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Burnout as a Developer: Experience, Symptoms, Prevention and Cure

nirbhayvashisht profile image Nirbhay Vashisht ・5 min read

Before we start, I want to state that I recently experienced a Burnout as a software developer.
I wanted to share my experience about how it felt and how I cured it.
(And there are going to be a lot of memes, I am sorry in advance πŸ˜‚ )


πŸ“œ INDEX πŸ“œ

I recommend you to start from here
Introduction
What is Burnout?
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
Prevention and Treatment of Burnout


Raise your hand if you have ever sacrificed physical, mental and/or emotional health to overwork yourself to an extremely depressive state of mind that takes days to recover from.

Developers raising hands


Introduction

Burnout is the type of thing that slowly creeps in and you only start to notice it when your insides have already deteriorated by 30% and your insanity stat has reached level 10.

Minecraft meme

My recent experience

I noticed that I’ve been slowly losing my sanity from overworking myself ever since I entered the final year of my engineering degree.

But what was the problem?

I was just working hard?

I am supposed to work hard! Right?

Then I asked myself, β€œWhat is my daily schedule?”

It was
Waking up in the morning β˜€οΈ
Working πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»
Breakfast β˜• 🍞
Working πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»
Lunch 🍴
Working πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»
Exercise πŸƒ
Working πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»
Dinner 🍴
Working πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»
and then
Going to sleep 😴

I think you can see what was my problem

The weird thing is that this schedule is very common among developers


Working hard is really admirable. No Doubt.
But when you start forfeiting self care in place of hard work, that’s when you start crossing into the realm of pain and uncontrollable suffering.

Hell Meme

Yeah, but enduring the pain and pushing forward is super strong.
Right
?
NOOOOOOOOO!
It is not


What is burnout?


definition from helpguide.org

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.


Everyone knows overworking is not good.
But at the same time it is also glorified.
The best examples are in school or work environments.

Dude 1:

I had six hours of homework last night and didn’t get to bed until 4 am.

Dude 2 :

Pfft! I was finishing a project and so I pulled an all nighter

Dude 3:

I have not slept for a week

Dude 1 πŸ‘ and Dude 2 πŸ‘ claps for Dude 3

Exclusive picture of dude 3

Admiring something that’s supid and unhealthy isn’t commendable.
Instead of encouraging it, tell your brain.
β€œHey! Nooo bad!”

Meme


Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Physical Signs

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
  • Frequent illnesses.
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain.
  • Change in sleep schedule.
  • Change in eating habits.

Emotional Signs

  • Sense of failure.
  • Sense of self-doubt.
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
  • Loneliness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioural Signs

  • Isolating yourself from others.
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities.
  • Procrastinating.
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
  • Taking out your frustrations on others.
  • You snap more at things that aren’t big deals.
  • Skipping work


Prevention and Treatment of Burnout

Here are my tips and suggestions to not be emotionally damaged for a week after overworking yourself:

Don’t do too much of the same thing without any sort of change whatsoever ❌

Mix things up.
Switch to something different if you are stuck somewhere. Learn something new.
Doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over is a formula for absolute misery.

Imagine you love pizza. πŸ• = ❀️
But if you only eat pizza, you’ll end up hating it for some reason
πŸ• = πŸ’”

Take time for self care

Spend time with yourself. Do something that will refuel yourself.

Take a break from social media

This could be hard, but it worked for me. Tell your friends you aren't doing fine and you need time for yourself.
They'll be supportive (hopefully) and if they are not then yaay you spotted some fake friends.

Stick to a healthy sleeping schedule

Healthy sleep meme

Reach out to those closest to you

Trust me. YOU NEED HELP during a burn out.

Talk to new people

Push yourself to always be trying something new or focus on improving.

Self care meme

Nourish your hobbies

It defines who I am

Make exercise a priority

Exercise meme

I am no doctor or a therapist, but I found this amazing (free)article on Burnout Prevention and Treatment by helpguide.org
Check it out. It could be helpful.


🎊 πŸŽ‰ Congratulations πŸŽ‰ 🎊

You have gained the knowledge to fight burnout

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Any feedback is appreciated

REFERENCES

jaidenanimations
helpguide.org

Posted on by:

nirbhayvashisht profile

Nirbhay Vashisht

@nirbhayvashisht

Hi! I am Nirbhay Vashisht, a Computer Science Engineering Student from India. (currently in final year) For any enquiry contact me on Twitter @nirbhayvashisht

Discussion

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Burnout is intense for a Dev with un-diagnosed ADHD. I was always in reactive high energy mode for four years as a developer, became the guy they pulled in when there was a problem because I could see solutions that where not obvious faster than my peers or the senior devs. When I burned out I crashed hard, developed anxiety around working in office buildings, still have a hard time getting into coding after four years.
I did not know I had ADHD until earlier this year, now my burn out makes sense as to why it was so intense.
Please practice self care, establish boundaries with work, and fight against the stupid notion that to be a developer you have to give up friends, family, and put in 100 hour work weeks followed by 40+ hours of "Learning/Personal project time" outside the office.

 

Wow! Thank you very much for sharing your experience.
It would be really helpful for us beginners.πŸ˜„πŸ™
Take care mate. I hope you are doing fine now.

 

Oh wow! Thanks for sharing this brother. I hope you are doing great now.

 

Well, the burnout game me a nice topic to write about.
So, I am doing goodπŸ˜‚

 

I see "Breakfast", "Exercise" and "Going to sleep" in your daily schedule. You were clearly not working hard enough!
< / irony >

I am in the industry for 15 years now. I had my share of burnouts, too. My 2c:

  1. Force yourself to take breaks often. Uncomfortably often. Use your willpower to stop working; not to continue working.
    Deep diving into a task for a couple of uninterrupted hours feels like you're in the flow and super productive, but trust me on this: Taking breaks does not break your flow; on the contrary, intensifies it. Plus, it induces the "time compression" phenomenon. Look it up.
    I have been using Pomodoro (25min work + 5min forced break) since I discovered this, and it was the best thing ever, until I experienced Mob Programming and had only 4 minutes to type or talk!
    Anyway. Force yourself to take frequent breaks. Thank me later.

  2. Force yourself to stop working at the end of your work day. For me it's 17:30.
    It doesn't matter if you started late today.
    It doesn't matter if you were not productive today.
    It doesn't matter if today was all meetings and discussions and you couldn't code as much as you wanted.
    It doesn't matter if you're in the flow and just gotta finish this thing in 10 seconds. (Tomorrow you'll need another hour of work for refactoring that crap anyway.)
    It even doesn't matter if you still have to commit+push. (You should have done it earlier. A whole night full with the fear of your disk dying along with today's work shall teach you this lesson.)
    Once the work time is up, drop that keyboard. No excuses.

  3. Burnout is not limited to your work life. If you're going through difficulties in other areas of your life, you'll be significantly more vulnerable to burnout.
    Avoid taking on big responsibilities if you're in such a situation. And GET HELP. NOW. Don't wait until burnout; it's takes MONTHS to YEARS to fully recover if you allow it to happen.
    On the flip side, if you're supported by your life outside your work then you'll be stronger and more resilient then you'd imagine.
    Wanna succeed at work? Wanna impress your colleagues and superiors? Wanna be that beast who delivers the MVP for that startup single-handedly in record time? Then have at least one hobby that you do better than average. Socialize regularly. Get physically and mentally fit. Participate in collaborative efforts for things that have nothing to do with software, even take days off for them because you want to achieve stuff with those people in your social circles.
    Now, you will surely have to put all of these on hold for delivering that MVP, but you'll do it with the condition of running back to them right after the deadline AND you'll make it crystal clear that you making these sacrifices is exceptional and should not be considered as the norm.

 

Wow! Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I will surely try your methods (which looks very promising btw). I'll update you very soon.
Thanks again.

 

I really like the message of this post. It's basically a message of goodwill to all and saying "Look after yourself."

To add from my experience, I would say that conditions like burnout are part of the process of growing older and wiser to discover what your values really are.

As a youngster we're often taught about the concepts of 'professionalism'. We're spoon-fed stories of 'success' where CEOs wake up at 4am every day to work all through their lives. What's not often told are the stories of grief, as the 55 year old watches their children leave home having hardly shared a moment of their childhood. The stories of disillusion as people rise the ranks of their corporate setting to discover the pointlessness of it all. Stories of people plodding through their existence to pay the mortgage watching time pass by as their dreams fade away. The sacrifices that people make in the name of 'success'.

It takes a person a long time to know who they are and what they want. One person's idea of success is not the same as another's. I think burnout is sometimes just a step along the road of discovering what's really important in life, and what 'successful' really means for you.

 

This definitely resonates. The number of divorces, affairs, and broken families I saw on the agency side was significant. One guy I worked with basically just had his parents looking after his kids while he worked all the time. He put up a brave face at the office, but I'm certain it was turmoil on the home front.

There is always another client who may want a rush, but truly only one family to take care of. Individual devs knowing what success means to them is certainly more powerful than any image fed to us.

 

Boundaries are so important. Sadly not all workplaces believe that their people are human. I have been at places where they wanted me to skip the birth of my child for a release; where I had to explain that 108 hour work weeks are a cause of staff turnover. Sales and leadership teams that deny your humanity do not deserve your loyalty. Your client is not a god. No one is on their death bed wishing they had looked at more pull requests.

I once had a conversation with an HR lead that said upon hearing my complaint of burnout that, "I was not cut out for the industry". This was preceded by a conversation with sales in which I was told, "You just burn out the dev, and get a new one. Thats how it works." I was smoking ashes at that point. There was no support from the top except, "Just stick around! We'll figure out a solution later!" after a months long death march on a project. My level of burnout left no f*cks for their answer. My resume was already sent before he had stopped me in the hallway.

I wish this were a one off event. A tech senior VP at the same company once told me that if I was getting out of shape due to overtime, that I should just "Buy bigger pants". I lasted 8 months. My predecessor lasted 8 months. The guy who came after me....lasted about 8 months. Agency life for developers can be toxic. We are told to have boundaries, but if no one respects them it is very tricky to either keep those boundaries or the job.

I wish that scenario were a one off, but our industry is plagued by the notion that developers are disposable and best hired when young. Something has to give, and that something can't just be on the developer. Many workplaces in Canada rely on legislation passed during the Y2K scare, that overtime is unpaid on IT. This has lead to some rather toxic environments for developers. That loophole needs to be closed, and we need to stop competing on who can destroy themselves more to get the work done.

 

Woah! This is just sad. Thanks for sharing your experience though

 

Wooooow this quite a post. I don't know what to applaud more if the content of it or the way it was structured...

πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

I would add as an antidote to have clearly defined routines and try to be a little bit better everyday.

 

Thank you very much for the feedback Juan! :D

 

Reality of every CodeNewbie developer this days...
But we have to differentiate between hardwork and burn out our self...
Nicely explained and some recommended preventios..
Great article!!!πŸ‘

 

Thank you for reading and leaving a feedbackπŸ˜„πŸ™

 

The mistake that most of us make is pushing ourselves to more work, even when our mind and body says NO. Good article highlighting the importance of taking self-care. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

 

You are absolutely correctπŸ™
Thanks for the feedback AshwinπŸ˜„

 

I honestly think i am experiencing it right now or atleast at the verge of it. Thanks for this brother!

 

Hey man! Take care. Don’t let it happen to you. It sucks

 

I've had severe forms of burnout almost two times in my career: the first one was very bad and the second one almost happened; I had the good idea to quit and unplug myself from coding for a while.

I wrote a whole article about that if somebody is interested.

tl;dr:

  • Stress related to your work can push you from mild to severe form of burnout.
  • Burnout can manifest itself via a mix of cynicism, a lack of accomplishments, a feeling of exhaustion, an obsession regarding your job, and negative emotions.
  • The causes of a burnout are multiple too. Do you overwork? Do you feel a lack of control and autonomy in your job? Is the company culture nurture open communication and experiments?
  • To prevent yourself going further on the Burnout Road, you should try to explain to your managers that the work environment needs to change. Trying to β€œfix” an employee’s burnout won’t save his colleagues, and it won’t improve the company culture.
  • Rely on your family and your social interactions to escape the Burnout Road. Strong social bounds are the best medicine against chronic stress.
 

Nicely explained.. it would help people s a lot

 

Thanks for the feedback. I hope it does πŸ˜„

 
 

Thanks FrancescoπŸ‘ŠπŸΌπŸ’―

 

Whoa, way too many memes for my taste :D but good article! Thanks!

 

Haha! Sorry for the memes Cristi. All my articles are of this style. Thanks for the feedback though :D

 

Amazing i was not knowing that this all happened because of these work schedule, will look over it. Nicely explained πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»

 

Thanks for reading and giving feedback :D

 
 

Thanks for the feedback Armando :D
I write all the articles in this style. You can check them out too :D