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Cover image for 5 Techniques I Use To Manage Stress As A Software Engineer

5 Techniques I Use To Manage Stress As A Software Engineer

nickbulljs profile image Nick Bull ・4 min read

If you are not a monk, stress is a part of your life.

We face it constantly, at work, at home, in various life situations. And if we don't know how to manage it right, we will probably struggle with anxiety and be unproductive at work.

So here are the 5 techniques I use to manage stress that you can try.

1. Morning Journal

This is a technique I’ve been using for 3+ years and it’s freaking golden.

Every morning I write two things:

  1. Brain dump. All thoughts, feelings, and experiences I want to write down.
  2. The goal for today. One main goal that I have to achieve today, no matter what.

I do it every morning for 5-10 minutes. And by the end, I feel completely different. My mind is calm.

If you reflect and write everything you have on your mind (what you are stressing about) you will less procrastinate throughout the day and less thinking about that one problem you have.

I recommend starting with the “brain dump” type of journaling, three times per week in the morning to see how it goes. Then you can do it on a daily basis.

2. Walking

When I feel under stress, for example, can’t find a solution to some coding problem, I often go for a walk, 15-20 minutes and the solution often pops up in my head. I don’t take headphones. Just simple walking. Pure magic.

I've noticed that when I’m doing something else, like watching videos on YouTube during my break, I feel more stressed and anxious a couple of hours after. And also, after walking in nature (forest/lowland water) I feel better than anywhere else.

So try what works for you.

3. Right Breaks

Previously I used to just put on my headphones and code for 8 hours, almost straight. But I don’t do that anymore. After such “hard work” sessions I feel tired and more stressed. Now I operate in another way.

Our brain works best when we go hard, then rest. And it’s not going hard for hours and then rest for days. It is about going hard for 50-90 minutes then do a break for 15-22 minutes.

But it is not “normal” breaks like people used to think, checking Instagram/Facebook, or reading news. I am talking about “right” breaks. It includes completely opposite activities.

During right breaks I often do three things:

  1. Hydrating
  2. Stretching
  3. Walking

And what I’ve noticed by doing those three things is that I feel more relaxed, more focused, and I can work for 8+ hours without feeling like crap (brain fog) at the end.

So add breaks to your working routine, this technique is a productivity gem for coders.

4. Flight Mode

I used to think that notifications on my phone and computer didn't matter. Yes, they distract me in some way, but nothing critical.

I was wrong.

Check notifications every time they pop-up on your screen form a bad habit called “fear of missing out.” I started to feel like I need to know what is going on. Like every time notification appears I instantly click on it and stop doing what I do.

Nowadays, I turn off all notifications for 4 hours. So no one can distract me. For that period of time, I often complete my big goal for a day.

At first, it was difficult, because I constantly wanted to check what is going on in the world. But then I’ve noticed that I stopped worrying about it. Now I feel more focused and less anxious. It is funny how such a simple thing helps me with managing stress.

So turn off notifications and tell people to not distract you with unimportant stuff during your working hours.

5. Clean Desk

Not an obvious one but clear mind is linked to a clear environment.

I notice that when I have a messy desk I have a problem finding a solution to coding problems. It takes more time and I feel more stressed about it. But when I clean it, I watch the stress melt away. The environment no longer distracts me. My mind is clear.

This technique takes me 1 minute and I feel a huge benefit from it.

Clean your desk every morning or before going to bed.

In the end…

Those are the 5 proven things I do on a consistent basis in order to keep stress levels low. In addition, I recommend establishing good habits like a healthy diet, 8 hours of sleep, and 3-4x working out sessions during the week.

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Discussion

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dmahely profile image
Doaa Mahely

I’ve personally noticed how journaling helps clear the mind. I’m not doing it regularly yet, only when I feel the need for it.

I turned off most non-critical notifications after watching The Social Dilemma. That’s how they get you! 👽

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Doaa!

Journaling is my ❤️ habit

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

I like the content, but the title is off IMHO.
Our bodies are not built for permanent stress.
They are built for peak of stress to avoid an imminent danger.
It's the switch to go in survival mode for a limited amount of time.
Therefore, permanent stress is a poison for our bodies.
Therefore, stress should not be "managed", it should be eliminated, resolved, taking care of

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tiesmaster profile image
Thijs Brobbel

I'm already using some of these things (disabling notifications, doing pomodoro time), and absolutely agree that that helps. I stopped doing the "goal at beginning of the day/week" approach, but I'm gonna start with that. Really useful.

Didn't really have a name for the "brain fog" experience, at the end of the day, but that's a good name for it! Glad to find out that this is a known thing, and my goal for the upcoming period is to prevent that by applying these practices more deliberately.

Thank you!

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tiesmaster profile image
Thijs Brobbel

Actually, I didn't completely finish reading the post, but just read 5: Clean Desk. That's even more true for me, on the digital level. I notice when my desk is filled with windows, and the browser with dozens of tabs, then I'm also stressed and anxious. Clearing everything up, closing all tabs let's that melt away!

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks for reading!

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tomassirio profile image
tomassirio

The logging every day, walking and stretching are SO true. I'll be trying the flight mode for a couple hours a day. Thanks for the idea

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Hope it will help you 🥂

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davidkylechoe profile image
David Kyle Choe

I love that so many of these tips are applicable for non-devs as well.

One practice that I've started that I've found incredible benefit from is breathing. It's ridiculous how simple it is but really found that 90 seconds of deep breathing where I feel my stomach contract and expand, make me feel fundamentally different.

Apparently, 90 seconds of breathing makes the body feel as safe as if it had just done a full workout.

Linked the podcast here to learn more: brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-...

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phongduong profile image
Phong Duong

Your post is really good. I usually take a 10-minutes break after working for 50 minutes. It is good for me. When I try to work for a long time, both my mental and physical health are tired. Thank you for your techniques

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nickbulljs profile image
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lesleyhilton profile image
Lesley Hilton

Thank you for these helpful tips!
I used to work for an attorney who cleaned his desk every day before leaving for home. And he was fastidious about it—-not one scrap of paper on his desk at the end of the day.
I have been employing that technique since that time, and found it a very useful way to manage stress!
I don’t know how people work with piles of papers everywhere; just looking at it makes me uncomfortable. Our environment affects our mood.
Thanks again for the article!

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stojanovskip profile image
Stojanovski Petar

The Flight mode is a great idea! I have been using the "Digital Wellbeing" app, which basically let's you select apps that will be disabled for a certain period of time. I found this helpful, as well!
Good read!

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Petar!

Great that you found what works for you! I just use my willpower 😅

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danytulumidis profile image
Dany Tulumidis

Nice Article!
I can recommend the book "Atomic Habits" from James Clear for anyone who is interested how to stop bad habits and stick to good ones. Habits are one, if not the, most important thing when it comes to productivity.
Have a nice day :)

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Recommend it too. Habits control 50%+ of our life, if you can master it, you can master most of your life.

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lyavale95 profile image
LyAVALE95

The best tip i've never followed: DON'T eat over the desk

It sounds like an amazing way to save time. But for your health, it would be the worst mistake that you can take over your personal habits.

I being eating in front of the computer during 10 years (I'm 25), and I can see the difference (I have phone issues sometimes).

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devhammed profile image
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craser profile image
Chris Raser

These are all great tips for managing short-term stress, but as someone suffering the long-term health consequences of several stressful jobs, it's monumentally important to be clear that if a job is stressful enough that it requires you to practice "stress management" techniques, the best course of action is to get a new job.

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Cesar Aguirre

Thanks for the tips. I've used the journal, but I found it for the first time as "brain dump". Also, I've started to use Stretchly to add pauses along my day. Happy coding

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Cesar!

Never heard about Stretchly, what's good about it?

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canro91 profile image
Cesar Aguirre

It's a free and opensource app that reminds you to take pauses. You can configure the schedule and duration of your pauses. And it shows activity suggestions during the pauses: stretch your arms, grab a glass of water, etc. Hope you find it helpful too

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Felipe Schossler

Really thank you about this post. There are many technical posts on the internet but when you achieve your worst stress scenario you learn that every tip here is extreme important.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Felipe!

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samborick profile image
Sam Borick

In guessing by 'Flight Mode' you mean 'Airplane Mode' but for me it has an important other meaning. Checking Notifications can be a form of avoidance for stressful tasks.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Yes, I mean Airplane mode.

If you check notifications as a response to stress, you can form a bad habit.

Trigger – stress.
Response – check notifications.

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Brian Juul Andersen

Nice article. Thank you 🙂👍

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Brian, appreciate that 🌟

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Stephanie Morillo

I love the morning journal idea, Nick!

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Stephanie 🌟

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Arc Angelo Ibalio

I find meditation and doing side project with friends help me get out stress.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Meditation is an interesting topic, maybe I will write about it too.

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chrismane profile image
chrismane

Good ones. Especially flight mode.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thank you!

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Kayvon Ranjbar

Thanks for sharing this! I can say that I have been practicing a habit of doing breathing exercises for 3 minutes each morning, and I notice the difference on days that I skip it.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

I do it too between working session, 4x4 and Wim Hof breathing.

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Billy Chan

nice article, it helped me a lot

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anja profile image
Anja

Great tips! I also occasionally write down affirmations like 'I pass the exam' e.g., it helps to put yourself in the right mindset.

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nickbulljs profile image
Nick Bull Author

Thanks Anja!

Affirmations are huge. They can put you into "success" frame.

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Melissa Heying

Love this. Thank you!

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Nick Bull Author

Thanks Melissa!

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mharr profile image
Mark Harr

Bourbon. Period.

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Valentin Baca

All wonderful tips and ones I find invaluable in my work as well.

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Nick Bull Author

Thank you Valentin, appreciate that 🙌

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tharindu profile image
Tharindu Sathischandra

Actually a nice article.
Small question, Do you use an app, or just paper for Morning Journal? What do you suggest?

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elizabethmorrison56 profile image
elizabethmorrison56

Wow, these tips seem to be very effective. I'll definitely try them out!

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rajeshmbg3 profile image
rajeshmbg3

Nice Article I liked it

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Omar White

I recently started turning of my notifications for certain apps, mostly social media. I think it’s reduced my anxiety and increased my focus considerably.