Tips for Managing Your Anxiety at a Startup

We’ve all felt it before. The uncomfortable warm sensation flowing all over your body, the weight pushing down on your chest, shortness of breath, heightened awareness, thoughts going crazy and the fight or flight sensation kicking in. Anxiety is possibly the most uncomfortable feeling in the world and I (like most employees in Silicon Valley) know it all to well.

As someone who has had anxiety since I was born have had my fair share of stress induced panic attacks because of tight deadlines and the insurmountable odds that come with a start-up job. When you’re doing the work of 5 or more people with half the pay and twice the pressure, it takes a lot of effort to keep your mind in check. In reality, I wouldn’t suggest working at a startup to anyone who isn’t a little bit crazy, and the truth is that you won’t find many perfectly sane people within the walls of one. But, for those of us who like adventure more than our sanity, I have a few steps to help you overcome work related anxiety attacks.

  1. Understand the Source

When searching for solutions, we need to understand the source of the problem. Anxiety usually is triggered by a very acute event, but it usually lies in a series of instances that sent you over the top. The second an anxiety attack strikes, write down exactly why you think that you are currently feeling negative emotions and connect the ‘why’ with what caused them. Once the feelings of anxiety have passed, look over your notes and create ways around the triggers or ways to surmount them. The hard part is putting those solutions into actions.

2. Evaluate Probability and Possibility

Making decisions mid-panic or out of fear will never give you good results. The nervous system changes under stress and can make even the simplest of decisions nearly impossible to execute. For this reason, understanding the difference between possibility and probability is vital. Know that it is possible for the company to burst into flames because you bugged a line of code, but the probability of anything of substance occurring is incredibly small. Getting better at realistically evaluating the these two factors will stop/slow you from over-reacting during your episode.

3. Resist the Urge to Internalize your Feelings

Without a doubt, this is part took me the longest to overcome. If I had stayed the same for any longer, I probably would have dropped dead of a heart attack within my first year in San Francisco… at age 24. Tell someone about how you feel. It doesn’t have to be a psychologist (though I recommend it), but it needs to be a source that can give you perspective on the situation. The exercise of articulating your concerns opens up a reasonable dialogue that will lead you on a path to better understanding your emotions.

4. Escape

Get out. Get away. Take a walk. Get some sleep. Anything to separate yourself from the situation, if not only for a moment. You need to discharge the anxiety by transferring it from an internal to external mode. I suggest going to the gym since endorphins are amazing little chemicals that can make you feel better no matter what. Deep breaths also work incredibly well with meditation as a backbone. But, if that isn’t an option, just do something unrelated to your trigger until your anxiety subsides. The goal here is to reset the chemical imbalance that is causing the feeling of anxiety, so you are prepared to make a plan of action.

5. Create and Execute a Plan

If you have followed the previous four steps, you should have 1. Evaluated the situation 2. Determined the severity of the situation 3. Gained perspective on potential outcomes 4. Reset your chemical balance, and now all that is left is creating a game plan. Take a moment to go over the items that are/were causing you anxiety and write down a response to solve each problem. Make your answers as simple and actionable as possible and then begin to put the plan into action.

From there, you’re ready to return to the trigger with a plan of action, no splash damage from lashing out or any poor decisions made out of fear.


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