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Hard Lessons and Simple Routines Helped These Leaders Beat the Stress of 2020

Confronting crises will make you stronger

A few days after San Francisco's shelter-in-place order began on March 17, Mathilde Collin awoke to an anxiety attack. She felt a pain in her chest. That little ball of tension in her stomach ballooned into full-on nausea. Still groggy from sleep, she could barely gather her thoughts enough to roll out of bed, let alone face the sheer volume of decisions in front of her. Her brain just locked up.

As co-founder and CEO of the software startup, Front, Collin was responsible for 180 employees across three offices. Her company, which had raised $138 million in venture capital, brought in $34 million in revenue last year, as estimated by research firm PrivCo--and in the early days of the pandemic, business was cratering. The 31-year-old was also three-and-a-half-months pregnant with her first child, and she was isolated from family in her native France for the foreseeable future. It was as if the most important threads in her life were unspooling and piling up on the floor faster than she could figure out what to do with them.

In that moment, she wasn't alone: The pandemic quickly sent startup founders across the country into panic mode. In an April Inc. survey of more than 250 U.S. small-business leaders, 74 percent of respondents reported higher levels of stress than usual--including nearly a third who said they felt "extremely distressed." That's a mindset that can lead to serious problems rippling across personal and professional life: Studies have linked poor decision-making, procrastination, insomnia, migraines and even irritable bowel syndrome to high stress. Left unchecked, extreme stress can sink her ability to lead. It can even sink a company.

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