As programmers, designers, project managers, etc., we deal with very complex and difficult problems every day. Adding in longer work hours and bad personal habits from time-to-time, it’s no surprise that our mental health can easily suffer.
Over the years, I have found that dealing with everyday stress and bad habits is as important a skill as the ability to write code or manage customer expectations. This is what I do to help manage my stress levels and stay happy:
Some of us are more social than others, but being around people that deal with the same issues I do is a great way to strengthen my brain. Think of this as a support group for digital addicts. To find support, I attend our local developer meetup, go to 3-5 conferences a year, and participate in the occasional Google Hangout.
Co-workers and people in the same field as me are great, but there’s nothing better than the unforced, organic relationships I have with friends and family. Playing a table-top game, attending a concert, or grilling some steaks, the low-maintenance nature of these relationships is a refreshing change from professional relationships.
Say Goodbye to your Screens
I love computers, so this was the hardest change for me. The time I spend on computers at work is enough for me. Staying off computers at home re-grounds you in the real world and spending time with your family reminds you of why you do what you do.
Learn an Analog Hobby
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received from an older programmer was to find a hobby that was creating something physical since what we do all day is so ethereal. Build furniture, learn to cook, remodel an old home, gardening, it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it involves physical things.
This is one that I ignored for years, and it affected not only my physical health but my mental health too. Since we live sedentary lifestyles, it’s easy to grab a bag of chips and a soda while we’re working. Do things like choose healthier snacks, drink more water, get up and take a walk every hour, buy a standing desk. Moving around and getting healthy will make you feel better, and will improve the quality of your work, too.
Use All of your Vacation Time
This seems like a no-brainer, but in the US we have a very unhealthy attitude about vacation. Use every single vacation day you can. See if your employer will be open to you working longer days and taking more three day weekends. Disconnect and enjoy the world around you. It’ll make you a better employee.
Take Frequent Breaks
As super-human as you’d like to believe you are, a four-hour marathon coding session isn’t good for you or your work. I stand up and move around every 30 minutes. Getting a glass of water or walking around the block is a great way to reset my brain and refocus for the next sprint.
Invest in Your Equipment
I spend eight hours a day (sometimes more) using my computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse, chair, and desk. They are essential tools, and yet I still buy cheap and wait too long to upgrade. I fight code all day, so I shouldn’t complicate that with substandard tools that make my job harder. It took a financial commitment (and an OK from my wife), but investing in good monitors, a Macbook Pro, and a standing desk from Ikea has made all the difference for me.
Sometimes you have to know when to pull the ripcord. Maybe it’s a problem you can’t solve, and need to step away for 30 minutes for a walk. Or maybe it’s time for you to step away from your career forever. Whatever is the case, recognize when it’s time to walk away.