15 Sanity-Saving Self Care Tips from a Startup Founder

Photo by Twenty Twenty Studios

If you can relate to the founders that Structure Capital recently called out for getting to the point of bloody noses and panic attacks, it may be time to develop your own self care regimen.

One of the big takeaways from my first startup is the importance of clarity of thought, quick “bounce-back” from hard news, and the ability to respond to rapidly changing circumstances with grace.

‘Bounce’ (sometimes called grit) is a muscle you can build and strengthen over time. In my case, having a learning disability taught me at a young age that to win the race, I had to stay in it — and to stay in, I had to be strong mentally and keep getting up when I was knocked down. Controlling your thoughts and emotions is a big part of finding a constructive response to adversity.

If you want the ability to handle complex situations in your career or feel more bravery in your personal life, learning how to bounce back is essential.

Not everyone is meant to found — or work at — a startup. It requires a high level of comfort with uncertainty. Some of our hardest days involved colleagues having mental breakdowns and trips to the ER. Although visits to the hospital are rare, better self care and mental resilience can help prevent these crises all together. Even if you aren’t running a business, we face our share of uncertainty. To this end, we can all benefit from having a toolkit for self-care that helps us bounce back from the bottom.

The following are the tools I pull out when I find myself in negative or unproductive headspaces. Some can be done at your desk; others require that you shake things up a bit more. Most days one or two will do the trick and put a bounce back in my step. However, on the days when life throws everything, including the kitchen sink at me, I’ll move through the whole list.

Photo: Fay M. Johnson. Point Reyes, CA

1. Meditate

Science has documented the positive affects of meditation and mindfulness. If the science doesn’t compel you, try taking three deep breaths right now. Watch how your heart rate slows. Learning to pause, breathe, and refocus your attention — even for five minutes — can shift your body and brain chemistry. Completely worth the 5 minutes. If you experience high levels of stress on a daily basis, you may consider a daily meditation practice. If this feels out of reach, download one of these guided mediation apps and use it when needed.

2. Call a Member of Your Tribe

We thrive best in community and our tribe members (friends, colleagues, people in related fields) can provide empathy, a reminder of who are you and what is possible, or give you needed perspective. [With my crew, I am reminded often that we are very privileged to be in our circumstances, given how many people living in a refugee camps. #perspective]. Engaging your tribe, especially on the days when things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, invites them into your circumstances and builds bridges that you can both walk across in the future. (And remember to be there for them when they call you.)

3. Go for a 20-Minute Walk

Again, science for the win — a quick 20-minute walk (which you can do during that conference call you’re dreading or that meeting you wish wasn’t on your schedule) oxygenates your brain, helping you see things a bit more clearly.

4. Essential Oils

We can’t always control what is happening around us, but we can leverage our olfactory sense to trigger a different emotional response. Whether you want to make your office smell like a spa, or utilize some Joyful Blend to boost your mood, essential oils are a healthy way to promote a sense of calm or happiness.

5. Get Nutrients

Take care of your body. Eat healthy, whole foods with lots of leafy greens. This includes taking care of your nervous system — B12 supplements help promote a healthy nervous system, which in turn, helps you handle the unexpected a bit more easily. If you’re at your desk most days, make sure you are taking Vitamin-D too. Feel like you need an extra kick? Go grab some green juice, and add a shot of ginger to help reduce sluggishness.

Photo: Fay M. Johnson

6. Help Someone

The best way to bust self-pity or reframe something happening in your life is to help someone else. There is no shortage of people who could benefit from your support. In addition to the benefit it provides them, focusing on the struggle of another can give you a break from your own challenges, which may allow for a fresh perspective when you return to focusing on your own situation.

7. Ritual

I have a long-standing positive association with my first cup of coffee or tea. It is part of my daily ritual. So, even if I am sitting at my desk for my first cup, I can conjure up lighter-hearted memories of enjoying a cup in a café in Paris or Cape Town with a friend. If coffee isn’t your thing, find a simple daily ritual that you can associate with taking a pause. Then do it regularly.

8. Be Kind to a Stranger

Kindness is contagious. Whether you hold the door open, pay for the parking of the car behind you, or pause to ask someone how his or her day is going — kindness has a ripple effect. I am often deeply blessed by people’s responses — in our busyness it’s powerful to remember our plane of existence is intersecting with so many others, many of whom could also benefit from kindness. Give of yours.

9. Complete A Task

Often the largest problems we face, whether they are professional or personal, will not be resolved in one day or even one year. Find a task that can easily be completed, like doing the dishes, and get it done. Perseverance is good but so is a sense of accomplishment, however small. Maybe take U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven’s advice and make your bed every morning.

1o. Exercise

It doesn’t matter what it is, but an hour of exercise will do you wonders. Here are few exercises you can do while you’re at work.

11. Put Some Bounce In Your Step

Music therapy has long been used to help people adjust to their circumstances, and can easily be used to trigger happier moods (turn off the Adele). The great thing about music is that you can utilize it while doing other things. Find that song that always gets you moving on the dance floor, and crank it up. While I was fundraising I had a girl-power-pump-me-up playlist that I listened to on repeat before pitches. I have a jazz album that is my go-to for unwinding. Develop the necessary association with a song and it will become a useful tool.

12. Practice Gratitude

Another well documented mood booster: practicing gratitude. Whether you write a list every morning and evening, start a gratitude journal, or email yourself — taking the time to focus on the good will help shift your attitude.

13. Check Out

It’s always better to take a ½-daycation then burn out or quit. If you’re at the end of your rope, check out. Turn off your phone, grab a glass of wine with a friend, or go to bed early. When you hit a wall, I strongly suggest going to bed without setting an alarm, and just letting your body decide how much sleep it needs. Sleep works wonders.

14. Seek Out Beauty

Visual stimuli affect our emotions and our souls in the same way that music does. If you’re particularly aesthetically inclined like I am, surround yourself with beauty. I like to buy myself wildflowers, head to a museum, or pop into a well-curated store where I can appreciate the craftsmanship and work of others.

Photo by Fay M. Johnson

15. Change Your Scenery

Sometimes the best way to change our outlook is to change what we’re looking at. Go explore a nearby town, get out into nature, or if you’re feeling particularly stuck in a funk, go on a trip.

Over time, self care can become part of your daily routine, just like eating or sleeping. It is a skill set that is worth developing and strengthening when you don’t feel you need it. Because, as we all know, hard seasons come and the better prepared we are to move through them constructively, the better you’ll fare.


If you’re looking for support with building your ‘bounce back’ skills, please feel free to be in touch. I offer a 1-on-1 coaching for a limited number of individuals each year.— www.fayjohnson.com/coaching

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on August 5, 2016.

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