Reality Check: Dealing with Burnout and Depression

The holiday season has had me reflect on the past few months. The break I had and the time with my family and my cute 2 year old niece has been a welcome break to the hustle of SPIN and UPSTART.

The truth is, before this trip and break, I was experiencing burnout. And I was honestly experiencing a serious case of depression.

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“Yes. I enjoy failing thousands of times.” (Creative Commons: Jeremy Pullen)

I can joke about it now but when it was happening it took a lot of vulnerability to admit to people that I was experiencing depression. I was drinking and eating to mask something I had difficulty explaining. I gained around 10 pounds unsure of exactly what was happening to me.

Looking back it could have been a lot of things. I had to dissolve a partnership. Though we had a successful crowdfunding campaign for UPSTART, I still had to deal with my own mismatched expectations and my ego’s exacting standards of success. I was also handling 500 students and volunteers.

It could have been also the fact that I was out almost everyday and night promoting my product. Smiling when I was tired. Being enthusiastic when I’ve shared the same story over a hundred times. Or rushing a meal so I can make it to the next meeting.

Whatever it was, it took its toll. I spent over a week holed up in my room. I didn’t want to see people.

That’s why after reading about how common depression is in entrepreneurship and how in the same article they cite that 45% of entrepreneurs are stressed, I wasn’t surprised. What’s especially disturbing is that in some studies, 65% of those who have symptoms of clinical depression aren’t getting treatment (that’s for the entire population).

I’ve managed to pull myself out of it. And if right now as you read this you can relate, in the words of the popular proverb, “this too shall pass”.

These five ways helped me, and I hope they help you:

1. Deal with it.

This for me is the most important way to get out of it. Admit that your burnt out or depressed. If you find yourself saying “I’m okay”. I’m gonna tell you what my coach Anna used to tell me, “Okay is not a feeling”.

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Sadness is touching my memory balls

Avoiding depression and burnout is the fast path to making things worse. Drinking lots of alcohol can also be a form of avoidance. It has us numb our feelings. Deal with what you gotta deal with.

2. Have a Communication Fast.

Sometimes the burnout is not from the work. It’s from the exposure. As a founder, you are bombarded with communications: calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts, advertisements and the list goes on.

Seeing and reading those things, takes attention and will power.

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“The path to enlightenment was never through a Facebook feed.”
 (Photo by Jordan Wooley -jrwooley6 on Flickr, Creative Commons)

Take some time away from your cellphone, email and social media. Your brain will thank you for the break.

Do this responsibly. Set an auto responder. Tell people on Facebook when and how they can reach you when the fast is over.

3. Talk to someone.

Be open. Remember you are human. Humans have feelings. As founder we like to sometimes think of ourselves as superhumans.

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Hulk smash your crab mentality and judgment of my success

Having a safe circle of friends where you can shoot the shit and talk about what you are really dealing is like turning the knob on a over pressurised boiler.

4. Be thankful.

Several studies have suggested that happiness can be generated simply by thanking people and being grateful.

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Does a sarcastic “thank you” count?

During the times you feel like shit, this may seem impossible, but doing this intentionally can possibly pull you out of your rut by reminding yourself of the world outside of your head.

5. Look at the source.

What’s done is done. So don’t linger on what you can’t change. But if you find something that you can alter then sometimes the solution is simple: remove what stresses you out.

During this entire experience, one major stress in my life was teaching in the state university system. A lot of my frustrations were in the culture of public schools and the terrible system that exists.

Though I loved teaching, and I was clear it was aligned with my advocacies, I was losing sleep, getting terrible skin and dealing with karmic bulllshit I didn’t want to deal with in this lifetime and the next. I had students demanding passing grades when they only submit 2 out of 8 requirements. Parents, other public servants, coming up to me telling me straight out that their kid didn’t do the work and still asking me to change their grade because, you know, they work in government and can give me a favor later on.

The solution was simple. I resigned. With no clear picture of what was next. All I knew was that if the environment was toxic, I needed to get the fuck out.

And if you’re just depressed and you don’t know why. That’s okay too.

At some point or another, I believe as founders and anyone up to something important, we will all experience this.

But if we take a break from communication once and a while. Share our experience and talk to people. Be thankful. And take the time to look at why we’re so stressed and remove those things out of the equation… I think our mission will be a lot easier.


Originally published at D-cal: Man on a Mission.