Startups and Stress

By Navya Singh, Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, wayForward

Navya Singh, Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, wayForward

Headquartered in New Delhi, wayForward Health is an emotional wellness startup, making solutions for stress and anxiety available via our app and website using the science of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfullness.

Some of the greatest advancements in human existence have been driven by new technology. Starting from the advent of computers to recent advancements in virtual reality and artificial intelligence, technology has touched our lives in more ways than we can imagine. Every morning when we access our phone to get a taxi and as we end our day ordering food via an app, the ubiquity of smart phones and other technology has completely changed how we interact with the world. At the forefront of this have been various startups. The Googles, Apples and Ubers of the world started small and have proliferated beyond belief, leaving most of us aspiring to go in their footsteps.

There are thousands of Startups globally. For some, it is about following their passion, for others it may just be about doing what is ‘cool’. The startup bug seems to have bitten youth at-large in the past decade. With the promise of a potential exponential growth, a flexible lifestyle and the satisfaction of being able to contribute to society in novel ways, many have jumped on the bandwagon. However, there is a side to it that many aspirants are either unaware of, or ignore.

Being an entrepreneur means you are your own boss, which is great, but it also comes with the downside that you never really get a break from your boss! Most entrepreneurs tend to be self-driven, and feel the pressure of their own expectations. With the flexibility and excitement of being able to create something meaningful from scratch, comes the stress of achievement, tight deadlines, and most of all, the fear of failure. Statistics show that about nine in ten startups do not succeed. There is a constant pressure to perform and with ownership comes the burden of responsibility. That does sound like a cause for potential worry and stress, right?

Stress and our Body

So what is stress and how does it impact us? Stress can be described as the state where we feel a threat and this leads to a number of responses in our body. The body’s response to stress is governed by something called the HPA or hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal axis,  The HPA axis also regulates our brain, our metabolism, our heart or cardiovascular activity, our immune system as well as our behavioral processes. Stress leads to a hormone called Cortisol being over-released in our body. States such as sadness, excitement, fear, anxiety as well as events such as public speaking, performance evaluations and others can increase Cortisol levels in most individuals. Chronic stress can result is an unusual rise in Cortisol levels in the evening hours and initial phases of sleep. A vicious cycle can cause sleep disruptions, raising Cortisol levels even further leading to insomnia and depression. Disregulation in this system impacts digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexual functioning, and ability to store and expend energy, impacting almost all significant aspects of life.

Entrepreneur’s Stress

There is a need to understand and manage stress as part of a startup team.  Lot of the stress is driven by thought patterns. While most people, including entrepreneurs, know that 9 out of 10 startups are not able to survive, still there is a desire to defy statistics. A TED talk by serial-entrepreneur and investor Bill Gross, analyzed 200 recent startups and found that timing is one of the biggest factor in success, something individuals can't control. While hard work and team are big factors, the timing is something that cannot be completely controlled. Understanding the factors in life that can be controlled, such as - response to conflict and work input, versus the ones that cannot be controlled such as global economic events can help manage stress. Establishing and maintaining the ability to distinguish between these two and focusing on what is controllable while trying to let go of what is not, is a proven way alleviate stress.          

Another important issue is self-care. While tackling the issues faced by the world and aiming to make life simpler for humanity be it in the field of healthcare or e-Commerce, entrepreneurs often forget about their own health and wellbeing. Even while engaging in self care and leisurely activities one can differentiate between activities that bring immediate relief but do not help in the long term such as binging on your favorite fried food while watching TV after a stressful day, and activities that are pleasurable in the short term and also sustain a healthy mind and body in the longer term, such as yoga and regular moderate cardiovascular exercises. Making the latter a part of one’s routine can help reduce stress considerably. The experience of starting something of one’s own and seeing that ideal reach fruition is invaluable and extremely rewarding. However, one must take care that this journey is sustainable and rewarding to both mind and body in the long term. 

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