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Stressed Out by 2024? How to Support Your Mental Health in

Challenging Times. Being a founder isn't for the faint of heart. How four leaders navigated turbulent moments--and how you can too.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Founders can face a minefield of mental health pressures.  

Seventy-two percent of startup founders in a 2023 survey said that being an entrepreneur had impacted their mental health, per the data-sharing platform Startup Snapshot. Fifty-nine percent said they sleep less, and 47 percent said they exercise less than when they first launched their startup, with their main stressors including fundraising, work-life balance, and the "global economic situation."  

But heading into the back half of 2024, additional challenges loom for these leaders, from global conflicts to anti-DEI backlash to a highly charged presidential election. "Leaders, in particular, are navigating so many complex situations today," says Anita Hossain Choudhry, 39, co-founder and CEO of the New York City-based group coaching platform The Grand, adding that many are trying to manage their own "emotional resilience" while also tending to their team's well-being. 

Female leaders, in particular, are looking at compounding challenges: Women founders still collect just 2 percent of venture capital funding and make an average of $14,000 less than male startup CEOs. But when it comes to the complexities of balancing a growing business and family, "we as women often disqualify ourselves," Hossain Choudhry says. 

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Hossain Choudhry and three fellow honorees in this year's Female Founders 250 spoke with Inc. about how they've navigated mental health challenges throughout their entrepreneurial journey, and what other founders can do in difficult times.  

Ditch the do-it-alone mindset  

In 2020, Michelle Silverthorn--the 41-year-old founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based diversity consulting company--had a dozen speeches and workshops lined up that, come March 2020, had to be canceled. But in the wake of George Floyd's killing just two months later, calls started coming in again for speeches about inclusion. The next month, she had five to six virtual speeches per week. 

It was overwhelming. At her breaking point, amid a constant flow of bookings, Silverthorn ended up accidentally scheduling two speeches in the same hour. She had to call one of them, a "dear friend," and tearfully back out. "It wasn't just the speeches ... It was the emotional labor. That was a hard time," Silverthorn says. "It was the pandemic. It was the racial justice movement. It was recognizing that there are voices in our workplaces that haven't been heard."  

That's when she realized: "You can't do it on your own." Afterward, she made two key hires: a client manager, to help her keep track of her schedule, and an HR expert. "That is why I will always delegate," she says. "I will always bring more people in to do work that I know is impactful, but I just don't have the capabilities to do."  

For Vanessa Rissetto, 45, the co-founder and CEO of the Hoboken, New Jersey-based nutrition care provider Culina Health, her moment of reckoning came in May 2023 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She remembers locking herself in her bathroom--away from her two small children, so they wouldn't see how sad she really was--as she struggled to juggle the diagnosis, motherhood, and her growing team. "I was really depressed," Rissetto says.  

She realized that she needed to lean on her investors and team to come out on the other side. Her investors lent support, even offering to pay for her medical bills if she needed assistance, and her team made sure she had "360 visibility" throughout her yearlong chemotherapy treatment so she could continue to successfully lead the company.  

She says many founders feel the pressure to appear perfect, but being able to trust your team when times get tough is crucial: "That's why you put them in that position, right?" 

Confide in other founders  

In early 2023, Hossain Choudhry was trying to fundraise while pregnant with her second daughter. "It felt like being Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the mountain, because I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders," she says. Her company, The Grand, facilitates small group "councils" for entrepreneurs; within her own council, she shared her honest feelings about being overwhelmed.  

Working with that group, Hossain Choudhry learned how to reframe her fear of failure and appreciate how, despite the competing pressures, being a mom made her a better leader and vice versa. "Having that safe space to just let out a sigh of relief was everything," she says.  

Rissetto adds that sharing your struggles with other founders can make the experience of being a founder less lonely. Melissa Danielsen, 41, co-founder and CEO of the Minneapolis-based neurodivergent virtual coaching company Joshin, agrees, noting that her own founder-to-founder conversations have provided a comforting level of understanding and support.  

"I have not met one founder that I've had an honest, vulnerable conversation with who has leaked the information," Danielsen says. "Other founders will be there for you." 

Make space and stick to your values  

Events in the news--and sometimes distressing ones--can inevitably seep into the workplace at all levels. That's why at Joshin, the team sets aside a half hour every Friday before their weekly meeting for "coffee talk."  

Here, conversations about world events are welcomed, allowing for that connection amid the chaos with an emphasis on ensuring that "we're honoring each other's viewpoints in a respectful way," Danielsen says.  

But when outside events and pressures do start to encroach, knowing your values is key for staying on track and staying well, Silverthorn adds. For instance, though threats to DEI are rising and are expected to continue, Silverthorn isn't too concerned.  

Instead of letting herself becoming overwhelmed by external forces, she focuses her energy on her purpose: "Connecting to those values, connecting to those core beliefs that you have and holding on to them and not letting them go--that is how we stay the course," she says. "That is how we thrive." 

Anita Hossain Choudhry, Michelle Silverthorn, Vanessa Rissetto, and Melissa Danielsen. Photos: Courtesy subjects

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