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Lou Willoughby
Lou Willoughby

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Preventing burnout 😴

It’s not just people with mental health troubles that are effected with burnout. It can happen to anyone and everyone in their lifetime.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a form of exhaustion, it’s a result of prolonged mental, emotional and/or physical stress.

Life can get busy, working, training, helping others, or things happening in our personal lives. Sometimes, we get too busy and forget to take a step back and rest. This can cause burnout.

You may not even know you’re burning yourself out until it’s too late and by that point you can start to feel unproductive, exhausted, hopeless and even unwell.

How it can happen

It can happen when you’re feeling emotionally drained, stressed and overwhelmed. You feel like you can’t keep up with everything around you.

I know first hand when starting out as a beginner in development you can get swept up in the excitement of learning.

You might be,

  • Taking on too much too soon,
  • Not feeling appreciated,
  • Under a lot of pressure at work to learn something or get a project finished on time,
  • Comparing yourself to others..

It can be one or multiple things that may not feel like much at the time but slowly it can cause you to burn yourself out.

It’s important in these times to remember you’re only human.

The Stigma

There’s unfortunately a lot of stigma around mental health and so it can be hard to admit when you’re struggling, when you need help or to even allow yourself to step away and take a break.

In the development world not everyone understands what it is to be a developer/programmer so trying to explain that it is a mentally tiring job can be hard.

Dealing with burnout

Understanding what causes your burnout is a form of self care, at first you may not know how or why it happened but knowing your triggers can really help with prevention.

Self Check-ins

We’re really bad at checking in with ourselves, being on the go and just getting on with everything. It’s good to sometimes just take a moment to stop and ask yourself, are you ok?

Speak to your manager

If you’re in a position to do so, speak with your manager or team lead. It’s good to be open and honest with how you’re feeling and your workload. You can then discuss how to manage it better and move forward.
You’re no use to your team or manager when you’re not at your 100% so it’s best to work together during these times so then you’ll be back on your a game sooner.

Are you sleeping enough?

When you don’t get enough sleep you may feel more stressed, anxious or tired. Making sure you get enough sleep is super important.

Get Support

Speak with someone you trust, it could be a colleague, friend or family member or a community you may be part of. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling and even asking for help is a great way to overcome what’s troubling you. Let others support you during this time.

If you don’t have any of the above, there are some great mental health charities you can speak with or even look on their website for advice, two that I’ve used personally are

Samaritans - https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/
Mind - https://www.mind.org.uk/

Do something you enjoy

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in everything so taking some time to yourself if you can to have a cup of tea, read a book, play a game, listen to a podcast or go for a walk. These things can really help focus on something else, something you enjoy doing, it can really help your mood.

Conclusion

I know the above might seem like a lot but I know from experience how easy burnout can happen and so I wanted to share this with you to hopefully help or prevent it from happening to you.

Finding a life, work balance is very important. I know it’s easy to get sucked into what we do but it’s very important to take breaks.

Set a timer every hour to just stretch your legs for 5 minutes,

Schedule learning time in your day where you can focus purely on that during that time and only that time.

Most importantly look after yourself and listen, your body always knows when things are too much.

Discussion (19)

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chadwinjdeysel profile image
Chadwin Deysel

Hi Lou. Thank you for sharing this post! I'm a big believer myself that developers should be having more discussions related to mental health. Two things I would definitely add are reducing overall caffeine consumption and solid mental exercises such as gratitude journaling and meditation.

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louiseann93 profile image
Lou Willoughby Author

Hi Chadwin,

You’re very welcome, I’ve experienced burnout personally and so I wanted to write something to hopefully help others as it’s easy to fall into. I do feel it should be discussed more widely.

Thank you for the extra tips! You don’t realise how much caffeine can also have an impact. I’m guilty of coffees myself but definitely trying to drink them in moderation 🙂

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louiseann93 profile image
Lou Willoughby Author

Hi Leonid,

That’s great you’ve got things that you enjoy that you can do instead 🙂

I’m also hit and miss with journaling, it seems like a great idea to start but I’m awful at keeping up with it 😬 mental awards sounds like a great idea! 🙂

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taikedz profile image
Tai Kedzierski

Over the years, and through a bit of trial and error, I found my own way of doing self-care in the form of addressing one root causes of burnout: expectation - like you point out, it's the element of "too much".

I am in the fortunate position that my past couple of managers have actually been very open and receptive to talking about personal mental health, and my first ever manager when I was new to the professional world was excellent as well, referring me to the company's help and counselling programme which did wonders.

Bad workplace

I do also know that I've worked for absolute expletives 🤬 in other jobs, with whom I never would expose my vulnerable side to. For people coming to burnout from that kind of situation... it's probably worth re-evaluating the workplace.

My own (very biased) take is, a low-paid job in an unrelated field (for me, that would be bar staffing) but with time to re-assess one's options can (👉 possibly, maybe 👈) be more productive than staying in the rut with no time for self-reflection, let alone healing. If you have some asset (an extra room for a lodger, for example) you can help tide yourself over with, even better.

If you must leave a bad workplace without a new job in place, and you are concerned this may look bad on the CV (and you're not comfortable listing "Sabbatical" or "Re-orientation period" in your employment timeline), consider also volunteering. It's still "being productive" but so long as you set your commitments upfront (one, two, three, four days a week) and stay committed to them, there is growth, there is experience... and there is breathing space.

And starting with a space to breathe is what you're after, ultimately.

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louiseann93 profile image
Lou Willoughby Author

Hi Tai,

You’re right your workplace can have a huge impact on this and I’m really glad to hear you get support from your manager 🙂

I’ve also worked in bad workplaces before and it can have a huge impact on your mental health. I eventually took the leap and left and i learnt so much from that experience.

Thank you for sharing your story and advice 🙂

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lachellezhang profile image
Lachelle Zhang

"In the development world not everyone understands what it is to be a developer/programmer so trying to explain that it is a mentally tiring job can be hard."
So true...

Thanks for sharing this!
Today I was reviewing some concepts and sat in front of my computer for more than 4 hours. I felt physically uncomfortable after that, then I went to play with my cat and look at the sky, and I realized that I hadn't quietly looked at the sky for a very long time.
Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do.

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louiseann93 profile image
Lou Willoughby Author

Hi Lechang, it’s so easy to do unfortunately! Time just flys and you don’t realise you’ve been staring at something for hours.
I’m really glad you managed to walk away and it helped you feel better 🙂
My cat definitely reminds me to get up most of the time, they can be a great distraction 🙂

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jwp profile image
John Peters

Burnout is real but the root cause is us. You can control your workload 100%. The trap is fear of not meeting expectations. But no expectation that exceeds our limits is good. This is why Kanban is good. There's only one thing in progress at a time. In the age of increasing collaboration there's no real excuse for burn out.

If you cannot get your comfort zone corrected, find a new job.

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lukahn2501 profile image
Kevin Roy • Edited on

As someone who didn't have that luxury you're talking about, I hope someday you realize that what you just said is somehow very cruel.
Some of us, depending of familial obligation, financial security and whatnot, may at some point not have the "control" you're talking about. I didn't have it, and wasn't financially secure enough to quit my job or imposing things at my last job.
I did try to talk to my bosses about taking step and adopting new workflows, but harsh reality was, they just didn't care.

Not trying to rebute your entire point though. In most situation we do have some control about these things. But sometimes we don't. And we can't go assuming people do. We can't go assuming the root cause is them too.

And "get a new job" is also very cruel, for obvious reasons.

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jwp profile image
John Peters

If one cannot get another job then they must learn how to adapt to the pressure. In this case it's simply a matter of self honesty and doing the best one can do. Nothing else matters but continual improvement of one's skills.

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louiseann93 profile image
Lou Willoughby Author

This is quite a damaging comment but you are entitled to your opinion.
Burnout is a real and very well known thing to effect people and very real to those who have experienced it. Everyone is different and experiences situations differently.
I'm glad to hear you was able to adapt to those situations that best suit you but it is a not one fits all situation and hopefully you can understand and respect others opinions and experiences also.

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ajeasmith profile image
AjeaS • Edited on

This is much needed, thank you 🙏. I experienced burnout couple years back, which led me to taking a looong break from development (2 years 😔). I’m back now and I’m doing a lot of things differently to prevent it from happening again. Taking breaks and time to myself to do things I enjoy is what I’ve been doing. And so far it’s been a lifesaver for me. 👌🙏burnout is real and should be taken seriously.

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diogorodrigues profile image
Diogo Rodrigues

What an amazing artcile, thanks a milion for sharing your thoughts on burnout. Good sleeping is one of the things that really makes me feel good.

Unffortunatelly many companies are still focused only on the profits (not looking with affection for their employees), but things are changing in the offices. Now, working remotely is the new challenge for us to try to be kind to ourselves and seek life balance as our priority.

I'm planning to change my work station at home and one thing that I really want to do is add plants to my space. Having more contact with the nature is awesome, it makes us relax and reminds us that's more then s every sepending every second in front of the computer!

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golu360 profile image
Abhishek Mishra

I was put on this soul crushing research project at work. Which I handled for 11 months and took the entire thing to a very good level. However the management (CTO especially) kept calling us "Failures" or "Shit" for a good amount of time. There were times I had to work while I was extremely sick. So this was my absolute limit.

But thanks to my manager, I had a talk with him and had myself totally removed from this project.

One thing I understood from this experience is to understand that you shouldn't be into programming/coding 24x7. Pickup a hobby or sport and use it to clear your head after work.

I recently picked up playing snooker after work which felt refreshing and helped me manage stress and burnouts.

Take regular breaks, my manager asked me to take a week off every quarter, simply to reset my mind.

Programming can be a tiring job, mostly mentally tiring. Developing healthy coping mechanisms can help you manage it better.

(media.istockphoto.com/photos/singl...) Potato if you read all of that

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sobakus profile image
Sobakus

As a looong time professional developer I can tell you that a very important antidote against burnout is positive feedback, and I mean it. Receiving positive feedback from your colleagues and management changes a lot your perception on everything you do and feel about your job.

That means its very important that you give back positive feedback too, it works wonders preventing burnout symdrome in your team.

If you are a manager/team lead/tech lead/whatever, keep in mind this is YOUR most important mission, above anything else. If you haven't realized it yet, you haven't been doing your job properly.

Another good medicine, in my case, are cats. They have the superpower of popping the bubble of introspection that swallow us as developers when we are solving what, for us, seems to be the most important problem in the world.

When my cats step on my keyboard, or complain because they want some affection, or food, they make me distance away from that big problem for a while. And distance makes things look smaller, isn't it ;)

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Good tips here! My last burnout happened when I was working in a bad job and using a technical stack that I had no passion for. Also the project constantly had problems and the client was too needy.