An Honest Discussion About Founder Depression and Anxiety
During this week’s HealthYeah live video interview, Excy co-founder and CEO Michele Mehl sat down with Megan McNally to discuss founder depression and anxiety. Megan, a successful lawyer, the founder of The FBomb Breakfast Club, and one of Seattle’s Most Influential People, kindly shared the mental health toll of her entrepreneurial journey and how it contributed to founder depression and anxiety.
For Megan, childhood mental health challenges of anxiety and depression resurfaced while building her startup Diana Sports TV. Just like most entrepreneurs, Megan set out to change the world with ambition, vision, and big dreams. All driven by a passion and obsession to build Diana Sports TV into the first digital streaming network dedicated solely to women’s sports.
However, she quickly learned that there can be a dark side to entrepreneurship: losing focus on self-care. Like so many entrepreneurs, lack of self-care led to near-debilitating anxiety and depression and peaked with the realization that her startup would fail to launch.
Self-Care: One of the First Things to Go When Needed Most
During the interview, we discuss how so many things can disrupt self-care as we age. Things like parenting, care-taking, dealing with loss, an injury, a diagnosis, or growing a career or starting a company. One of these things, or a combo of any, can make us forget to take proper care of our daily living needs. Even basic human needs like eating, sleeping, exercising, and grooming can be pushed to the sidelines.
So, while taking good care of oneself seems to be a logical thing to do, sometimes it takes a back seat to other pressing problems that seem more important at the time. Throw in a history of clinical depression and anxiety, plus trying to build a venture-scaled company from scratch? The wheels just might come off the bus. That’s what happened to Megan during her startup journey to build Diana Sports TV.
Startup Life Through a Lens of Mental Health
There’s so much wonderful advice Megan shares that anyone can learn from, including never forgetting the importance of sleep, nutrition, and exercise as medicine. We invite you to click on the below video to watch the interview, but have also included a summary below. Megan offers some amazing business advice during the interview. For the sake of this post, we will primarily focus on capturing her advice through the lens of mental health.
Childhood Mental Health Challenges Can Roar Back to Create Founder Depression and Anxiety
During the interview, we discuss how building a startup is an emotional investment that produces intense mood swings in short time periods. Within an hour, like so many entrepreneurs, Megan would find herself experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As a result of this roller coaster ride of rapid change, Megan’s childhood anxiety and depression started to resurface. As an adult, she learned to control her anxiety to prevent episodes of depression through three pillars of self-care:
- Proper Nutrition
However, because of her total commitment to Diana Sports TV, Megan found herself sacrificing these three self-care pillars to add more time to her days. She mentions that instead of focusing on her physical and mental health to maintain a resilient body and mind, she let unhealthy habits take over. Exercise became moving between meetings. Nutrition came from airport food and hotel room service. Sleep was de-prioritized with 4:00 a.m. mornings and late nights. These habits set the stage for childhood anxiety to creep back into her life, and, by not managing those symptoms, Megan believes depression was triggered.
Decision-Making Clouded by Lack of Sleep, Proper Nutrition, and Exercise
Megan never set out believing that building a company is easy. But, she didn’t anticipate her health being such a costly price to pay. She also didn’t anticipate her judgment being impaired by ignoring her self-care pillars. There are also the hidden pressures of “Fake it Till You Make It”, which Megan explains can be brutal to the psychology of any entrepreneur.
Back to Living Her Self-Care Pillars
To climb out of her depression after the loss of Diana Sports TV, Megan began slowly. Her first step? She simply stopped setting her alarm in the morning, allowing her body to find a natural sleep pattern. She improved her nutrition and began exercising again, starting with walks and increasing in intensity as her body recovered. Megan was hit by a car while cycling when she was 27. The accident injured her lower back and pelvis, which has led to decades of chronic pain and related injuries.
Because of this, she is focused on a self-care exercise routine where she listens to her body’s signals. She has embraced snacking on exercise like potato chips, which we highly advocate at Excy. Our goal with our device is to make frequent cardio and strength training exercise available anywhere, especially for busy people battling injury, disability, and chronic conditions.
Where is She Now?
Megan is turning 50 in early 2020 and has created an admirable goal: she wants to be her healthiest self. As a child living with depression, Megan never envisioned arriving at 50. She considers the milestone an enormous victory and wants to celebrate by strengthening her body. She realizes that it is harder to get back into shape as you age, and she does not strive for perfection. Instead, she simply wants to feel great about herself and is focused on healing her body from the inside out.
She is also back to the joy of being a lawyer again and works with Foundry Law Group to council entrepreneurs through their own startup journeys. She continues to be a champion of authenticity and supporting women business owners with The FBomb Breakfast Club, a community of brave, tenacious (and sometimes f-bomb dropping) women who candidly discuss everything from their struggles to successes.
Megan’s Key Takeaways to Fight Founder Depression and Anxiety and Promote Entrepreneurial Emotional Health
- Keep Self-Care Simple! Self-care does not have to be a spa weekend. Listen to your body, determine what it needs, and figure out how to fulfill those needs daily. Our bodies were not meant to sit, so she tries to move as much as possible and sit less.
- Talk About It! Talk about the emotional side of your business life in a community you trust. This is one of many reasons Megan built the FBomb Breakfast club. If you are in Seattle, The FBomb Breakfast Club offers a room of people who understand your situation and can candidly discuss your struggle. If people offer you help, take them up on it, and tie it back to your self-care needs. Those are often the things you are neglecting, and a little bit of help can pay dividends.
- Don’t Compare! Social media makes it all too easy to compare ourselves to others. Instead of looking at someone else’s progress, set your own milestones and measure your success against those. Celebrate others when they hit a milestone, but do not make it yours.
We always ask our HealthYeah guest what they are reading!
So, what’s on Megan’s list?
- The book she recommends to everyone: “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker
- The book she is most anticipating reading: “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America” by Beth Macy
- Her current go to podcast: “Women in Business and Technology,” a Microsoft podcast hosted by Sonia Dara and Colleen O’Brien.
Follow our HealthYeah live blog interview series to find more inspiring ways to live healthier every day, in every way!