About the author: Alyssa Petersel, co-founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.
Her startup, My Wellbeing matches individuals with quality therapists to ease access to a personalized healing relationship and enable therapists to help more people. This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 participants here.
Though startups often emit a glamorous reputation, running them often calls for years of high stress and uncertainty. As a co-founder of a startup, I encourage people with heart-on-fire ideas to pursue them full speed. That said, investing in and practicing consistent self-care is as important as organizing business calendars and calculating expenses.
The following are five tried and true methods to maintain your sense of balance as you approach what can sometimes feel like a roller coaster of entrepreneurship.
Studies increasingly show the benefits of meditation, including stress reduction, anxiety and depression reduction, improved concentration, decision making, improved cognitive skills and problem-solving, increased self-awareness and self-esteem, increased positive mood and emotional intelligence, slowed aging, heightened cardiovascular and immune health, and more.
You can imagine how this short list would benefit an entrepreneur. Creating a routine of meditating for 10 minutes to start your day or for 10 minutes to wind down in the evening could make all the difference. Meditation is also a powerful tool to have on hand during a spontaneously stressful occurrence. Before reacting, or potentially initiating a damaging decision or interpersonal confrontation, take a few breaths, regroup, and approach the obstacle with a fresh perspective.
Luckily, group meditation and guidance for individual practice have become more accessible. Insight Timer and Headspace are two popular apps that provide guided meditation tools for individuals. Sites like The Interdependence Project, The Path, NYC Meditation, Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, and MNDFL among others offer in-person meditation talks, classes, and group meditation experiences.
- Eat well and exercise.
Eating healthy isn’t always easy or accessible, but committing to a relatively healthy diet can be one of the smartest decisions you ever make. A healthy diet generally includes whole grains, lean meat, low-fat dairy products, fruit, and vegetables. Eating healthy helps improve productivity, enhance mood, lower risk of depression, improve sleep quality, decrease joint pain, and reduce stress, among other benefits. Studies have found that consuming foods with omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, for example, can help reduce cortisol levels.
Like eating healthy, physical activity carries immense benefits for you, your mental and physical health, and your performance. Physical activity can help control your weight, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reduce your risk of some cancers, strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your mental health and mood, improve your ability to do daily tasks, and increase your chances of living longer.
For entrepreneurs, regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp, as you will confront spontaneous shifts, changes, and pivots throughout the lifecycle of your business. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits.
- Get enough sleep.
Adequate sleep – which can help improve memory, extend lifespan, curb inflammation, spur creativity, improve performance, improve immunity, improve reaction time and judgment, improve vision, improve your grades and productivity, sharpen attention, manage a healthy weight, lower stress, reduce irritability, avoid accidents, and reduce risk of depression and anxiety – is a key part of a healthy and productive lifestyle.
Despite the vast benefits of getting enough sleep, over 40% of the U.S. population sleeps less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night. Entrepreneurs, who are accustomed to working odd and excessive hours and are faced with spontaneously demanding shifts and deadlines, would benefit from regular sleep routines. Creating evening routines, like hot tea, meditation, or journaling, and getting to sleep and waking around the same time, are simple tools that may help improve sleep.
- Do something fun.
Making social connections leads to better mental health. Whether it’s volunteering, joining a club, sharing a meal with friends, or going out on the town, communal activities and emotions like joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, and contentment help improve mood and mental functioning by keeping the mind active and serotonin levels balanced. If there is a physical distance between you and loved ones, use technology to stay connected.
Positive mental states carry other positive benefits, like lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduced risk of coronary heart disease, reduced aches and pains, reduced risk of long-term health complications, elongated life span, and stronger immune system.
Periods away from the computer or business pitch are particularly important for entrepreneurs, who are at risk of viewing leisure as a waste of time they could otherwise be devoting to their business. Socializing is an opportunity for one’s brain and perspective to refresh and recharge. Starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and planning intentional moments of relaxation, joy, and connection is pivotal to avoid burn out.
- Invest in yourself.
I and countless others (including beloved celebrities like Kerry Washington, Jon Hamm, J.K. Rowling, Lena Dunham, and Halle Berry) believe in the power of therapy. During times of transition, challenges, identity struggles, or moments of growth, skilled clinicians provide safe spaces for reflection, introspection, learning about ourselves, and ultimately investing time, energy and work into becoming who we want to be.
Particularly for entrepreneurs, who are likely to pour 99% of their time into their business, devoting at least one hour per week to care for and invest in yourself fuels the engine to weather the storm.
If you are interested in beginning a therapeutic relationship but you are not sure where to begin, you are not alone. Consider reaching out to me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) or my co-founder Lauren (at email@example.com). We are trained social workers who are troubled by stories from countless peers and clients regarding feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that keep them from finding a therapist. We understand the problem from both the client and the therapist perspective. We are here to help. We’d love to learn more about your story and to support you on your way.
With these five tools in your back pocket, you are equipped to tackle even the most dizzying problems. Thank you for your reading attention today. I look forward to reading about your entrepreneurial ventures and hope to hear from you soon.