Caring for your Mental Health while working at a Startup in 2021

By Alex Baccellieri

In March last year, most folks’ lives underwent a significant change. COIVD-19’s arrival in Canada turned my world upside down. Like many others, I went from going to an office during the weekdays and hanging out with friends on weekends to experiencing the first provincial lockdown in my 700 square foot apartment overnight.

In that first week of lockdown, it was fun! Virtual drinks were happening, we made sourdough, and the words “new normal” were tossed continuously around. In these first weeks of 2021, we’re finding out how much of a new normal this really is, with Ontario back in a state of emergency. COVID-19 significantly changed our world and, with that, all of my normal patterns in life. 

My mental health took a full nosedive at the beginning of the pandemic. With that, so did my ability to work effectively. I had days when it was hard to get out of bed, difficult to focus, days where tears would randomly appear, and days when I felt okay. But the bad days were worse and far more frequent than the okay or good ones. In a sales role at a startup, I often felt the pressure to perform. Startups are fast-paced, require us to be in front of the screen for most of the job functions, and are places where we focus on trials and tests; a lot is often new and for us to decide how to implement or execute. There are daily rewards in sales and startups; yet, it often feels like a roller-coaster of high-highs and low-lows. 

Over the last 10ish months, I was able to leverage old and new tactics to cope with my work and mental health during COVID-19, and I want to share them as I believe they’re helpful to deal with dealing with a new normal during a year in sales. 

Performance in sales and any role is closely tied to our mental health. 

Are you feeling unmotivated? Get into the practice of journaling.

One of my close friends began life coaching at the beginning of the pandemic. I decided to reach out to her for advice on life as I felt a bit stuck at work. In a conversation with her, she recommended I try to start my day with journaling as a way to focus my mind and set my intentions for the day. When I journal, I use two prompts, courtesy of my friend. The first is “10 Things I am Grateful For,” and the second is “I am feeling…” where I am promoted to complete the sentence. I love these prompts as expressing gratitude first thing in the morning really helps frame a positive mindset while acknowledging how you’re feeling, even if it is “tired” or “sad” or “unmotivated,” allows you to give yourself the necessary space to have this emotion and then DO something about it and shift the mindset.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Talk to a therapist.

I’m an advocate for destigmatizing therapy. I’ve been going to therapy on and off since I was in high school but started going consistently back in October of 2019. Therapy has been pivotal for me to deal with all of the stresses in my life. From work to family, friends, and relationships. Therapy is not always the most accessible option. Still, a database of mental health programs available across Canada was created as a non-profit initiative of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) that provides you with many free options.

Having someone to talk to that gives you an objective perspective while working on your mental health is so essential to coping with stress.

Are you seeking mental clarity? Exercise!

There were many days throughout the pandemic that I felt exhausted in the morning. And often felt like my mind was in a different place. My boss gave me the advice to try working out in the morning as a remedy, and it honestly works wonders. High-intensity cardio-focused workouts help me get energized first thing in the morning and fuel me to keep going throughout the day. Some of my favourite free workout options are the Nike Training Club app, PopSugar Fitness and other YouTube channels or merely going on a run.

Feel like you’ve been staring at the screen all day and are a bit run-down? Go outside.

This isn’t just what I’ve discovered that helps me when I need a break; it’s backed by science. I make an effort to get fresh air at least once a day during lockdown (totally allowed!). It is easy not to leave your home for days, especially when you’re living in a condo and don’t want to have to deal with elevator lines and anxieties about your neighbours. In the office, when I was feeling tired, I’d grab a coffee with a colleague, do a small errand in the PATH in Toronto, or even go to the kitchen to talk with a coworker. Working from home, all of these options are removed, so take the time to take breaks and go outside for yourself; it’ll do you wonders for your energy, mental clarity and focus.

Did you have a bad sales call, or are you just having a bad day? Lean on your support network to help.

Whenever I have a bad day or need advice, I talk to my roommate, call my parents, or just vent to my colleagues about it. Humans are social beings, and being stuck inside can mean sometimes we go hours without speaking 1:1 with anyone outside a professional setting, or at all for the matter. We need to make an effort to replicate social environments even when we’re forced to self-isolate. I find 1:1 conversation to be the most therapeutic, but organizing a games night, doing a virtual happy hour at work, or having a group FaceTime can instantly put me in a great mood.

My most significant piece of advice: Sleep, sleep, and more sleep.

My final coping method during COVID-19 as a salesperson is getting a solid sleep every night, even on weekends. Everyone has a different amount of sleep that “works” for them, and for me, it is ~8 hours. That means I try to be in bed by a reasonable hour every night, so I am not waking up feeling groggy and unfocused due to a poor night’s sleep. I take magnesium nightly as it helps with sleep and makes an effort to get off my phone 20 minutes before I go to sleep. If I have a really hard time getting to bed, I love using my diffuser with lavender essential oil. On nights I have a good sleep versus a bad one, my energy the next day is day and night.

Still, feeling off? Talk to a doctor.

Above all else, something that helped me a lot was talking to my doctor. I expressed how I was feeling. I’ve been diagnosed with moderate depression and mild anxiety. I started taking an antidepressant, and it has done wonders for my mental health (this may not be your case, nor a solution for you), but it’s essential to talk about. Depression, anxiety, and mental health are often stigmatized to the point where we feel we cannot talk about it. I have seen this narrative begin to shift, and I hope sharing stories like mine allows others to feel as if they can too.

The past ten months have truly been a journey for me in terms of my career and mental health. We’ll get through this, you’re not alone, and I hope that you find some new techniques to help with your mental health.