The ultimate guide to self-care for startup founders

Being a startup founder comes with a myriad of challenges and headaches.

Long work days, company growing pains, lack of time for a social life, meetings with investors and much more can lead to added startup stress in your day-to-day life. 😰

It doesn’t help that this era of “hustle porn,” as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian describes it, gives off “the idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough … this is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now.”

But you’re not alone. There has been a sharp increase in stress levels over the last few years, and it seems to continue to get worse and worse. 👎

self-destructive habits self-care

Raised levels of startup stress can have short- and long-term consequences for your health and overall wellbeing.

And yes, while some people “relax” by working, that doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy to work 24/7 and it still results in raised stress levels over time.

Thankfully, this emergence of increased stress has led to a movement combating the stress in healthy, sustainable ways: self-care. 🧘‍♀️

Self-care is, essentially, any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. Think: meditation, yoga, reading, among other activities.

And while self-care has become more and more popular with the Insta-influencer crowd over the years, self-care is for everyone – including startup founders. 😎

self-care living my best life

Starting and building a company is stressful, yes, but it also needs to be sustainable. The last thing a company needs is a founder who gets so sick or burned out that she/he can’t work anymore.

Besides, there’s a difference between a bit of healthy stress and conflict that empowers you to charge forward with your company and the kind of stress and conflict that prevents you from being a functional human being.

So, let’s explore self-care and how startup founders can implement it into their daily lives! 👊

I have work to do, I don’t have time to take a long bath or meditate for three hours.

There’s a common misconception with self-care in that it only encompasses spa-like activities: face masks, yoga retreats, taking a long bath, etc.

self-care monkey face massage

But it’s much, much more than that (and in many instances, none of those things at all).

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s the deliberate act of doing something that helps our mental, emotional and physical health. That means self-care can be as simple as drinking enough water during the day or taking your prescribed medications on time.

Self-care can include a long walk around your favorite park, re-reading your favorite book and, yes, if you’d like, some meditation in the morning. 📚

That’s the beauty of it: there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to perform self-care. Every self is different, meaning the care can vary.

self-care treat yourself

OK then, why should I care about self-care?

Startup stress is a very real thing, and it can have dramatic consequences in the long-term. 🙅‍♀️

Physical stress symptoms include headaches, muscle pains, sleep problems, chest pain, fatigue and, according to the Mayo Clinic, can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

On top of that, stress can make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, irritable and can exacerbate depression.

self-care stress

And while startup founders have a lot of added stress, this can trickle down to your team and change the dynamic among your colleagues – not good.

Having a stressed and burned-out team can lead to higher turnover of employees, increased tension in the office and, well, giving your company a bad reputation as a place for talent to avoid at all costs.

No one wants that. 😐

Self-care is not only something that startup founders need to embrace personally, but it’s also something they need to encourage among their teams.

What do I do? How do I start?

Fortunately, self-care in itself is quite simple. The trick is to make sure you’re realistic and disciplined enough about your goals (and to avoid any judgement or shame if you forget to do something).

If you’re someone who works too much and never has time to exercise or see friends, for example, start small and work your way toward a more balanced life. ⚖️

Commit to leaving work on time and meet up with a friend once a week. Get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning and go for a run (even better if you run with friends or your partner). Little steps can amount to big changes and decrease your stress levels astronomically.

self-care exercising

Self-care comes in many forms, so find what makes you feel happy and energized, and focus on those things.

And this goes for your employees as well. If you want long-term commitment to your company, you need to make it a fun, productive, yet balanced place to work.

Does your company have a culture of expecting everyone to always stay late? That needs to change. 😳

It’s about working smarter, not harder. Yes, the occasional deadline or launch will call for a late night in the office, but this should be the exception, not the rule.

If Slack can pull it off, I’m pretty sure your company can, too. 😉

slack working late self-care

Some extra resources

There are some awesome resources out there focused on self-care – many of which have sprung from the tech community. 📱

In terms of apps, there are plenty of fitness apps out there, so if exercise and meal planning is something you’re wanting to work on, just pick a favorite app and go from there (I’m neutral on this one because the apps you use also greatly depend on which wearable tech you’re using/not using, so this is entirely a personal preference thing)!

For meditation and mindfulness, Headspace is one of the best apps out there. There are also apps such as Calm, 7Mind and Meditation Studio, as well as plenty of online yoga and deep breathing routines you can find.

headspace self-care

For general self-care, iPhone users can use Aloe Bud, which is an app dedicated to self-care and keeping you on track with your routines.

For more in-depth care processes, You feel like shit is an online flowchart that helps you get through routines and ensures that you’re taking care of yourself.

But just downloading an app doesn’t necessarily mean you’re taking care of yourself.

It’s a commitment, it’s a frame of mind. And while that sounds a bit cult-y, just remember that this can be the difference between a long, fulfilling, healthy life and a life of stress, irritability, anxiety and resentment.

Personally, I’d take the former over the latter any day. 🤷‍♀️

With that said, self-care comes in many forms, so find what makes sense for your life. If it’s as simple as eating less junk food and moisturizing every day to make you feel less stressed and healthier overall – go for it!

Just make sure that the life and the company you are building are sustainable – mentally, physically and emotionally, just as much as they are financially.

We need to end the “hustle porn” epidemic – it’s toxic and unproductive in the long-term, both personally and professionally.

Instead, we need to pave the way for self-care to drive how we lead our lives and our businesses, however that may look for you. 🚀

This would lead to healthier, happier startup founders as well as healthier, happier startup employees. It’s a win-win for everyone.

high five self-care

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Ali Colwell