In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to maintain mental health during a global pandemic.

Due to the current coronavirus crisis, a lot of companies are struggling, and this is going to affect so many founders mental health. So it’s important to know how to cope with the current climate an avoid harming your mental health

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how this current crisis can affect your mental health, what Hiten is currently doing to take care of his and his family’s mental health, how Steli is coping with in the current crisis and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:23 Why this topic was chosen.

01:39 How this current crisis can affect your mental health.

03:48 What Hiten is currently doing to take care of his and his family’s mental health.

04:49 Why Hiten was consuming a lot of content about the crisis early on.

07:22 How everyone has their own wy of dealing with this crisis.

09:13 The importance of knowing when to cope.

09:45 How Steli is coping with in the current crisis.

10:23 How making checklists is helping Steli cope.

11:57 How Steli is coping through exercising. 

3 Key Points:

  • The staying at home part is not just challenging for me
  • You need to know when enough is enough when consuming content about the crisis.
  • You have to consume information in order to understand what’s going on for myself.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today on The Startup Chat we’re going to talk about how to maintain one’s mental health during a global pandemic. So, for those of you that don’t know, we recorded… The last, I think four episodes or so, were very focused on the current COVID-19 crisis around the world, and this is very unusual for us. We’ve been doing this, I think this week we’re going to surpass, or just last week we surpassed the 500 recordings. We’ve been doing this for five years plus. We had never done episodes that were centered around world events at the moment.


Steli Efti: Nope, that’s right.


Hiten Shah: But then again, there’s never been a world event that’s so big that it literally has captured-


Steli Efti: Impacts everybody.


Hiten Shah: The entire world.


Steli Efti: That’s right.


Hiten Shah: So this is a different time even for us in this podcast. We did an episode on sales during this crisis, marketing during this crisis, and working from home during COVIT-19. I felt that it would be helpful and useful to people that are listening to us to talk a little bit about mental health. I think that in step one, when all of this started rolling, or becoming a bigger topic in the Western world, in Europe, in the US especially, I think that first mechanism of preparedness was about shopping, having groceries, having toilet paper, obviously. The most important item of all. And just thinking cash and in the US a lot of people were buying ammunition and guns and whatever. There’s some kind of a, how do we survive in our homes if we can’t go out and if it’s really dire circumstances outside for long periods of time. So people were thinking about that. And now… But I feel like once people have gone through, one, two, or three weeks now of actually being mostly at home and having, if they have children, their children at home and not in school, and their significant other at home, not at school, and they’ve been in this cramped up environment and space for a good amount of time. And on top of it, there’s been now two, three weeks of nonstop bad news and anxiety just ramped up around the world to a really high level. I feel like now more than ever, people will start thinking about this, and need to start thinking about not just the physical health of food and toilet paper and shelter, but also the mental side of things. How do we go through this time and make sure that we stay mentally healthy? What are the things that we can do every single day to make sure that our minds are healthy and vibrant and vital. And not just our body has food and our asses have toilet paper. Right? How do we take care of our mental health during this time, which isn’t easy. So I thought it’d be really valuable for the two of us to talk a little bit about that. How we deal with this. How we deal with our families, what we’ve seen with friends. So let me just straight out ask you, Hiten, what do you do right now? Because I know this is not the normal setup that you have. You’re usually outside in your car driving to meetings, to coffee shops, meeting people, helping people. You’re kind of out and about Monday through Fridays and the weekends you’re home. But now you’re at home all the time. What do you do to take care of your mental health? What do you do to make sure that the mental health of your families is in a good point? What are some of the things that you have started doing? Well, I’m dying to hear what you do, partially because I know you’re out and about too. You’re very much a people person like I am in a lot of ways. I think for me, the one thing about me maybe because I was an only child or am an only child growing up, I can go either way, personally. And here’s the other thing, this is really weird, and it’s kind of… I’m not sure how to fully explain it, but the staying at home part is just not challenging for me. The only thing that’s really different for me is the fact that I actually stay up much later than normal these days.


Steli Efti: Interesting.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the only thing that’s different. And it’s probably because there’s just a lot going on in the world or whatever. It’s not like I’m thinking about anything though. I know better than to think about this crisis unless I’m able to help or something. I know way better than that, because that’ll just drive you crazy in my opinion. There’s just so much content, so much news, and so many things you could consume about it every day. I was consuming a bunch of it early on. So this relates to this. The reason I was consuming it early on is I really wanted to get to my own personal understanding of what’s going on and why, and try to find the simplest explanations for things. So I think for me, one of the ways I take care of my mental health is almost knowing when enough is enough when it comes to consuming information about what’s going on. Because everyone’s consumed information about what’s going on. Many people continue to consume that information at the same pace they used to. Most people I think are coming around to, well, consuming this information is not really that helpful on a minute by minute, second by second basis. But when it first happened, I was definitely consuming information. And the reason I was consuming that information is because I wanted to understand it, and I wanted my own understanding, and I couldn’t do that by not consuming the information. I had to consume information in order to understand what’s going on for myself. And if there was anything I could do, I would do it. So that could be as stupid as go get toilet paper. Right? Or learn what the precautions are when you go out. Right? And everyone has their own thing. For example, my wife, she’s the one that usually goes out and gets things like groceries and stuff like that. Mainly because she doesn’t think I’ll do a good job. That’s really actually the reason why. So, that’s just how she is. And it could be a system I created a long time ago or it could be just true. I don’t know it. Either which way, that’s the reason. And so she has been going out with a mask and gloves longer than most people have. At one point she was the only one in the grocery store going out with gloves and a mask and she just wanted to be careful. Right? And that’s just how she is. She has that risk adverseness and wants to make sure that she’s just taking care of things and protected, et cetera. Because there’s other things where she’s just not as careful during this crisis which is hilarious to me. But whatever it is, she’s just like, our house is always clean and stuff like that because she really likes everything to be clean and tidy, et cetera. I get in trouble for making even the slightest mess, because that’s just not okay with her. And I’m not even that messy really. In my opinion. I think everyone has their own way of dealing with this. The other day she just started to clean and she kept cleaning until she was done cleaning whatever she wanted to clean. And I think part of it is cleaning helps her to just get her mind off whatever might be bothering her about this whole thing, if it is bothering her. Right? So we all have our own ways. I think during this time it’s… I’m not even sure if I want to suggest this, but one thought is like, “Hey, just recognize when you’re doing things because you need to comfort yourself.” The only reason I didn’t want to recommend that is because maybe you don’t want to know you’re doing things to comfort yourself. Right? But I would want to know. So, I’m just saying, whatever you’re doing to comfort yourself. For example, we happen to have a Tesla. We’ve had one for a while, and we got a new one recently, and I get a lot out of actually going and driving the Tesla right now. And I don’t have to go touch a gas station pump or anything. I don’t have to worry about any of that. Not that I’m like super, super paranoid. I’d be careful, but then I have to go be careful about it because that’s about the right thing to do right now. From what I can tell, or at least that’s the thing I want to do, but I don’t have to do that. The car is charged at home and it’s all good. So I’m kind of happy about that. I haven’t got in my car as much as I’ve kind of threatened to, to myself. But I know that if I’m really feeling cooped up or I’m not feeling great for whatever reason, something’s on my mind, whatever it may be, I just go for a drive, and I will be fine by the time I get back. I know that about myself. And so part of it is just know that things are very different now, and whatever you’re doing to cope, whatever your mechanisms are to cope with uncertainty, or just when you don’t feel great, they might need to be a little bit different than they used to be. Because you just probably can’t do… Well, now probably you definitely can’t do most of the things that you used to do. When you think about all the people that are going, all their home workouts, and all that kind of stuff. And I think that’s a good segue to you because I know you definitely you get a lot more physical with yourself than I do. So, what are you doing?


Steli Efti: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, I think it starts with recognizing that it’s a priority. I do need to take care… Just like I need to eat and I need to sleep, I need to take care of my mental health, especially during these times. I made a small list and I’m fucking around with it a little bit. But there’s certain things I know that if I do them every day, it doesn’t matter how little or how much I do them, that they are helping. Right? So one thing that I do is in the morning I write these things down. It’s like, I don’t know, seven things. And then during the day I try to check off as many of these things as possible. Right?


Hiten Shah: Cool.


Steli Efti: I have a little sticky note. Every day it’s the same thing. Maybe I’ll change some of these things. One of it is talk to loved ones.


Hiten Shah: Oh, nice.


Steli Efti: So right now I’ll do a video call every day with my mother, but almost every day I think about somebody that is, somebody I care about, that I haven’t talked to in a while. And so I’ll just send them a voice message, or I give them a call, or I text them and just checking in with people, asking how they’re doing. Today I’m with my boys, and they have a cousin and he’s an only child, and he’s kind of a little older than them. So he’s nine years old and it’s much tough on him. Right? He’s nine years old and he’s at home most of the time alone. And I was telling my boys yesterday how lucky they are that they have each other. Right? Because they are playing all day long with each other. And so today we decided to video call their cousin and then I came up with this idea of doing a… Oh, how would you even say it in English. Do like a contest to make the funniest faces. And I would give them key words and they would just make a face and it would take [crosstalk 00:11:33].


Hiten Shah: That’s good. Nice.


Steli Efti: And so they were on the phone with their cousin for an hour just chatting with him and coming up with games and stuff, so that’s one little [crosstalk] try to do every day is just check in with somebody and talk to somebody that I care about. When it comes to physical fitness, this is definitely a really difficult time. I love training Muay Thai and training martial arts, and it’s a big part of what keeps me sane during normal times. And obviously all the gyms are closed. Right? I can’t train with Thai, can’t go to jujitsu classes. I can’t do the normal martial arts workouts that I would like to do, and that’s something that I haven’t really tackled well yet. One thing that I do is I go on runs, I jump the jump rope. I do a lot of shadow boxing, and then I’m lucky I have a friend, a very good friend, who basically has a private gym that’s quite nice and large. And so once or twice a week I might go there and work out at his gym because there’s nobody there. So that’s to me, those are coping mechanisms to be able to do some physical fitness during the week. Some of it, although I’m not getting really what I would like to do.


Hiten Shah: What you’re used to.


Steli Efti: What I’m used to and what I prefer, but I still try to do something, because I do know that it helps me. There’s one other thing. Obviously meditating and eating well and sleeping enough, and there’s a bunch of things that are probably really helpful. To me, one of the things that has always been challenging, but now even more challenging than ever before, but at the same time it’s really impactful, is silent time. And that’s not meditating, that is just sitting somewhere thinking. Just contemplating.


Hiten Shah: Yep. That’s a form of meditation.


Steli Efti: It is. Yeah, it is. And that, I try to get 10 minutes of that in every day. And oftentimes, sometimes it’s very hard. On the five minute mark, I’m already dying to distract myself with something. And sometimes, I actually start having real insightful thoughts. I start really thinking about something, or I just enjoy it so much the silence, I bathe in it, that it might turn into a 20 minute session or so, or 30 minute session. But silence has really been golden. It helps me clarify my thinking now more than ever because now it’s such a noisy world, and my head is almost always a noisy place. Meditating also helps with this, but I don’t know, even more so it helps me when I don’t just focus on my breathing. I can just sit there and think and just observe my thoughts and just contemplate things. I think, so those are all the things that have really helped. But on top of all of this is the recognition I think that, or the forgiveness, that these are really extreme times. Most of my days I’m not as productive as I used to be and that’s okay. And once in a while I’ll do a workout that’s really shitty and that’s totally okay. And often times, I’m eating my feelings more than usually. Right? I’ll eat shitty food and most of the time I fight them and I don’t eat shitty. And once in a while, more than usually, I’ll eat some shitty food, especially at night. And what I don’t do is I don’t beat myself up about it. I just go, “Well, I’m a human being. This is confirmation. I’m still human.”


Hiten Shah: There you go.


Steli Efti: “Just shut the fuck up. Yes, you ate all this shitty food, you feel a little shitty now. Oh, tomorrow is a new day.”


Hiten Shah: It’s okay.


Steli Efti: [crosstalk] Right? It’s okay. And I think that is a release of pressure, especially for very ambitious people, especially for entrepreneurs. I think when we’re, in this environment, I could see a lot of entrepreneurs making it even harder for themselves and their mental health by being overly critical with not being myself and not be productive and not eating healthy and not working out enough and whatever, whatever. And if you stress yourself out on top of all the stresses of a global pandemic, it just escalates things to an unnecessarily bad place.


Hiten Shah: Totally agree with that. Yeah. I think your list is really a good tactic of having a list of those things that you just do every day, because that just helps you keep your sanity. I think one of the things I’ve done in a similar vein is I’ve actually created multiple groups. On, for me it’s been iMessage, and these are just groups where it’s people who I have some affinity with for some reason. For example, I created a group with I think it’s seven or eight of my friends from college. And we don’t really, we didn’t have a group where most of us, if not all of us were in it. And we actually did a Zoom hangout a few weeks ago. Well, no, probably 10 days ago, week ago, because one of them was like, “Hey, let’s go hang out on Zoom at nine o’clock.” And I’m like, “Cool, sounds good.” And there’s just random texts that happen back and forth. Like apparently pokey or whatever fish has been cheap in San Diego. Majority of them are in San Diego, a few are in New York. And so they’re talking about that. I don’t eat meat, so I’ll just show them the food that I eat. They’re making fun of me. But yeah, it’s almost like the pandemic for me has caused, at least with a few of these sort of things, a level of closeness that I wouldn’t have… We weren’t at for the longest time. We weren’t really, we don’t have a group, and now we have a group, and I decided to start it. Another one is, I was talking to my wife Amy, and for at least a week I was telling her, “Hey, you should start a group with the neighbors.” Similar type of thing. She actually, this was before I started my group, she started one with the neighbors. So now the neighbors are asking things of each other. Not even favors or anything but more like, “Is the grocery store busy? Did they run out of stuff? Anyone been there recently? Is anyone doing food deliveries?” Like grocery deliveries. “What service are you using? Everyone’s delayed, blah, blah blah.” And I think to me, this is, I wouldn’t call this an opportunity, but there’s a need for us to have a level of communication if nothing else, a closeness to people, and it keeps us sane. I’m sure that group I started with my college friends, it’s been beneficial to everybody somehow. Even after one of the Zoom calls I hung out with one of my friends from the college that’s on that list in that group, and we haven’t caught up in many years, and it was just nice to catch up and just hear what he has to say. It was just fascinating. So I think to me it’s an opportunity. It’s not really an opportunity, but it’s a need we have to just talk to other human beings, right, about what’s going on, or remind ourselves that there are people in our lives that we might not always be in touch with, they might not be family, but they’re important to us, and so I’ve been doing a bunch of that.


Steli Efti: That’s beautiful. All right, we’ll wrap up this episode here. We always love to hear from you. If you have hacks for mental health, if you’ve tried new things that have worked particularly well or not worked at all, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email,, If you’ve not done it yet, hey, you have all the time in the world, now more than ever probably-


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: … For some of you. Go and give us an iTunes review. If you find the podcast helpful, it helps us being discovered more, so it helps the community to grow. So we really appreciate if you’ve gotten value from the podcast, give us a rating and a review on iTunes. And as always these days, stay healthy, and we’ll see you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See ya.