April 11, 2022 / in Job Happiness, Remote Workers,

Tech jobs are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. It's no surprise that working in tech opens the door to many well-paying and high-demand jobs. Tech professionals are in high demand, and there are many opportunities to build a stable career with a high salary and great perks. Although the tech industry is becoming an increasingly popular career choice, many software engineers struggle with emotional and mental health concerns. The International Journal of Social Science reports that software developers have a higher chance of experiencing burnout, fatigue, and stress than their colleagues who perform mechanical tasks. Many software developers report experiencing a work-related mental health concern at some point in their careers. These concerns may also include exhaustion, lack of motivation, anxiety, poor work-life balance, or depression. According to Stack Overflow's 2020 Developer Survey — a research project that included responses from over 65K developers — 15% of participants admitted to having anxiety, depression, or another mental issue. Beyond that, as much as 83% of developers report burnout. These results show that mental health problems are a significant problem in the software development field. In this article, we will discuss why software developers are at risk for mental health issues and provide solutions to promote good mental health for those working in tech.  

Risk Factors for Developer's Mental Health

Stress

Software developers are under a lot of stress. Long hours, tight deadlines, side projects, and the pressure to keep up with the latest tech trends can leave a person feeling overwhelmed. Experiencing high stress for an extended amount of time is the perfect condition for burnout, leading to anxiety and depression.

Remote Work

Many software developers work remotely, and eventually, this common challenge can affect mental health. When working remotely, software developers may experience loneliness, isolation, work withdrawal, or lack of community. Working remotely makes it more challenging to connect with coworkers and make friends. Software development teams that work remotely face some challenges that in-office teams don't have to face. Humans are inherently social creatures who need a sense of belonging. Research shows that loneliness can increase the risk of suicide and significantly impact long-term health.

Screen Time

High screen time is linked to severe depression, and most developers spend their entire workday in front of a computer screen. This correlation is caused by the light emitted from the electronic screen, which interferes with melatonin production and, in turn, our natural circadian rhythm, disrupting sleep patterns. Developers often work long hours, and working at night puts them at risk of sleep deprivation due to screen use.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is vitally important to both mental and physical health alike. When the quality of sleep is impaired, so is productivity. Sleep deprivation may also cause an increase in stimulants (like caffeine and nicotine) which decrease the quality of sleep even further. Experts highly recommend taking a break from screens before bed, but this may not always be an option for online workers.

Lack of Exercise

Software engineering may be a mentally active profession, but it can be very sedentary. Most software developers spend hours sitting in one spot each day. There is extensive research linking obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and a higher mortality rate to a sedentary lifestyle. Brain activity requires oxygenation, which is achieved by efficient breathing and blood circulation. Spending 40 hours a week sitting behind a desk hurts physical and mental health. The absence of physical activity has been associated with lower mental acuity and a higher risk of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Consequences

Deteriorating mental health threatens the well-being of employees, the productivity of software development teams, and the overall companies success. Tech companies are beginning to recognize the importance of prioritizing developers' mental health. Developers experiencing mental illness may experience low motivation, making it more challenging to be productive. Researchers have discovered that mentally-exhausted or depressed developers tend to miss deadlines and produce low code quality. There are severe consequences for brushing developers' mental health concerns under the rug. Depression can reduce a person's cognitive performance by about 35%. In a study of mental health in the workplace, the WHO discovered that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy one trillion U.S. dollars each year in lost productivity.

Solutions

Practice Healthy Habits

There is a strong connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle and improve your mental health, eating nutritious meals, prioritizing physical activity, and getting enough sleep are essential. Just 30 minutes of physical activity a day is highly beneficial for physical and mental health. This could look like a walk around the block, an online yoga class, or whatever your favorite way to exercise is.

Take Breaks

It is essential to be aware of how you feel and identify fatigue symptoms. Taking short breaks throughout the day to stretch, take a walk, or have a healthy snack is a great way to reward yourself for all the focus you have put in.

Improve Sleep Habits

Sleep deprivation exacerbates mental disorders. A common cause of sleep deprivation is poor sleep habits. Cultivating healthy sleep habits goes a long way for mental health.
  1. Have a set bedtime and create a sleep schedule
  2. Experiment with relaxation techniques such as mediation or guided imagery as part of a routine before bed
  3. Avoid screen time for an hour before bed
  4. Get regular exercise
  5. Try to get some exposure to natural light during the day
  6. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco in the evening
 

Set Up For Success

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, employees in every field reported an increased occurrence of burnout. Working remotely tends to blur the thin line between work and personal life, and for many people, it can take some adjusting. Many employers have begun to offer work-from-home budgets, which assists in making sure that developers working remotely have the tools they need to be successful (desk, seating, monitor upgrade, spare power supply, etc.).

Check-in with a professional

If you have a diagnosed emotional disorder or are simply struggling with your mental health, it may be beneficial for you to talk to a professional. There are many treatment options for people experiencing mental health problems, including talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, or TMS therapy. Remember that you are not alone, and there are people who can help.  
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