Anxiety: The not so great part about working for a startup

Freya Hunter from our friends at Recomazing wrote this incredibly insightful post about her experience with anxiety.

Working in startups is no doubt exciting and certainly challenging and the frantic pace can be relentless. Freya’s full post here  talks about anxiety and how entrepreneurs and those working in startups can be susceptible.

We wanted to share Freya’s top tips on how to help reduce anxiety and keep the “beast at bay”.

1. Create space And boundaries

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Due to technology, we are no longer bound to the 9-5 working day. Just Slack alone has created a place for meetings 24/7, let alone emails, social media and the rest. I’ve had to work hard to ensure I create space to just be. Sans mobile phone. Sans technology. Sans work. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home. When you get home, switch off your mobile and focus on the people in front of you, as they’re the ones who matter the most. When you’re hard-pressed trying to slow your mind, constant stimulation from technology is a complete recipe for disaster. It only creates mental exhaustion which leads to stress and anxiety. Boundaries are so important, fight for them.

2. Practice self-compassion

Jamie Watson, CEO at RAW Mind Coach, an e-learning program designed to build resilience at work says engaging and regularly practising self-compassion will help to quieten your inner critic.

“Just like me, most people have a fierce inner critic. Attentively we tune in to a voice which says things like “You’re not good enough. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re an imposter. You’re too fat. You’re too dumb.” The more we keep listening to these taunts, the more the feelings of inadequacy grow”.

He says the best way to change this inner conversation is by offering yourself kindness and compassion.

“Self-compassion is not just about words – it also requires action. It involves regularly doing things which nurture and restore you like taking a long hot bath, listening to your favourite music, chatting with a friend, take a walk in nature or cooking your favourite meal. All of these simple, self-compassionate acts can boost your wellbeing and help you become more resilient”.

3. Crack a sweat

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Here at Recomazing, one of our company values is looking after our health. The actual value states: ‘We welcome healthy debate, as well as healthy minds and bodies”. Whether it’s getting out for a 30-minute stroll or sweating it out in the gym across the road, we have built a culture where this is encouraged and this time is respected.

One of my favourite books is called Brain Rules by John Medina (thanks for the reco Miles!). He talks about why aerobic exercise is important for brain functioning and how it boosts brain power. He says exercise improves cognition for two reasons:

1. Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.

2. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

In his book, John says exercisers outperform couch potatoes in a whole host of significant tests that relate to our day to day performance.
“Tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem. Essentially, exercise improves a whole host of abilities prized at work”.

If exercise helps us to perform better, so we can achieve more, it doesn’t make sense when entrepreneurs don’t make exercise more of priority in their day.

4. Talk to someone

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When it comes to better managing your mental health, Prominent Australian founder, entrepreneur, investor and Venture Portfolio Manager at Muru-DMick Liubinskas says it’s crucial to ask for help.

“Join networks, go to events, call your mentors and friends. Share your challenges, fears, imposterness and anxiety. It’s scary, but once shared, they become slightly easier. You will also hopefully get some empathy and even better, some strategies for dealing with them. None of this is easy, but it is doable. Ruts happen and the daily emotional rollercoaster takes it’s toll”.

When I look back on my journey, each time I spoke to someone about my struggle, became real, vulnerable and raw, I felt better. Find that someone who is going to sit there and listen to you and support you, because that’s the best thing they can do.

I was fortunate to be able to open up to my parents and then also my close friend who had been through something similar. And then when I felt like the time was right, I spoke to my boss, Marc Cowper about it. It wasn’t a play for pity, but it did help him understand why I wanted to work from home once a week. I let him in, I gave him context around my situation and provided him with an opportunity to help. Which he did. Because good people like to help. They want to help you. So don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.

5. Work from home

Working from home has been one of the best things I’ve done to help manage my anxiety and mental health. Before I approached my boss Marc about working from home, I had thought about it for over 6 months. I always shied away from asking for the flex thinking work would never agree. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that this would be my most productive day of the week. Every Wednesday I take a day to work at home, to rebalance. Every Wednesday I don’t have to battle public transport, be disrupted by meetings, or get pulled and pushed by other people’s agendas. I sit at home and focus. And when I want a break, I can take a walk outside, or if I feel like it, work from my local cafe for a change of scenery.

6. Sleep – a ‘not negotiable’


Sharon Leadbetter is the Workplaces Co-ordinator at WayAhead,The workplace program is an organisational support and resource for any workplace interested in supporting their employees’ health and wellbeing at work. Sharon says sleep is often seen as a trade-off in our modern lives as our work hours become longer and longer.

“Have you heard the expression ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’? Unfortunately, most people’s health is impacted if they don’t get enough sleep over weeks, months and years. Most adults in Australia don’t meet the recommended 7- 8 hours sleep a night”.

“Research is now showing the links between lack of sleep or poor sleep routines on chronic health conditions, mental illness, energy, mood management, creativity, and conversely those same health conditions can affect your sleep quality. When we don’t sleep well consistently, we can end up craving foods high in sugar, fats and salt, which may lead to weight gain for those people with poor sleep”.

She says it’s imperative entrepreneurs avoid burnout by ensuring they get enough sleep.

“Entrepreneurs live with lots of financial uncertainty, often work very long hours on their own and take on a lot of responsibility for their businesses before they take off and become more stable over time, so feel high stress and anxiety levels at different times.”

“It is really important to develop good sleep hygiene as sleep plays a huge restorative role with our bodies and minds and enables us to be highly functioning, productive, creative and focussed. Our brains and bodies were not meant to be run 24/7, if they are, it is a fast track to burn out. We need time to stop, switch off and recharge – just like our devices!

7. Journaling is the new black

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Katherine Boxall, Founder and Coach at the Self Harmony Project, recommends journaling to help keep your thoughts in check.

“When mental health issues present themselves it means your mind is in a negative thought ‘tangle’, like your own personal Charlotte’s web full of bullshit but there’s no talking spider telling you that you are ‘RADIANT” when you wake up in the struggle-barn again.

“Journaling is a simple way to start unravelling the negative thought processes and create new positive pathways, through new self-awareness. It allows you to deal out some swift dick-punches for your inner dialogue when it’s behaving like a bit of a flog”, says Katherine.

When it comes to writing Katherine suggests reflecting on two areas:

1. Journal your thoughts and fears, plus your “I shoulds” and “I have tos”. 

Challenge these as being the truth vs a story; go full “mythbusters”on them. For entrepreneurs, typically being high achievers – the stories around success, failure and its meaning can be valuable topics to journal about.

2. Journal your wins

You’ve been out and about entrepreneur-ing; just GETTING SHIT DONE like nobody’s business but in your faux-hustle you may be ignoring or discounting your wins. Write those babies down: big/small, full credit, no discounts!

I recommend Day One as a great digital journal. I love it because it runs across all of my devices – plus it’s nice to be able to reflect on the past week, month, year to see where I was, what I was doing and what I was thinking.

8. Celebrate the WINS

When you work for a fast-paced startup it’s so easy to focus on the next task on your do-to list, let alone the fails you constantly experience. As humans, especially when you work in a team, we crave recognition and validation. So every so often, it’s super important to take a step back and acknowledge the wins.

At Recomazing we’ve set up a channel on Slack called #wins_and_losses, and each week, each team member posts about their win and also a learning they experienced. It’s such a simple thing to do, costs nothing and takes very little time to do, but the effect it has on team morale is priceless. Acknowledging our achievements as a team creates a positive environment to work in, increases job satisfaction – especially when some weeks seem like 5 days of fails – you can always find something to post.

Check out Slack here on Recomazing.


9. Music is your ally

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When my anxiety is supercharged my senses and nerves go into complete overdrive: smells are unbearable, food tastes too strong, but the worst sensation is my hypersensitivity to noise. When you’re working in an open-plan office, being hypersensitive to sound can make it near impossible to concentrate on the task at hand. Trying to be present in a meeting or simply comprehending something someone has said to you across your desk is really hard when all you can hear is the person on your left clicking their pen, someone three desks away talking loudly on the phone, or the siren of an ambulance speeding down the street. Typing on a keyboard can cripple your afternoon.

When I’m like this, noise overwhelms me and makes my thinking extremely foggy. It’s hard to settle myself in the office when I become hypersensitive, however, my noise cancelling headphones do help. If I can handle music, I play soothing classical music or my favourite Jack Johnson playlist and it calms me. I plug in, and I focus and most importantly it gives me a chance to help my nerves and senses settle.

10. Let meditation do you

I once read in Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, how you shouldn’t do meditation. You just sit there and breath and let meditation, do you. It wasn’t until I read this, my view of meditation changed. I was one of those people who dabbled in it here and there, but I always felt like it was a chore. But now, it’s something I look forward to – sitting there for 10-20 mins breathing. Yes, it can be super uncomfortable sometimes. Some days I sit there and I can’t get a handle on my thoughts. They race and race and race. But I keep doing it because creating a habit is the most important thing.

My secret weapon is the Headspace App. Ah, Andy how much I adore you. This year all staff at Recomazing were given a one-year subscription to the app, as a step to help staff look after their noggins. This has been one of the best things we’ve done for the team.

The team at Centered Meditation are also highly recommended on Recomazing. Their peaceful space in Sydney’s CBD is perfect for busy entrepreneurs looking for a break to rebalance. Check them out here. 

 (Freya does not claim to be a trained psychologist or a doctor – She’s just sharing her experience with you in a hope to provide some examples of how you can look after your mental health too. Some might work for you, some might not – this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach).

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