How I nipped burnout, anxiety and depression in the bud with diet, exercise and sleep.

Photo by Jeff Kingma on Unsplash

For the last 2 weeks, I felt depressed, unmotivated, and anxious. Consequently, my work started to suffer. Today all that changed, because I gave some love again to my diet, exercise and sleep.

Since leaving London 2 years ago, I lived well. I had good quality meals , almost daily exercise (when I was able to go out surfing), and I slept around 8 hours regularly. My mornings usually started with a 15 min meditation and I didn’t sleep too late.

I was able to focus well and became calmer in the face of difficult decisions. I started working on my startup with clarity of mind and purpose.

But lockdown somehow gave me an excuse to be lazy. My health started getting ignored, because I would spend all waking hours at my desk on “work”. Food got faster, sleep hours got shorter, and exercise got ignored.

As a result, my work, that I thought was more important than my health, suffered. Problems seem bigger than they are. I could not focus on important elements of my startup and I started chasing ideas.

I started getting depressed. I discovered that I tried to deal with my depression by doing more coding, i.e. “work”, rather than the necessary customer development efforts that were required for an early stage startup. Burying my head in code was easier than talking to people.

Which meant that real progress was stalling, and I could see this. Which led to more frustration. More depression. And anxiety was ever present. The vicious circle.

Everything was compounded by having to deal with government red tape while applying for my wife’s visa to stay here in Malaysia. And of course, my poor physical and mental health didn’t let me deal with this in a calm manner.

Last Monday, I made the conscious decision to get back into eating properly and exercising. Like magic, within just a couple of days, the fog lifted. I felt calmer again, and I’m able to focus. I feel happier. Problems have shrunk in size in my mind.

I still find myself sleeping later than I’d like, but having a long nap during the day helps mitigate that while I work my way back to earlier nights.

“Good diet” and “good exercise” will mean different things to different people, and that’s a huge topic. For me it was about sugar reduction, eating whole foods, no meat, but being OK with occasional treats. And I keep motivated with exercise by realising that I need to stay in shape if I want to be able to surf well again as soon as we’re all able to travel.

It’s amazing what just a few days of paying attention to your physical and mental health can do. How it can turn things around at a personal level.

I’m not saying all cases of burnout, anxiety or depression can be fixed simply by diet, exercise and sleep. In my case I already had good old habits to return to and I’m not clinically depressed.

I think they key is to be self aware of what’s happening in your body and mind and fix it early. And never ignore your health. As someone running your own business/startup, especially as a solo founder, your good health is vital.

Monitor your personal KPIs as closely as you monitor your business’s KPIs.

If you are going through any of the above, maybe it’s time to check on your diet, exercise and sleep. And don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you want.

You can follow me on Twitter for my thoughts on freelancing, and my startup journey.