Business General

Resilience & Mental Health

Working in (or running) an early-stage startup can be one of the most volatile experiences of your life.  The mixture of monumental highs assuming that you’re somewhere on the right path combined with depressing lows is quite unique in a career/lifestyle.  There will be times where you question your self-belief and wonder why you are doing what you are doing.  Your resilience is an important factor in helping you bounce back, so it is good to have an understanding of what helps keep you strong.

Resilience – The capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of challenge and adversity.  The ability to choose thoughts, actions and feelings that enable you to function at your best

Awareness of mental health issues has been growing in recent years, with campaigns such as the “Ice Bucket Challenge” doing wonders in mainstream media.  Many people, however, don’t realise that mental health is also a huge issue among entrepreneurs.

Working out what makes you resilient can help you help yourself become more resilient

In this post, I’m going to run through a simple model to help you work out what helps you stay resilient.  As well as this, I outline some useful questions you can ask yourself in order to work out if you can improve your frame of mind.

The 6 Pillars of Personal Resilience

Whilst there are several models that have been used to frame resilience, I find the “6 Pillars” model to be the easiest to understand and relate to.  This breaks resilience down into 3 areas, each with 2 sub-groups:

 External Environmental  External Behavioural  Internal Emotional
Lifestyle Fulfilment  Relationships  Physical Wellbeing  Responses to Problems  Managing Emotions  Beliefs and Outlook

1. Lifestyle Fulfilment

We can enhance our fulfilment in life by understanding what our strengths and ambitions are, and thus making life choices consistent with these characteristics.  Choosing a job that fits well with personal strengths and ambitions will make a significant contribution towards a fulfilling life.  If you are are fulfilled at work, you will be better placed to cope with periods of high pressure/change

Life satisfaction also happens with “addictive” moments.  These moments occur when you take part in something challenging and enjoyable that becomes so engrossing that you lose track of time.  This could be playing a musical instrument, or coding (there’s something incredibly satisfying with building something that just works).

Key Questions

  • Do I feel fulfilled at work?
    • Are there issues you should raise with your boss?
    • Could you get more out of your job?
  • Do I feel fulfilled with my life at home?
    • Are you neglecting time for you or time for your loved ones?

2. Relationships

People with strong social networks tend to be able to manage stress more effectively.  Friends or partners can provide all sorts of help and support during tough times – the phrase: “a problem shared is a problem halved” exists for a reason.  There is sometimes nothing better than being able to talk through what problems you’re having – explaining it to someone else may even help you find a solution.

Key Questions

  • Am I enjoying my social life?
    • Are you spending enough time with friends?
    • Are you going out and meeting people enough?

3. Physical Wellbeing

Our bodies work best when we are healthy, i.e., when we eat well, sleep well and do exercise.  Your body releases endorphins that lift your mood, whilst eating healthily can maintain your energy levels and keep you from feeling tired.  Things to avoid are (too much) caffeine, refined sugars and general junk food.

Key Questions

  • How are my diet and my fitness?
    • Am I eating well?
    • Am I sleeping well?
    • Am I doing enough physical activity/playing enough of the sports that I enjoy?

4. Responses to Problems

In general, resilient people tend to roll-up their sleeves and confront issues head-on when the going gets tough.  This is otherwise known as solution-focused coping, and includes things like prioritising work, making plans, and taking direct action.  Putting issues off only serves to build up your levels of stress.  On a lesser scale, doing something as simple as tackling “life admin” sooner rather than later, or keeping your house tidy (rather than allowing mess to build up) can really help.

Key Questions

  • How am I coping with problems?
    • Have I got a plan to reduce my stress levels?
    • Do I need to ask for help?

5. Managing Emotions

Managing your emotions is an important part of resilience.  During periods of high stress, people are prone to worrying and feeling anxious.  However, you can be proactive with these emotions.  Resilient people tend to accept their problems and see the positive side of things.  Problems can be seen as an opportunity to learn, and realising there are almost always people worse off than you are (living in conflict areas/extreme poverty, those battling against huge physical barriers every day, etc) can make you feel better.

Alternatives such as denying the problem, avoiding the situation or drinking/taking drugs may offer short term relief, but almost always exasperate things in the long run.

Key Questions

  • How do I manage my anxiety?
    • Are things really that bad?
    • Who can I share the problem with?

6. Outlook and Beliefs

Being optimistic, self-assured (happy with who you are), self-confident (that you can achieve your goals) and in-control (of your destiny) will help you to build your resilience.  Many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are particularly strong in this area due to their greater awareness of (and exposure to) successful entrepreneurs leading to greater self-belief.

Key Questions

  • Am I feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
    • Even if things don’t work out what can I learn from the situation?
    • What good can come out of this?
  • Is there an alternative way I could be looking at this?

Stop Doing What Doesn’t Make You Happy

Things as simple as cycling to work (instead of sweating-it-out in a sardine-like fashion on public transport) and hanging out with friends in the evening can make a world of difference to how you feel.  Make sure that you are working towards something you see as worthwhile to help you along this path, and keep your mental health in tip-top shape.


One reply on “Resilience & Mental Health”

[…] These sorts of troubles are appropriately coined “first-world problems” because they aren’t really problems in the grand scheme of things.  Losing your entire family and half your limbs while living in a war-zone is a real problem.  Having your life destroyed by a tsunami and then fending off cholera is a real problem.  Life is inherently unfair and, if you are dealt a good card, it is useful to take stock of this sometimes – it really helps when building your resilience. […]


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