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Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts

Nadia Ladak, CEO of Marlow, a period care company she co-founded with three friends, talks about how she manages anxiety and provides tips to other entrepreneurs.

5-minute read

The uncertainty of entrepreneurship is challenging for someone with anxiety. When your mind tends to spiral into negative thoughts, setting off a variety of physical symptoms, such as a churning stomach, you’re already dealing with a lot of uncertainty. That’s why most people with anxiety like to feel in control. 

But there’s no playbook for being an entrepreneur.

No one is telling you what to do or how to do it. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring because you’re starting something new, or in my case, building a new product in a whole new industry. It’s the opposite of feeling in control.

Anxiety is something I’ve always experienced — in school, during extracurricular activities, throughout university, and now, as a business owner. But being an entrepreneur has definitely amplified it.

Not willing to put up with the pain

Growing up, I was always interested in health and wellness. I stayed active, promoted well-being, and learned about skincare and hair care. 

That’s how I noticed that menstrual health was treated differently. Instead of having an array of comfortable products to choose from, women were supposed to accept that periods and tampons are uncomfortable.

Many of us remember the first time we tried to use a tampon, getting coached by our mom, sister or friend from outside the bathroom as we struggled to get it in. As women, we’re taught to put up with the pain. 

The thing is that periods are something we experience for one week every month for roughly 39 years. Don’t we deserve comfortable options and to know which ingredients we’re putting in our bodies? 

That’s why we started Marlow – to encourage a positive menstrual experience with comfortable products and access to “big sister” education about “taboo” topics.

I’m super proud of what we’re doing, but I had no idea what starting a business would ask from me.

When everything feels too good to be true

People say that being an entrepreneur takes you through the highest highs and the lowest lows, sometimes on the same day! One minute, you’re receiving an award, a grant or press coverage, and later on, you’re struggling to manage cash flow and running out of inventory. 

I remember last year, there was a time when everything was going super well. We had just filmed our Dragon’s Den episode and won Forbes’30 Under 30.”  It was a great time, but inside, I felt so anxious. 

I was crying before bed and waking up in the middle of the night because I was so overwhelmed. Every little decision felt like the end of the world – even what to eat for breakfast or what clothes to wear. My stomach was in knots and my skin was constantly breaking out.

I realized that I wasn’t myself and decided to ask for help.  

Learning to navigate the ups and downs

Luckily, my family was really supportive and encouraged me to go to therapy. Talking to a neutral professional helped me work through my burnout and understand my anxiety. It didn’t happen overnight, but after a few months, I learned some sustainable habits and strategies to help me manage the ups and downs of being a business owner.

I’m not going to lie – I was super nervous about opening up about my mental health outside of therapy. I thought if people knew about my anxiety, they would question my ability to run my business. But now I think it’s actually the opposite – people think I’m courageous and strong for talking about it. 

Sharing my experience has also introduced me to others struggling with similar challenges. I was surprised to learn that so many people were going through the same thing. Being open has allowed me to build authentic relationships with those around me, including my team, customers and other entrepreneurs.

Managing anxiety as an entrepreneur 

Negative thoughts, feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure are the calling cards of anxiety. These are some of the strategies I’ve learned to help me manage these unhelpful thoughts:

  • Build a support system. Get a therapist, coach or mentor to help you navigate challenges and form a network of other entrepreneurs you can lean on who understand your reality.
  • Don’t be afraid to open up to others. And don’t wait until you’re on the edge of a cliff to seek help. If you feel something isn’t right, trust your gut and act on it. Some people don’t wait for the warning signs and go to therapy or a support group as a preventive measure, which is good too.
  • Set healthy boundaries. As an entrepreneur, you have a million things on your to-do list, so prioritizing is essential. Differentiate between the must do’s and nice to do’s. Delegate if you need to.
  • Clear your mind. Some people meditate, but I journal every night before bed. It helps me get all the racing thoughts out of my head and onto paper so I can sleep well.
  • Exercise regularly. I block time in my calendar for yoga, biking, running or lifting weights – scheduling a meeting with myself makes it happen.
  • Separate yourself from your business. Acknowledge that the successes, failures and lessons you experience as a business owner do not define you as a person.  

The only failure is giving up

Thanks to the strategies I learned in therapy, I am much better at managing my anxiety now. I still face self-doubt and wonder if I’m doing enough to grow my business. Sometimes, I compare myself to other successful entrepreneurs and get down on myself. 

But then I remember that success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of hard work – even for other entrepreneurs.

Now, I challenge my feelings of uncertainty and keep pushing forward. Along the way, I remember to be proud of how far we’ve come and celebrate the small wins. I have learned to prioritize myself and be open about challenges, making me a stronger and more authentic leader for my team. 

Being an entrepreneur is a long, winding journey with many ups and downs. I used to worry about failing, but now I know you only fail when you give up.

Get more support for your well-being

Explore BDC’s resources for entrepreneur well-being, including a curated directory of research, services, apps and organizations to support entrepreneur mental health. 

This article was created in collaboration with Unsinkable, a charitable organization focused on mental health advocacy through the power of storytelling.

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