How to Relax for Developers

20.08.2018 by Jens in Developers Life | Newsletter

Sitting all day in front of a screen, iterating over thinking, typing out code and debugging it, is tough. This alone will exhaust you sooner than later. Now add those meetings and even office politics and you will be brain dead at the end of a working day.

We all know it won’t even last 8 hour days. Usually, around 6 hours in you are done for the day. Time to go home and relax.

But we all know too, we have to stick around for 2 more hours. Maybe even get out late, stuck in the traffic jam, honk at the morons who can’t drive, are angry about the morons at work, you know the drill.

You come home, tired from work, stressed out from all those stupid morons, your brain is still thinking about that damn bug you can’t fix and now it is family and hobby time. But you so damn tired and filled up, that it is no fun. You drag along, trying to not snap at your kids or significant other, feel too tired to do any sports or activities, regret it, get bad about regretting it and starting the self-doubt-cycle. Finally falling asleep and the next day it starts all over again.

Groundhog day.

Sound familiar?

Does for me. I’ve been there a couple of times. If you don’t watch out for yourself you might end up with a burnout. You don’t want that.

Luckily, we can reduce the stress and create a better balance for ourselves. If we know how and have a manual, which is needed in today’s world.

Sense of stress?

Stress is an important factor in our lives. It made our ancestors survive for thousands of years. If we are stressed, our body and mind go into the alarm state. Something is endangering us and we need to be ready to handle it. Either fight or run away., hide or whatever.

When the danger is gone, we switch from the alarm state to the relaxed state. Our body and mind do now prepare for shaking off the stress and start healing and adapting.

It is not always life-threatening. A normal fight with our significant others is enough. When you start fighting, your body, precisely your nervous system, will switch into the alarm state. Our heart starts pounding faster, we breathe faster, adrenaline rises, our body heats up, we focus on the opponent, the rest starts to blend out, our muscles get ready and now we can bark back, slam the doors, throw the plates or whatever.

We run on instincts now; our rational is blinded.

When the fight is over, our nervous system switched to the opposite direction. We can relax now. Thinking more clearly, breathing slows down, our heart rate goes down again. Everything is back to normal. Our body can regenerate now.

This is normal and stress is not per se bad. It is necessary for us to adapt. Stress helps us to get fitter, grow more muscles or code better.

It is also temporary. We have a stressful phase and we have a relaxation phase immediately following a stress phase. We need that.

The problems come when our nervous system can’t be in the relaxed state long enough. It is not meant to be in full-time stress.

Eustress vs Distress?

Stress is not equals stress. There is a kind which is toxic to us. It is called distress. It is stress that put pressure on us. And the opposite is Eustress, which is the good stress. Things that put us to your limits but we don’t feel bad about.

Unfortunately, the same stress can be for one person Eustress and for the other Distress, e.g. getting yelled at by your boss is for some distress and toxic, and for others not. It is not bothering them much.

Even a small amount of distress is not bad for us as long as we have relaxing-phases. If those are missing, our problems begin.

The Problems

Our problems with stress begin when we are constantly under stress and our relaxation phases are so short or seldom, that our nervous system is not able to switch into the relaxation state.

If that happens, we get nervous, anxious, our mind is occupied with the burdening stuff., we can’t think clearly anymore and eventually, we break. Also, our immune system breaks and we get more sick more often. It takes a toll on mind and body.

The end is a burnout.

You don’t want that. Believe me. You really don’t want that.

How to Handle Stress?

Remember, stress is highly individual. And just like that, it is with handling stress. However, there are certain methods which do not work over a longer time, regardless of the person. So, let’s start with how to NOT handle stress.

How To NOT Handle Stress?

Many of the common stress handling methods do not work over a longer period of time. They are either wrong for the kind of stress were confronted with or plainly do not work.

Watching TV, Netflix or Amazon Prime is one of those common advise, which just bluntly do not work. They don’t relax you. Watching movies will not bring your nervous system into the relaxing state. It keeps you in the alarm state. Yeah, somehow our brain knows those things on the screen are not real, however, we still have many of the effects as when it would be right in front of you.

So, instead of relaxing, you stress yourself even more. Which makes entering the relaxation phase pretty impossible.

Imaging your ancestor Grong barely escaping some predator. Luckily having survived. And now in the evening, he watches a movie about predators… He sure will relax.

Same with taking bath, reading and alike. When you are stressed out and pissed off your boss, how many baths do you think will help you with that? Zero. Zilch.

Grog would definitely do that. After hunting a mammoth down and fighting off an attack of rivaling tribe to secure the meat for his tribe, he will definitely take a bath. Every. Single. Time.

It is the wrong thing for that kind of stress. It is perfectly fine after a heavy workout though. But not when your body is in the alarm state.

And coding doesn’t help with this stress too. Coding nights might be relaxing for you sometimes, but it’s like taking baths, the wrong thing for that kind of stress.

Best Way to Handle Stress

There’s one thing, which really helps. It’s simple and free.

Moving.

Yep, move our body. However, you like. Go for a walk, 10, 20 or 30 minutes a day. Or go running. Do Yoga, Qi Gong, Dance or whatever. Doesn’t matter as long as your body moves.

It is not exercising. You don’t want to get stronger, healthier or better at X. You want to relax, so simply move.

Outside.

If you can, in nature.

Nothing beats a wonderful walk along the river. Or in the woods. Or mountains. Whatever your location has to offer to you.

The only downside is, that you often can’t do shortly after a stressful event. Chances are you can’t leave the building after problems at work. But there is an alternative to walking.

Go to the next bathroom stall, close the door and start shaking your arms, legs and the whole body. Like you have some disgusting thing on you and want to get rid of it. That thing is the stress.

Cats do that too, just not in the bathroom stall. They are brave, but we are not, so go to the bathroom stall. Nobody sees you there, Nobody knows. And shake the fucking stress off.


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