Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Managing Anxiety
as an Entrepreneur

Reid Pearson is the founder and CEO of Zeek Bar.

My name is Reid, I’m the Founder & CEO of Zeek Bar – a healthier snack bar for kids.

I’ve been a solo entrepreneur most of my life and learning to absorb the ups and downs of entrepreneurship has been a life-long practice.

We’re all familiar with the troubling statistics about founders. According to a study by Michael Freeman, entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to have a mental health condition like depression versus the average population.

My own struggle with mental health started after college when I began feeling anxious and having panic attacks in certain situations. My whole life I’d been achieving and excelling and now didn’t know what was happening to me. I was scared and confused and the more pressure I put on myself, the worse I felt.

This was a difficult period for me, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything because it started me on the path of prioritizing my mental health. Being an entrepreneur is unlike any other job: start with overwhelming uncertainty, add in constant rejection, and top with a persistent fear of failure. It’s no wonder why so many of us fall victim to negative self-talk, chronically high stress-levels, separation from our family and friends, or worse. I firmly believe that as a founder you must make your mental well-being priority zero. If you are not able to function at a high level and for the long-term, all your efforts are compromised.

After all, what else matters besides your day-to-day mental experience?

Along my journey I’ve discovered several techniques and practices that have taken me from an entrepreneur riddled with fear and anxiety to a more balanced, equanimous one.

Here are 5 of the practices I’ve found most helpful.

Find Quiet Time

This is a foundational practice that for me is non-negotiable. It’s simple: find a time in your day when you can sit by yourself, without distraction. It’s best to do this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. For some it’s a meditative practice – there’s a wide spectrum of teachings, apps, and practices that can help you here – for others it’s journaling or another form of writing practice.

Take at least 15 minutes for yourself and try to do this at the same time and place every day. Maybe it’s a secluded corner in your apartment, or a special room in your home. Make this a ritual that holds respect for you and commit to doing it every day, even when you don’t feel like it.

Keep Perspective

The background image on my phone looks like a bunch of empty space, but it’s actually one of the most powerful images that’s ever been taken.

The image below is what Voyager 1 took of Earth when it turned it’s camera back at us and snapped a photo as it sped out of our solar system.

See that tiny pale blue dot in the band of light? That’s us.

One of the most powerful practices to maintain your level-headedness as an entrepreneur is to keep things in perspective. The best way to do this is to zoom way out and remember that we are simply on a rock, spinning through space and to do this frequently.

The reality is whatever you do, even if you’re a universe-denting entrepreneur or the King of an Empire, will be forgotten.

That may sound terrifying, but it’s actually extremely liberating. Apply this perspective next time you face adversity in your day– you almost can’t help but smile and laugh.

Have a Vision

When you’re on a long journey with prolonged suffering (is there a better description of being a founder!?) the simple thought of something you’re looking forward to can sustain you.

I’m reminded of a quote from a cyclist who was riding across the country. When asked how he kept going, he replied that he would simply remember one thing: tonight he would be lying in bed.

Commit to your mind a promising vision of something on the horizon for your business. Don’t make it 5 or 10 years out. Choose something that will bring you joy over the next 3-6 months that you can bring up in your mind when you’re being challenged. Perhaps it’s a product launch, a retailer rollout, or an employee stepping up in their role.

Paint that image in detail in your head and then sprint towards it. You know that when you get there it will be worth it.

Reset Your Default

Do you remember the scene from Superbad when Seth is in the supermarket and he imagines everything going perfectly for him?

Isn’t it funny that for some reason this is kind of how we expect our lives to go? Our default expectation is that everything will work and nothing will break.

Well, having a startup is the opposite: nothing works and everything breaks.

As entrepreneurs, we have to learn to reset this default in our minds. We need to accept that the default status is *doesn’t work* and our job is to *make it work*. We need to train our minds to stop expecting everything to run smoothly and instead to expect that things will break. If anything, we should be surprised when they don’t.

Appreciate that solving problems is exactly what provides you the opportunity to build something no one else has. When you come to expect friction, you’re not surprised when it inevitably happens.

Make a Mantra

There are times when it won’t matter how much practice you’ve done, something’s just happened that has put you on full self-defeating, catastrophizing tilt.

A deal falls through. Your product won’t arrive in time. A business partner leaves.

There’s no way around it, your mind is going to be racing for the next 24 hours.

In these instances it is helpful to have something to literally pull your mind’s attention away from it’s own negativity and direct it somewhere else.

This might be a time when some would suggest positive-thinking. For me, what’s been more effective is having a mantra or two I can turn to.

A mantra is a short phrase repeated over and over for your mind to focus on.

“This will pass.” “I’m safe and secure.” “I’m getting better and better.”

Make a mantra that is impactful to you that you can call on in times of extreme stress. Instead of incessantly thinking about how your business is surely going to fail, you think “this will pass, this will pass, this will pass”.

There is no better crucible for sharpening your mental health than being a founder. For some, steel will strengthen steel. Unfortunately for many others it will pierce their healthy and balanced mental state.

Use your business to build your mental health, not weaken it. If you succeed in business at the cost of compromising your mental state, what is the point?

We are all fragile, sensitive, finely tuned human beings. Protecting your mental health requires intentional practices and defenses. Invest in finding the ones that work for you so you can succeed not just in your business but in maximizing the experience of your very limited trips around the sun.

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