RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A group therapy session wasn’t what most had expected when they signed up for this year’s Startup Summit.

But that’s exactly what they got.

On Thursday, Nicole Kaufman, CEO of High-Performance Counseling, led a breakout session tackling the topic of mental health and startup success as part of the one-day conference – and at points, it got personal.

One attendee raised his hand to openly discuss the stress of starting a company while raising a young family. Others talked about anxiety and bouts of “imposter syndrome” – feelings of fraud and chronic self-doubt, despite evident success.

“That can really get in your head and be stagnating,” Kaufman told the 50-strong crowd gathered at the RTP Conference Center.

“If you’re the sole breadwinner, you can’t stagnate. You’ve got to be able to move past that.”

According to a recent study by University of San Francisco researcher Michael Freeman, about half (49 percent) of startup founders suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetimes – including attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, bipolar and a host of addictive behaviors.

Nicole Kaufman, CEO of High-Performance Counseling

Part of the problem, Kaufman said, is that entrepreneurs are reluctant to seek out help because of busy schedules and the stigma often associated with mental health issues.

“I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I get who tell me that they’re 65, and they’ve never had therapy or gone to talk to anybody,” said the certified counsellor and an entrepreneur herself, who has carved out a niche for herself working with founders and high-level professionals over the last three years.

On the bright side, Kaufman said there are many “quick and easy” steps to mitigate the damage of burnout and other challenges.

Among them: languaging (the use of language to mediate cognitively complex acts of thinking); biofeedback (a non-drug treatment in which patients learn to control bodily processes that are normally involuntary); journaling; gut health; and meditation.

“[These techniques] get us to perform not only better, but actually at a higher level,” said Kaufman. “That’s what my [clients] want. They don’t just want to come back to baseline, they want to go beyond, and that’s what we’re able to do.

Mark Bavisotto, co-founder of Startup Summit, admitted that he has struggled with anxiety over the course of his career as an entrepreneur. That’s why he decided to make it a breakout session topic.

“I know if I struggle with it, the majority of people struggle with it, too,” he said. “We need to be open about mental health. We don’t talk about it enough. It’s always this hustle mentality. We’ve got to work until we’re dead. It’s not true. You’ve got to take care of your mind, your body.”

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