With over 70% of founders saying running a business has affected their physical or mental health, and 68% struggling with regular sleep problems, it comes as no surprise that running a startup is tough.
As founders, every single day we choose an amplified lifestyle: high stakes, and the chance to create something great… but with that we also face supersized worries. The sheer responsibility of running a business comes with mental strain. Most of the time, we stay on top of it. Yet sometimes the pressure shows up in our sleep, mood and general happiness.
When it comes to tech that can help, there is a sea of options – but which ones suit a founder’s needs? Our cognitive scientist Maria Lehl has been looking into them…
There is an increasing number of mental health tech that offers self-help: sleep help programmes, mindfulness and meditation tools, habit and mood tracking applications.
Interestingly, many of our founders don’t find these tools very appealing. Why?
You don’t meditate when there is a fire in the kitchen
As founders you’re putting out a lot of fires! And when a fire is burning, you tend to forget about your toothache problem. Our mental wellbeing just doesn’t seem as urgent as preparing for a pitch or dropping our kids off at school.
Will it work?
Even if we choose to address wellbeing, it feels like there is no guaranteed success. And who wants to invest time in something that may or may not work?
We are overwhelmed by the options
The mental health tech sector is receiving more investment than ever. There are self-awareness apps, emotional intelligence apps, mood trackers…and, and, and. Where do we even start?
Quick, evidence-based and available
We all want to take care of our physical and mental wellbeing, but life gets in the way. If we were to try a tech solution, it should be quick, evidence-based and available. It can’t take up too much of our time, it needs to have a scientific foundation, and it needs to be easy to access.
Fortunately, a lot of mental health tech is meeting these criteria. Many tools providing stress management solutions are targeted at people with a busy lifestyle, simply because busy people need stress management most. Let’s have a look:
Falling asleep faster
If you just want to get some shuteye the night before the important meeting, check out some sleeping app options:
Lightweight apps such as White Noise Lightor Noisli are great for creating a relaxing atmosphere with soothing soundscapes and music. They are a good starting point if you have no previous experience with sleep apps.
On the other end of the spectrum, Headspace, Calm, and Relax Melodies set a strong focus on guided sleep meditation. Meditation sessions are organised by topic, such as Drifting off with gratitude or Going back to sleep. These apps also contain soundscapes, music and sleep stories, forming an all-in-one sleep product.
Pzizz lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Its main offering is dreamscapes: an optimised experience of sounds, music and voiceover, based on the science of psychoacoustics. One such optimisation is adjusting the audio to the human sleep cycles. Pzizz is great if you have no more than 5 minutes: To start a dreamscape is a matter of two clicks!
Quality of sleep
Sleep tracking apps such as Sleep Cycle are a great starting point if you regularly find yourself waking up feeling like shite!
How it works: Specify a preferred time window to be woken up in. Leave your smartphone on your bed, so it can track you. Next morning, the app will wake you in your lightest sleep phase. An example of such sleep
If you chronically struggle with sleep and you are willing to invest some time, take a look at Sleepio and Sleepstation. Sleepio offers a digital sleep improvement programme that is scientifically proven. Depending on your area of residence, you may be offered Sleepio’s full version for free! Sleepstation targets similar clients, additionally offering sleep coaching. You can get free access to the programme through the NHS.
Dealing with stress day in day out
Stress has a lot of ways of meddling with our daily lives: lack of focus, indigestion, narrow and short-term thinking. These behaviours affect not only our mental well-being but also the quality of our business decisions.
Meditation has shown to take our body out of the fight-or-flight state and into a more relaxed mindset. There are also long-term benefits: better focus, mood and stress management, resulting in higher resilience.
The most popular meditation apps are Headspace and Calm. However, there are a couple of honourable mentions that come with some interesting features for busy people:
Mylife Meditation by Stop. Breathe. Think suggests meditations depending on your mood. Just open the app, answer a couple of questions and follow the content suggestions!
Smiling Mind is an Australian meditation app that has a free programme for small business owners containing meditations on topics like Sitting with uncertainty. They also have a substantial At Work programme with activities like Deep Listening — how to practice mindfulness in business conversations. Sadly, this part of their content is locked behind their corporate premium paywall.
Simple Habit is a meditation app designed for busy people. It contains a lot of educational content and business-relevant meditations, such as on leadership, resilience and the impacts of coronavirus. It also has an on the go feature: Content is organised by your current situation. Example situations to choose from are Big event, Commute, or Tough day.
Tracking our energizers
What activities do you draw your energy from? What makes you happy? All too often, we neglect those activities. Habit tracking can help you to remember scheduling some time for yourself. There are a thousand ways to track your me-time activities without installing an additional app! Simply use your existing personal management system, be it Trello or Jira (let’s not start this debate!). This way, you are less likely to ignore them.
If you do opt for a separate app, consider Daylio: a lightweight mood and habit tracking app. Each day, you put in your mood and some activities that you’ve done this day. Over time, you see stats on the associations of your moods and activities. You can also create goal activities for yourself and schedule reminders. Daylio is visibly designed with efficiency in mind. It advertises as ‘keep a private diary without writing a single line’.
Final thought: Are you holding yourself to a different standard?
Founders tend to think that we ought to sacrifice our mental well-being to run a successful business. Yet, imagine you heard this spoken out by a loved one. Would you agree? We tend to hold ourselves to a different standard.
We have to change our mindset from I need to look after myself and my business to I need to look after myself so I can run my business.
Sleep woman image attributed to Ivan Oboleninov
Written by Maria Lehl Cognitive Scientist at weare3Sixty
Cognitive Scientist and Natural Language Processing Engineer. Interested in AI applications to online safety, mental health and CALL. When I’m not coding, I am learning languages, travel or play the ukulele.
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