Dr Hamzah Selim, cofounder and CEO of Mindstep.

How To

February 12, 2024

How to manage stress

Burnout is prevalent among workers today. Here's how to prevent yourself and your team from getting to that stage

Stress arises when our brains identify a threat and respond to it by heightening our alertness, according to Mindstep, an app that detects and treats brain health conditions.

“While a moderate level of stress can be beneficial — creating focus and energy in the short term — chronic stress can result in significant problems like fatigue, burnout, decreased productivity and health issues,” says Dr Hamzah Selim, cofounder and CEO of Mindstep.

“The aim isn’t to completely eradicate stress (an unrealistic goal) but to manage it effectively and ensure it’s a motivator rather than a hindrance.”


In our Startup Life newsletter, Hamzah gave us his top tips for managing and identifying stress in yourself and your team.

Recognise subtle distress signals in your team

Signs of impending burnout might look like diminishing concentration, a drop in productivity (sometimes known as brain fog), withdrawal from social situations and loss of joy in activities that previously brought joy. You’re watching the subconscious mind wave a red flag to say, “Hey, your brain is reaching its limit”. Regular check-ins with your team will help you see if they’re moving away from their baseline stress levels. It should be clear to your team that this time is also an opportunity for them to voice concerns and share challenges.

Encourage regular breaks

Create a culture that doesn’t glorify long work hours — which inadvertently encourages employees to ignore their own stress signals, exacerbating the risk of burnout. Put breaks in the calendar, nudge your team members if they haven’t taken one, make it mandatory that they take a certain amount of time away from their desk a day, for example. You need to role model this too. These aren’t pauses in productivity, but vital periods for mental recuperation to allow the brain to reset. It will help foster sustained concentration and creativity.

Offer benefits and perks that complement a calm culture

Wellness programmes, flexible working arrangements and mental health resources will demonstrate your company’s commitment to its employees’ wellbeing. However, these aren’t substitutes for building a well-rounded, healthy and supportive culture at work from day one.

Role model boundary setting

It’s challenging to separate work from personal life, especially as a founder, because of the intense pressure of managing investors’ money and being responsible for your team’s livelihoods. To proactively address this issue, be honest with your team about what is important to you and get them to tell you the same. Ensure you keep each other accountable. For example, get comfortable saying, “It’s late, I need to go home to my family.” Or telling a colleague, “It’s late, don’t you need to go home?” This is even more important to do out loud and in public forums like Slack if you’re working remotely, where it’s easier to be disengaged from your team’s needs.

Create an “end-of-day” ritual

You want to signal to yourself, your brain and to your team that you’re done for the day. It’s also a good way of creating boundaries between work and home. It can be simple to be effective. This is what mine looks like:

  • Workspace. I take a few minutes to organise my workspace including clearing my desk, closing tabs on my computer and jotting down a brief plan or to-do list for the next day. It gives me closure and prepares me for a fresh organised start tomorrow.
  • Computer. Shutting down my machine serves as a symbolic gesture as well as physically disconnecting me from work tasks and responsibilities.
  • Transition. After shutting down my computer, I’ll engage in an activity that is completely unrelated to work — a short walk, a relaxation exercise, reading, cooking or spending time with family — to shift my focus and mindset away from work and to engaging with my personal life.

On the subject of… Managing stress at work

🧭 Founders, here’s how to navigate the high pressures of the job.

🖌️ Is stress a good motivator? It depends! Distress can have a terrible impact on productivity, creativity and mental health, whereas eustress has been found to enhance performance at work. 

⏳ How do you effectively regulate stress? Therapist Esther Perel discusses the importance of creating routines, rituals and boundaries to practically help yourself manage stress.

🧑🏽‍💼 How different generations respond to stress. Workers under 35 are much more likely to report depression and burnout than the over-50s, finds a new report — but how they choose to cope differs greatly.

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn