After only six weeks of working in his company’s newly purchased office space, Isaac Rudansky, founder and CEO of AdVenture Media Group, sent his employees home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He lost 35 percent of his clients in the first three weeks of the pandemic. “I’m actually an optimistic person, but this was a really dark period,” he says. “Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with feelings of depression and stress, it’s impossible to look at a longer horizon.”
So rather than look forward, Rudansky looked back at the last five years. Even through the peaks and valleys, he saw that his life and career had trended in a positive direction. That perspective gave him the confidence to move forward.
As Eve Lewis Prieto, the Director of Meditation and a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, says, “one of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be applied to every area of your life. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged and present with a soft and open mind, also known as paying attention on purpose.”
As we pass the one-year anniversary of the country entering lockdown, founders share with Inc. some of the practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful.
1. Identify what you’re feeling
When she looked at the options to confront her anxiety and burnout as a software engineer, Meha Agrawal, CEO and founder of Silk and Sonder, felt intimidated by therapy and was bored by meditation. Instead, she found that writing was the outlet she needed. “There are a ton of benefits of bringing pen to paper,” she says. “It alleviates anxiety and stress, and it helps increase IQ and memory. It’s proven to heal trauma.” Agrawal created a journaling routine back in 2017, and soon after, she began developing her subscription-based journal company to help customers emulate her experience with journaling.
Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and co-founder of New York City-based Family Addiction Specialist, endorses writing as a way of tracking your emotional mood throughout the day. This practice can help you understand which activities and times of day spark more anxiety, he says. Once you can identify the trigger moments, you can better prepare yourself to respond.
2. Lean on other people
Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, notes that maintaining personal relationships is a constant challenge in a founder’s life. The pandemic has only worsened this, she says, spurring more mental health challenges for founders. In recognizing the importance of community, Agarwal created the Sonder club, an online community where Silk and Sonder users can connect on their wellness journey.
Talking with people can be the best outlet for maintaining your mental well-being, Rudansky says: “It allows a person to express sympathy and empathy for what you’re going through.” A couple of months ago, he relates, one of his executives reached out to him to express that he felt overwhelmed at work. Rather than showing weakness, it showed strength and character, Rudansky says. The two ended up on an hour long phone call together where they both opened up about their feelings and current struggles.
3. Make time for yourself–and start small
Last month, Tori Farley, co-founder of Better Than Belts, a unisex suspender company, joined a book club and read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, which teaches readers how to reorient their mindsets and explores the psychology of authentic living. Farley was hesitant about reading a “quasi-self-help book,” but “When I read it, it just clicked,” she says. “If I want to spend two hours in the morning doing watercolor painting because that is going to make me feel happy for the rest of the day, then that’s what I should do, and I don’t have to start my day by checking my email.”
Even if it’s just a short moment in time, doing something for yourself can help you get out of a workday slump, Farley says. And Ficken adds that the all-or-nothing mentality can be extremely harmful to mental health. If you can’t get in your full workout that day, she says, don’t give up on physical activity. Instead, walk around the perimeter of your house for a little while or even take a few minutes to walk to your kitchen to get some cold water.
Headspace encourages users to start with just three to five minutes a day, Prieto says. “Some days the mind is going to feel really busy and on other days much quieter, so you are not doing anything wrong if you find that it’s taking longer for the mind to settle,” she says. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to be at ease with where you are.