How to deal with the emotional swings that come with a startup?


So wondering how you guys deal with the huge irrational emotional swings involved with startups. I try to:

  • Re-focus
  • Organize my work-space
  • List the current things on the priorty list and get to it
  • Dive back into work and get stuff done
  • Focus on what has been achieved in the past few months

Even with the above though it is still a huge emotional rollercoaster. The following two quotes highlight exactly what I am talking about:

First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional roller coaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flop rapidly from day-to-day - one where you are euphoracally convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over. And I'm talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. - Marc Andreessen
There's no such thing as easy entrepreneurship. It's going to be painful, it's going to be emotionally unstable, you're going to feel insecure. If you're not already bipolar, you will feel like you are. - James Hong (Hot or Not)


asked Sep 11 '11 at 00:39
327 points
  • Get some serious exercise whenever your brain goes into an infinite loop and stops processing data rationally. This is like hitting "reset" on an XP machine -- it clears out all the mess and makes things run properly again. (This question might be questionable, by the way) – Xpda 12 years ago
  • +1 for getting some exercise. In fact you should plan to alternate passive work (ie. sitting down) with exercise all throughout your day. It's a great stress buster – Susan Jones 12 years ago

5 Answers


Dealing with stress is something that took me a while to learn and I still haven't got it quite right yet.

I basically use a GTD (Getting Things Done) system, the normal reason for the stress is that it has got out of hand, so I spend an hour or to using this system to "meditate" on the issues. The result is you feel a bit more in control at the end of it and you have sorted all the "fluff" out.

Ongoing I walk an hour or so a day and find I'm best if I "switch off" after 7pm most days, the occasional one where you are on a roll or just have to is fine but they should be the exception ...

As for the general emotional belief VS self doubt battle I used to have a huge issue with. Every action had a million possible outcomes and most of them seemed bad ... over time I have realised that most of them aren't ever as bad as your mind made them out to be, eventually I realised that I would be around for more than this week, that there are always solutions, so I could start to relax and not beat myself up over them so much ... basically taking a longer term view and not getting caught in the daily mess.

answered Sep 11 '11 at 17:15
Robin Vessey
8,394 points
  • this + exercise :) – Nextgenneo 12 years ago


I am experincing the same feelings now. It is especially stressful when you are working on a self-funded project sacrificing your free time.

For me, the best way to deal with it is taking some short breaks. Not thinking about the startup for a day or two helps to cool down from "own the world" and "there is no hope" spikes.

Also, splitting the project to the tiny easily achievable tasks/milestones helps greatly.
Each time I solve a piece of the puzzle (configuring payment gateway or even choosing the right font size for headers) is like a small victory. It certainly helps to keep going.

Don't forget about physical exercises. Pushing/pulling a couple of hundred pounds of iron cleans brain from all the sad thoughts. All your problems look insignificant when you doing the last rep of pushing heavy a piece of metal over your head.

answered Sep 11 '11 at 01:25
229 points
  • yeah, I think my main issue is all the ways I deal with it and just the way I conduct my life is I never step away from it and just stop thinking about work and the startup. Its extremely tough though when you have bills to pay, runway is quickly coming to an end and things take longer than you'd hope for (but you still believe in the long term). – Nextgenneo 12 years ago


What a fantastic question! Once you get into startups (or any other form of young businesses), you get hooked, but like any "addiction", it comes with some wild swings in the state of the mind and body.

Here are some things I have picked up a long the way in my decade and a half journey through startup land:

  1. Biggest lesson I have learned is always be clear about what you can and cannot control. Things you can - great, control it and keep yourself accountable. Things you can't - just let it go and deal with the punches. I have removed a lot of stress from my life when I started to really see this.
  2. Be strict with alcohol consumption. Pick one day a week you allow yourself to party. All other days - club soda or tonic water with lime. People will think you are having a drink and you will avoid the depressive effect of alcohol.
  3. Nail down food and workout schedule. Best entrepreneurs are religious about food, gym, and sleep. Can't do gym - run.
  4. You must have "me" time. Whatever makes you very happy. I race cars, now I also have a daughter, and I enjoy going to restaurants with my wife. Those times NOT doing work make me the happiest man alive and allow me to move mountains. Find what makes you happy and feed from that happiness.
  5. At least once a year you must take a vacation where you give up your laptop, cellphone, etc. That is like a reset button for "memory runaway process". It is amazing things you come up with and problems you can solve when you can't get internet or cellphone coverage.
  6. Depending on your personality, either use one of the organization systems or don't. I personally consider most a vaste of my time, but some of my friends would be lost without their system. It is all about how your brain works. Accept it and work with it.
  7. You have to sleep! Stop buying into the BS of people who say they need little sleep. Even some of the most famous "non-sleepers" have parts of their stories they omit, you know, like napping all the time. 6-7 hours minimum. I can tell how much you've slept by how many mistakes you make and how moody you are (both men and women in every age group).

Lastly, I mentors (you are never too old for one... or a several) and friends I can call and vent a bit. Sometimes they tell me I am full of it and sometimes I am right. Having that outlet NOT connected to your family is great.

answered Sep 19 '12 at 01:36
Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points


Its a good practice to take a break and exercise your body. It really gets you out of the stress. Also, meditating about problems/issues you come across would yield a workaround if not a complete solution. If you don't prefer workarounds, let the issue go as it is and face its consequences. Its a good experience that teaches whether to choose workarounds or not.

Cheers for Apollo for his wonderful findings on this question. One needs to conquer and get past a lot of stress to come out with such experiences and conclusions.

Startup never comes without a stress. But the best part is it forces you to learn how to make your own world better.

answered Sep 21 '12 at 17:40
Aditya Bhasale
26 points


I don't have a full answer yet, but when I am particularly discomforted or preoccupied I avoid making decisions or doing things that cannot be reversed. In other words, I prevent myself from doing something stupid/wrong/regrettable.

Taking a walk usually helps relieving some of the stress.

answered Sep 11 '11 at 19:38
655 points

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