I’m going to start off by saying that I am an open book. I’m not afraid to talk about personal topics, including my mental health. I truly believe that cultivating a culture of openness and honesty is the best way to tackle the stigma around mental health and to help others be vulnerable to talk about their own struggles.
My Personal Story
Over many years I’ve struggled with mental health, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as such. I assumed what I was feeling was normal. In retrospect, there were signs something wasn’t right, like experiencing a racing heart, sweaty palms, and feelings of dread when opening emails. One especially difficult evening, I searched online about my symptoms and found the K10 test on Beyond Blue’s website. My score indicated I should see my doctor. Nothing serious?
My GP referred me to a psychologist for further evaluation. I was then diagnosed with major depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. About 6 months later, a challenging work email triggered intense suicidal thoughts. I began seeing a psychiatrist in addition to therapy. I also took medical leave from my job for a period.
I completed university in the 1990s when software development was more straightforward. By the time I finished my Master’s, new programming specializations were rapidly emerging. Today’s array of tech streams has likely multiplied exponentially. For developers in small businesses, the range of complex issues to diagnose and fix quickly can be overwhelming. The fast-changing tech landscape compounds demands. Staying current with languages and frameworks while troubleshooting under pressure is challenging. In essence, the rising complexity of the field affects mental health.
In one perspective, it’s as if each person’s soul has a protective shield. With each negative experience, the shield takes a hit and gets fractured. Though it can be repaired, repeated damage leaves it weaker over time. Eventually the shield becomes too broken to fix anymore. I had been working too hard for too long, and my metaphorical shield finally shattered beyond repair.
In therapy I’ve acquired helpful tools, like phone apps, to manage my mental health. These coping mechanisms have been invaluable. While I still struggle at times, I’m better equipped to handle depressive episodes. I emphasize that we each need to build our own toolbox. My hard-won knowledge helps me cope, though I remain vulnerable.
In summary, years of overwork and poor self-care led to my body and mind unraveling. While no single event triggered it, the strain exceeded my coping limits. With professional support and personal strategies, I’m rebuilding my mental health. It’s an ongoing process.
How does this relate to software development?
I started researching mental health in the software industry, and I was shocked to find out that it’s a huge problem. I found a lot of articles and studies that show that the software industry is a high-pressure industry that causes a lot of mental health problems. It is also easy to find stories and related questions on social media platforms like Reddit.com
Some of the issues we face in the software industry that contribute to mental health issues are:
- We are expected to be available 24/7 and to be on call at all times for issues that arise.
- The pressure and anxiety of keeping up with the latest technologies (and imposter syndrome)
- Rapidly changing environments with high expectations and tight deadlines.
- Working from home can be isolating and lonely, and less social interactions compared to an office environment.
- We forget about work-life balance, we work too hard, and we don’t take care of ourselves. It’s easy to just roll from your bed to the computer.
There are many more I could list, but these are the ones that I could think of from my own experiences. If you wanted you could search Google “software industry mental health” and you’ll find a lot of articles and studies that show that the software industry is a high-pressure one that causes a lot of mental health problems.
What changes have I made to improve my mental health?
You will notice that all of these changes are small, and they are not drastic. But the most common theme here is that they centre around taking breaks throughout the day and taking care of yourself.
Daily meditation to learn anxiety management
It’s really hard to explain the benefits of meditation and it feels weird the first few times, but I can tell you that it has helped me a lot. It’s about being present in the moment and being aware of your thoughts. Being conscious of your thoughts and body helps to reduce stress and anxiety. There are numerous apps that can help or guide you in meditation including Headspace, Calm, Smilingmind. The app I use is called Virtual Hope Box. (Apps are like cars or PCs – shop around until you find one you like.)
On many nights I would wake at 2am thinking about some work related. What contributed to this problem was coffee and how relaxed I was when going to sleep. The changes here involved no coffee after 4pm and being relaxed when I went to sleep. To get into a state ready for sleep I use an app called relax melodies. Later on, I would read a book titled “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ which also explains the health consequences when we don’t get good sleep. Sleep matters!
Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts and emotions out of your head and onto paper. My psychologist explained that writing it down helps you to process your thoughts. My favourite way to do this is a variation of brain dumping right before bed, where you just write down everything that’s on your mind until you have nothing left to think of. That way, you can sleep peacefully and not worry about anything.
Studies also show that expressing gratitude can improve your mental health, and journaling is one way to do that.
Therapy and medication
I’m not going to go into detail about any of my therapy sessions, but I can say that it’s been helpful for me. It’s also important to mention that finding the right therapist can be a little tricky – a good rapport between the therapist and client is beneficial.in the long run.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to cope with life. I honestly believe that everyone should go to therapy, even if you don’t have a mental health problem. It’s a great way to learn about yourself and to learn how to cope with life.
I’m not ashamed to say that I am also prescribed medication. The medication has improved my everyday life, and therefore I am grateful for it. It might not be for everyone, but it’s been a great help for me.
Breathing exercises are one way to calm yourself down when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
There are numerous breathing exercises that can help in dealing with anxiety or stress; the one I’ve been using and helpful to me is box breathing. With box breathing you Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, and then pause for four before repeating.
Get away from your technology
The biggest change that’s made a huge difference in my life is to get away from my technology. I used to be on my laptop or phone all the time. In the evenings I would periodically check my phone for notifications. If there were no notifications I would breathe a sigh of relief.
We constantly find ourselves distracted and disconnected from the present moment. Engaging in the harmful habit of doom scrolling through social media, which I believe to be the most significant brain virus of our time, has become an unfortunate routine – the first thing we do in the morning and the last thing before bed. This behavior is undoubtedly detrimental to our well-being.
Establish a nightly ritual by putting your phone in a separate room at a specific time each night and commencing your wind-down routine. Personally, I avoid using my phone after 21:00, refraining from any interaction until the following morning, except for setting my wake-up alarm. Once the day begins, I resist the urge to check my phone until after breakfast and completing my morning routine. This practice has greatly contributed to the improvement of my mental health and sets me on the path to tackle the day ahead with readiness and focus.
The point of this article is not to scare you, but to make you aware of mental health problems and to give you ideas on how to take care of yourself because I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.
This is a very personal story, and I’m not a doctor. I’m just someone who’s been through a lot and I’m now sharing my story to help others. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, please seek professional help. You are not alone, and you are not crazy. You are a human being, you are allowed to feel the way you feel, and you are allowed to ask for help. Many of us are going through the same thing, and we’re all in this together, we just don’t know it because discussions about mental health are still taboo.