs — this second phone number app makes it easy to distinguish between business and personal calls on your smartphone.
  • Todoist. With this project management app you can manage tasks from mobile, tablet and computer. Todoist allows you to create recurring tasks and use project templates to save time and reduce entrepreneur stress.

Related: How to supercharge productivity using Microsoft Office 365 tools

7. Write down your experiences

Journaling can also be a helpful tool to manage your stress as your business grows.

You can keep track of your progress. Every once and a while, you can look back and see proof of how far you have come to give yourself a confidence boost.

Don’t let entrepreneur stress damper your dream

There’s no doubt that starting and running your own business can be stressful — but you CAN take steps to manage that stress and realize your full potential. To recap:

  • Take a step back to breathe.
  • Identify the root cause of your stress.
  • Find your “stuck point” — the moment you began feeling the stress and the thought that accompanied it.
  • Reframe your thoughts to reduce the severity of the stress they cause.
  • Turn to online and offline communities for support.
  • Use technology to help ease the startup burden.
  • Keep a journal.

These tactics can help you focus on what matters most — staying strong and healthy so you can be the kind of entrepreneur you want to be.

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