Billionaire Elon Musk opens up on mental health and ‘unrelenting stress’

Elon Musk, a self-made billionaire and CEO of three companies, is a visionary leader who plans to colonize Mars,  stop the A.I. apocalypse, and make self-driving electric cars go mainstream in his lifetime. These are superhuman, daunting goals that Musk has never backed down from.

But on Monday, he acknowledged that his uncompromising drive for success has come at a high cost to his mental health.

When a person on Twitter asked about his “amazing life,” Musk replied honestly that what the public saw on social media wasn’t the whole story.

When another Twitter user asked if these symptoms of “great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress” meant he had a mental health condition, Musk suggested he might.

Bipolar disorder is a condition that’s characterized by extreme mood swings between the lows of depression and hopelessness and the highs of euphoria and mania. Musk later clarified that he wasn’t sure if this was the exact correct diagnosis, but that he struggled with deep lows when “bad events” overtook his life.

But it did not appear that Musk would be changing his ways of “getting carried away.” Musk said that this was the price he paid for buying a “ticket to hell,” suggesting that he knew the devil’s bargain of overcommitting to work.

Musk’s advice to fellow founders dealing with his kind of unrelenting stress? “Take the pain” and endure it. Musk knew that there are “better answers” but he remains uncompromising in his solution.

Musk knows he is shaping the future with his companies, Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink. He has previously said that leaving the Earth better than how he found it is what drives him. He has also acknowledged that he is haunted by his previous business failures, which include being ousted by PayPal, investing in bad ideas, and having his companies go on the brink of bankruptcy. That stress has clearly never left him.

“I feel a bit like my grandmother. She lived through the Great Depression and some real hard times. Once you’ve been through that, it stays with you for a long time. I’m not sure it ever leaves really,” Musk said in a 2015 biography of his life.

“So, I do feel joy now, but there’s still that nagging feeling that it might all go away. Even later in life when my grandmother knew there was really no possibility of her going hungry, she always had this thing about food. With Tesla, I decided to raise a huge amount of money just in case something terrible happens.”

How to deal with ‘unrelenting stress’

What may work for Musk now is untenable in the long-run for most people. Responding to Musk’s tweets, venture capitalist Fred Wilson said that “unrelenting stress” is the “life of an entrepreneur.” In Wilson’s opinion, managing that stress so it doesn’t “eat you up and mess up your relationships” meant “workouts, eating and drinking healthy, having a coach, and most of all, having a spouse who keeps it all in check.”

Managing stress also begins with looking inwards at the causes. You learn to appreciate what you have and stop asking ‘what if?’. You learn to label and let go of bad feelings through meditation and mindfulness. By practicing these daily rituals, you can manage your anxiety and have the best of both worlds: success in your professional work and the peace of mind to enjoy it.