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Phil Walker
Phil Walker

Posted on

Depression & Anxiety in programming

I recently attended a developer retreat in beautiful Golden, Colorado and ran into something that surprised me. We were doing an ice breaker exercise and you were supposed to mention something that you were working on improving about yourself. So I mentioned that I was working on finding better ways to handle my depression and anxiety. To my surprise, the majority of the people in our little group expressed similar desires.

With World Mental Health Day being October 10th, (and it seems like these are very prevalent issues in our industry), I wanted to post here and ask: Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? If so, what are some ways that you've found help you when you're having a tough day?

Top comments (58)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I've never gotten any strict diagnosis, but I have anxiety issues and some other issues. I'd like to eventually learn more about these things, but I've always managed it well. I'm very fortunate to work with people who appreciate what I'm good at and give me the leash to cope with things in the ways I need to. I'm not sure I'd be doing this well in a different environment.

I think of @greggyb 's talks as the canonical source of awesome discourse on the subject in our industry.

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J.D. Hillen

I've struggled with this exact thing for years. I have been medicated for ADD since college. But over the last few years something has slowly changed in my personality and I could never put my finger on what it was.

I started out just listening to this on my second monitor. But 10 minutes in I stopped working all together and really paid attention. Every point Greg made hit way to close to home.

Watching this presentation gave me the confidence to talk to my wife about what is going on. I showed her this video first because I could never articulate what was going on in my head the same way Greg did.

Because of this post, I'm taking steps to make my world better.

Thank you for sharing this Ben!

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Frederik πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»βž‘οΈπŸŒ Creemers

If I could, I'd give your post over 9000 hearts, and this video over 9000 likes, because I think you've just given me a huge pointer in the right direction.

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Leslie

Ben you're a lifesaver, God bless you, I've been there and still there, sometimes I ask myself why i was born, is this how I'm supposed to live and I sleep till 12pm on Saturdays or when on leave from work. I've struggled copying with relationships and I felt like I was toxic but I always got along with my software friends and they nag so we can go out and have a drink or something, it's weird I never feel so when I've had a couple drinks, I totally change and become a different person. Thanks again for the video.

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jppage

A little bit of both. Giving up alcohol along with better fitness and even a spot of meditation thrown in have helped a lot.

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ZakG • Edited on

Ive been dealing with anxiety for about 5 years now and my mantra has become "One thing at a time." I don't care how long the to do list is; one thing at a time. It also helps to remind myself that most situations have only a handful of realistic outcomes. That outcome may suck, and it may hurt for a while, but eventually it'll be forgotten.

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Kim Arnett ο£Ώ

Anxiety.

Day to day - finding a Job that doesn't trigger you very often, exercise, laying off caffeine has helped a lot. Staying away from triggers (i.e. social media, or certain friends, or situations)..

On my worst days I have medicine to help me cope. It brings me off the ledge and slows my thoughts down so that it's easy to process rather than having a panic attack. Particularly high stress situations.. but on my medication I'm cool, collected, and clear-focused. It turns my anxiety into a super power, is how it feels.

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Damien Cosset

It's an important topic to talk about.

I personally never had to deal with depression, so I can only talk about dealing with a bad day. I found a great deal of comfort by reading about Stoicism. Learning that they are things outside my control, and not bothering at all about them. Many things in our jobs ( and lives ) are not completely inside our control. I try to make switch my focus inward, on things that I can control. I can't be sure that people will like my work, but I can make sure I do the best I can. If people don't like it anyway, did I do my best? If I did, there is nothing for me to worry about, I can't control those things.

Of course, easier said than done, but it's a daily practice :)

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Charles Joseph

Any book in particular?

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damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset

A guide to the good life by William Irvine.

Perfect to get started with the subject.

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Katarina

Thanks for sharing the link to the book and your first comment. It made me take another look at Stoicism after a few years (at first I misunderstood Stoics tbh).

I think I got it now and know how to fix some tiresome thoughts in my life.
Thank you again :)

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Huy Tr.

I ran into depression when I got so many things in mind (side projects ideas, girl friends, wife, books to read,...) but I don't have time for them all. What I did to get out of depression is to hold them back all, and just focus on one thing that matter at a time. Anyway, it doesn't easy as it sound.

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Alyss πŸ’œ

I suffer from depression, generalized anxiety, and PTSD. The biggest improvement has been regular therapy, but also recognizing unhealthy behaviors and being willing to change them. The hardest one and the one I'm being a little more active to improve on is self-compassion. It is so easy to say "why do I have to be anxious about this?", "why didn't I get that done or why haven't I worked on it more". It is harder to be as forgiving and kind to yourself as you might be to your friends.

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Harold Combs

I much appreciate your honesty here. I really like the "be as forgiving and kind to yourself as you might be to your friends."

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Sara Vieira πŸŽ‰ • Edited on

This is such an important topic that many people don't talk about enough !
In terms of depression I never had severe problems with it I've had it but in combination with anxiety.
About anxiety I have been battling with a panic disorder for about 5 years now and the best advice I can give anyone is to seek help, I didn't untill last year and had a mental breakdown because of the stress and the underlying problem I wasn't treating.
Please get help, you don't have to live like this, this is something that took me 4 years to understand and when I finally did it changed my life.
I went to a therapist and stuck to my medication and I am completely different person now, I don't live in fear and constant anxiety.
Once you start treating it and sticking to your medication you will feel free.
Also this may sound really cheesy but meditation actually helps when you feel overwhelmed, there is a free app called aware that you should check out if you have these issues.
If anyone is battling this my DM is always open!

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Yamil DΓ­az Aguirre

Thank you for your words, I really appreciate it!

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Rebecca G

I had a talk with my boss about this pretty recently, since I've been struggling with depression and panic attacks for the last couple years and only recently got help. My biggest tip is to go to therapy, take your meds, and go easy on yourself. It's really easy to see depression as a personal failing, when it's a medical problem the same way the flu or a broken leg is - it's not something you can just push through without hurting yourself more in the process!

When I feel overwhelmed, I take a second or a minute or an hour and just breathe. Sometimes that's enough, and I can put things in perspective and not break down. Sometimes it's not and I end up crying in the bathroom, and that's a good time to reset and reach out and say "I'm having trouble with this and I need some help, do you have 10 minutes to talk through X?" Asking my coworkers for help is hard, but they have a neutral perspective that is invaluable, and generally that's enough to reset my brain and let me focus on my work again.

Another thing that can help is changing what you're working on - I wasn't feeling good about my engineering work so I switched to the QE team, where I'm learning an entirely new skillset and still working on problems I care about. A change in surroundings can make a big difference!

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Harold Combs

Yep. Anxiety checking-in.

If so, what are some ways that you've found help you when you're having a tough day?

Boiling it down:

  • Meds
  • Structure
  • Friends

Let's start with friends. Anxiety gives you this distorted view of reality...you see things as hyper-important that....aren't. You need people you trust who you can be your literal "reality check" similar to the way John Nash would ask, "Do you see that person standing there?" in A Beautiful Mind.

Second is structure. My particular bend on things is driven around the unknown...I get hyper-anxious when things just fly at me. Let's take a typical day at the office: I can come in at 8 or at 10. Both are acceptable. If I come in at 10, I guarantee I'm an anxious wreck because I have to start "sprinting" to keep up with the events flying at me: email, social interactions, work meetings.

Contrast: Eight o'clock. Open floorplan is quiet. I can deal with backlog email and set-up my structure for the day. Much easier to accept that sort of day.

Last...beyond a certain point, it's clinical. You can throw all the friends and structure at it you want; it won't help. You'll need to chemically balance your brain, with a doctor's supervision.

In my experience, therapy can give you some tools to deal with it, but even my last therapist was like, "We need something to get you past this hump you keep sliding down." He was quite correct, and the last 3 years have been better than the preceding 30.

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George Marr

I've suffered from depression and anxiety for a little over 9 years now, it's been a journey of a life time. Development is what has really helped me the most to cope with it, just having this little area to have where I can do what I like with and nobody can stop me feels amazing. In addition my friends are always there to cheer me up.

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Mikk Pristavka

This is an important topic I think about quite a bit.

I suffer from generalized anxiety and bouts of depression. After trying to deny it or trying to find external causes to my problems I got help (therapy and meds) and am now feeling like I'm more in control. It doesn't seem like it's something that will eventually just go away, but rather I'm learning to control how and when it is affecting me. Talking about how I feel was difficult at first, but it has become an important way to "garbage collect" all negative thoughts. Mindfulness, meditation, journaling and exercising all help a lot. Basically, all sorts of methods to focus your thoughts help β€” writing code fits the bill as well, so maybe that's the reason why this profession appeals to me. To an extent, being physically healthier will also help you be mentally healthier.

I am also learning to turn my anxiety and fear of failure into a strength β€” it drives me to be extra meticulous, think ahead and not make rash decisions.

Professionally, it helps me write readable, modular and testable code, constantly think of possible refactoring opportunities and ways to improve the codebase in general. As I find it difficult to keep large ideas in my head, functional programming is something that appeals to me a lot β€” the idea of composing small ideas to express larger ones also applies to my thinking process as well as to the code I write.

Personally, it drives me to seek ways to use my free time most efficiently β€” fearing to forget important things, I keep a journal with various task lists on all my devices. Also keeping a physical journal is a kind of ritual to internalize good habits and record positive thoughts. For me, the Bullet Journal system works very well for both taking notes and keeping track of things I need to do.

TL;DR β€” it's really important to talk or at least write about your problems, even just for yourself. Try finding ways to focus your thoughts and not let them overwhelm you. Music, white noise, meditation, whatever works. Excercise, drink water, eat well and sleep well. All of these things help you rewire your brain to work with you, not against you.

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Rudi Stapelfeldt • Edited on

I've struggled with it and just changed my mindset. I've stopped saying I have bad days. I now sometimes have character building days. I embrace the days I struggle with certain tasks because I know I'll grow from them. Also I'm in the gym all the time. Exercise helps

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Amelia Gapin

I suffer from a lot of depression and anxiety and have ADHD. It can be a lot sometimes.

For me, running helps it a lot. I've been a distance runner for years and that can really ease the symptoms and make me feel better, but it's just a bandaid for the symptoms, it's not a cure. It'll get me through the day, but it leaves me in a fragile balance of relying on this one physical activity.

At the end of last year, I started taking Lexapro and that has helped me immensely. It doesn't fix it 100%, but my levels of background anxiety and depression are greatly reduced and I have fewer panic attacks. It's also helped reduce my suicidal thinking.

I have gone to therapy in the past and it just doesn't seem to be the treatment for me. Once I can open up to a therapist, I can let a lot of stuff out and it feels nice and cathartic. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long after each session and then I have a whole week to go until the next one.

I think it just comes down trying different things and seeing what works for you. It may need to be a combination of a few things.

This can be a tough industry because our productivity can often affect our mental health. If I'm not particularly productive, whether that's because of my ADD or something else, that will increase my anxiety and depression. It'll make me feel worthless. That anxiety over being unproductive and the depression centered around worthlessness then makes me even less productive and it becomes this really dangerous negative feedback loop.

Anyway, it's definitely something we need to talk about more. We need to remove the stigma from it.

You're not alone. ❀️

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sleh

I was anxious for most of my life, i wasn't able to curb it until i have discovered my talent in programming.

I was self-cautious about almost everything, easily shaken by the smallest thing people or think about me, and can't even express what i feel or want to do like anyone else.

Then i have found out that i am an ace when it comes to coding, i am 21 and i work as a senior software engineer.
It made me believe in myself and apply logical analysis to everyday things.

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Ikem Krueger

Thatβ€˜s where I head to.

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