3 founders share the self-care practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful

woman writing at home
Writing in a journal is one way founders can practice mindfulness.

  • When COVID cost him business, Isaac Rudansky looked back at his career successes to think more positively.
  • Altering your mindset can give you the confidence to push forward through difficult times.
  • Founders should also try identifying their emotions, seeking support, and taking time for themselves.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After only six weeks of working in his company’s newly purchased office space, Isaac Rudansky, founder and CEO of AdVenture Media Group, sent his employees home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He lost 35% of his clients in the first three weeks of the pandemic. “I’m actually an optimistic person, but this was a really dark period,” he said. “Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with feelings of depression and stress, it’s impossible to look at a longer horizon.”

So rather than look forward, Rudansky looked back at the past five years. Even through the peaks and valleys, he saw that his life and career had trended in a positive direction. That perspective gave him the confidence to move forward.

As Eve Lewis Prieto, the director of meditation and a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, said, “one of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be applied to every area of your life. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged and present with a soft and open mind, also known as paying attention on purpose.”

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the country entering lockdown, founders shared with Inc. some of the practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful.

1. Identify what you’re feeling

When she looked at the options to confront her anxiety and burnout as a software engineer, Meha Agrawal, CEO and founder of Silk and Sonder, felt intimidated by therapy and was bored by meditation. Instead, she found that writing was the outlet she needed.

“There are a ton of benefits of bringing pen to paper,” she said. “It alleviates anxiety and stress, and it helps increase IQ and memory. It’s proven to heal trauma.” Agrawal created a journaling routine back in 2017, and soon after, she began developing her subscription-based journal company to help customers emulate her experience with journaling.

Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and cofounder of New York City-based Family Addiction Specialist, endorses writing as a way of tracking your emotional mood throughout the day. This practice can help you understand which activities and times of day spark more anxiety, he said. Once you can identify the trigger moments, you can better prepare yourself to respond.

2. Lean on other people

Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, notes that maintaining personal relationships is a constant challenge in a founder’s life. The pandemic has only worsened this, she said, spurring more mental health challenges for founders. In recognizing the importance of community, Agrawal created the Sonder club, an online community where Silk and Sonder users can connect on their wellness journey.

Talking with people can be the best outlet for maintaining your mental well-being, Rudansky said: “It allows a person to express sympathy and empathy for what you’re going through.”

A couple of months ago, he said, one of his executives reached out to him to express that he felt overwhelmed at work. Rather than showing weakness, it showed strength and character, Rudansky said. The two ended up on an hourlong phone call together where they both opened up about their feelings and current struggles.

3. Make time for yourself – and start small

Last month, Tori Farley, cofounder of Better Than Belts, a unisex suspender company, joined a book club and read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by BrenĂ© Brown, which teaches readers how to reorient their mindsets and explores the psychology of authentic living. Farley was hesitant about reading a “quasi-self-help book,” but “When I read it, it just clicked,” she said. “If I want to spend two hours in the morning doing watercolor painting because that is going to make me feel happy for the rest of the day, then that’s what I should do, and I don’t have to start my day by checking my email.”

Even if it’s just a short moment in time, doing something for yourself can help you get out of a workday slump, Farley said. And Ficken adds that the all-or-nothing mentality can be extremely harmful to mental health. If you can’t get in your full workout that day, she said, don’t give up on physical activity. Instead, walk around the perimeter of your house for a little while or even take a few minutes to walk to your kitchen to get some cold water.

Headspace encourages users to start with just three to five minutes a day, Prieto said. “Some days the mind is going to feel really busy and on other days much quieter, so you are not doing anything wrong if you find that it’s taking longer for the mind to settle,” she said. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to be at ease with where you are.

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What is Calm? How to use the meditation and mental fitness app featuring celebrity ‘sleep stories’

A woman using a meditation app
The Calm app features meditations, masterclasses, sleep stories, and more.

  • Calm is a mental fitness app featuring stories, meditations, and music to help users sleep better, lessen anxiety, and become more mindful.
  • Calm offers premium memberships worth $14.99 per month or $69.99 per year or a free version with limited options.
  • The Calm app is popular among mental fitness advocates and for its celebrity sleep stories featuring the voices of Harry Styles, Kate Winslet, and Idris Elba.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Mental health is essential, and one of the best ways to practice self-care is to take a few moments to yourself for a day. Meditation practice is a good way to do that, with many benefits, including decreased stress and negative emotions, increasing self-awareness, and general feelings of relaxation.

For those looking for guidance on beginning a meditation practice, the Calm app can help. Downloaded more than 100 million times since it was released back in 2012, it’s available on iOS and Android as well as on the web.

Calm can be a positive part of your self-care practice, whether you’ve never tried meditation before or you’re a seasoned pro.

What is Calm?

Calm is a meditation and mental fitness app that features a variety of media designed to help users relax, sleep, or become more mindful.

Calm 3
You can find sleep stories narrated by your favorite celebrities on the Calm app.

One of Calm’s biggest draws for many is their collaborations with popular celebrities featured on the app as the readers of Sleep Stories. This tool is meant to help listeners have a more restful night through a growing library of famous narrators including LeBron James, Scottie Pippen, Matthew McConaughey, Laura Dern, Lucy Liu, and Kelly Rowland. Calm also features relaxing remixes of songs and albums by stars, including Ellie Goulding, Moby, and John Legend.

Calm 2
The Calm app lets you select a sleep remix of top songs from your favorite musicians.

In addition to bedtime stories and relaxing music options, Calm offers mood tracking, breathing exercises, guided and unguided meditations, customizable audio and video content, masterclasses held by leading experts in the field, and regularly updated content. That includes Daily Calms to help users maximize the effectiveness of their practice. There’s even a Calm Body section that features small movement and stretching segments to help your physical health and mental health.

Calm 1
The Calm app has a whole library of offerings geared towards children.

Calms users with children can also use the dedicated offerings for kids – from Sleep Stories of classics like “Peter Pan” and “The Velveteen Rabbit” to meditations with popular children’s characters like Thomas the Tank Engine.

Calm Free versus Calm Premium

Illutration of the Calm App
Calm features “sleep stories” recited by celebrities.

Calm currently offers a free version and Calm Premium, a subscription-based model that costs $14.99 per month or $69.99 per year. In addition, the app offers a 7-day free trial of their Premium service for users to try before they commit.

The free version may be good for casual users, as it offers several useful features without cost, including:

  • Timed meditations
  • Day 1 of all multi-day meditation programs
  • A sleep story called “Blue Gold”
  • Access to Calm’s Breathe Bubble breathing exercise
  • Several free scenes and nature sounds
Calm 4
Calm Premium unlocks a series of Masterclasses on varying topics.

Calm Premium includes everything the free version does but also unlocks the rest of Calm’s content. That includes more than 120 Sleep Stories, hundreds of meditations focusing on everything from anxiety to relationships, specially curated music, masterclasses, and more.

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A former monk shares a simple mind trick to help you combat negative thoughts and feel calmer in times of stress

Cory Muscara
Cory Muscara.

  • Cory Muscara is a mindfulness teacher, a frequent guest of the “Ten Percent Happier Podcast” with Dan Harris, a professor, and an ordained Buddhist monk.
  • The following is an excerpt from his book, “Stop Missing Your Life: How to be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World.”
  • In it, he describes a workshop where he encouraged hundreds of Fortune 100 executives to sit silently and listen to a bell ring three times. This exercise is meant to help people focus on the present moment.
  • Muscara argues that it’s important to be intentional about our thoughts and where we direct our attention, as this can help us combat worries, fears, and negative thinking.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Within the first 10 minutes of any workshop, I do an exercise to help people connect with the power of focus. I ring a bell and ask the audience to pay attention to the sound, which has a long, deep resonance.

Recently, I was running a workshop for a big Fortune 100 company. There were over 200 executives in the room, all suffering withdrawal from being off of their phones for the last three minutes, and I was going to put them through my meditation exercise whether they wanted to do it or not.

The instructions were simple: I’ll ring the bells three times. If you’d like to close your eyes, you may. All you need to do is bring your full attention to the sound of the bell until it dissolves back into silence.

Everyone looked around at each other like I had just asked them to get naked and hold hands.

“Don’t worry, it will be easy,” I assured them. “And it will only take about a minute.”

They adjusted their posture, as if reviewing the catalog in their mind for how you’re supposed to sit when you do weird hippie stuff like this. Some closed their eyes; some kept them open.

I rang the bells once, and the sound ran for about 15 seconds.

The room got quieter.

I rang the bells again, and everyone continued to listen for the sound to soften into silence.

More people now had their eyes closed. I could feel something shifting.

I rang the bells a third time, letting the sound run its 15 seconds and watched as the group settled into it.

After the last bell faded into silence, you could hear a pin drop. The room was still. And it appeared that everyone had their eyes closed.

In a gentle tone of voice, I invited them to open their eyes again.

They stayed quiet.

“So … how was that?” I asked.

“I liked the quiet,” one woman said. “I think that’s a new experience for all of us … at least at work. I didn’t want it to end.”

“Yeah,” I responded. “So, you get a taste for just how much we’re consumed by the noise of our lives.”

“What else did people notice?” I asked.

A man raised his hand. “In the silence between the bells, I noticed a lot of other sounds in the room, especially the ticking of the clock. I was surprised I was able to hear that.”

“Very cool,” I said. “So, even though we raised awareness around one thing, in this case the bells, it enhanced our awareness of other, more subtle things.”

Anything else?

There was a pause.

Eventually, one last woman chimed in. “I just feel so calm. I’m usually caught in my thoughts and worries, and when I was listening to the bells, most of that fell away.”

The whole room seemed to nod in agreement.

I’ve done this exercise more than 500 times, and there are usually common themes in people’s responses, but the one response that always comes up is an increased sense of calm.

It could be that the bells are very pleasant to listen to, or that the room is quiet, or that they’re not immersed in emails – but it seems that when we make the intention to pay deeper attention to one thing (in this case, the bells), we’re less prone to falling into the dominating stream of thoughts and stimuli that typically consume our attention and create extra agitation.

StopMissingYourLife_HC
“Stop Missing Your Life: How to be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World.”

You know those thoughts, right? The judgments, the worries, the rumination, the thoughts about the future and the past. Not only do they create agitation and stress, these pesky little critters become the filter through which we experience our life.

Some skeptics might think that I’m suggesting we clear our minds of thoughts, never think about the future or the past, and just focus on what is happening right now, all the time, in every moment.

Eh, not quite. If that were the case – or if it was even possible – I’m not sure how we would get anything done. We should spend time thinking about the future – planning our goals and scheduling out our day – and time reflecting on our past – what we need to improve and what went well that we want to remember. Both of those domains, the future and the past, heavily inform how we live our life in the present moment.

However, in my own life, I’ve noticed that my mind can go into the future and the past without me asking it to. And it’s not always helpful. It often leads to extra stress, extra worry, and extra judgment about things that have very little to do with the reality of what is happening right now.

So, this is not about clearing thoughts from our mind; rather, it’s about developing an awareness of what is going on in our minds – Where does our attention go, moment to moment? What does our mind reflect on when we’re not aware of it? – and then being more intentional about where and how we direct our attention.

A thought can be a powerful and positive force in our lives, leading to creativity, planning, and problem solving; a thought can also be meaningless neurotic chatter. We want the ability to leverage the former and not be swept away by the latter.

But, Cory, I don’t want to constantly monitor myself. I want to be free and spontaneous!

The kind of freedom I’m talking about is not being trapped in the unconscious pattern of reactivity. It’s about seeing what our usual impulse is in the moment and then being able to choose to follow it or respond differently.

I believe this sentiment is best captured in this quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth, freedom, and happiness.”

The ability to respond in that space between something happening and our response to it is where we find freedom. It’s where we can show ourselves a little more compassion when we’re beating ourselves up. It’s where we can decide to be a little less impulsive when we’re about to say (or text) something we shouldn’t. And when it comes right down to it, it’s where we start to make meaningful changes in our life.

Excerpted from the book “Stop Missing Your Life: How to be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World” by Cory Muscara. Copyright (c) Cory Muscara by Da Capo Lifelong Books. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

This article was first published by Business Insider in December 2019.

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