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Self-Care and Stress Management

Whether you are a student learning to write clean code, a full-time developer working with a team, or a freelancer starting to control the projects you work on, it is essential to make sure you are taking care of your health. As our lives become more complicated, balancing work, family, friends, and other responsibilities, we forget about taking care of our own basic needs.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is being purposeful in ensuring that you have your needs met, both physically and mentally. Practicing self-care means that you are prioritizing yourself as much as you would, family, friends, and your career. (Or whatever else you consider necessary.)

So how do you practice self-care?

Practicing self-care is as much about taking care of your mind as your body.

Watch what you eat

Fuel your body so it can work effectively by eating healthy meals and snacks. Also, you shouldn't skip meals because you are "too busy" or "just need to finish this last thing." Keeping your body fueled helps your mind work more effectively, and no one likes to code hangry.

Exercise / Take a break

Exercising doesn't mean you have to head to the gym, do a 5 mile run or sweat for hours. Even a short walk around the block can help. The goal should be to step away from your computer, give your brain a break, and allow your body to move. Moving helps avoid back pain, mental frustration, and breaks the monotony of the day.

Check out some of these exercise options to get you moving:

Stay hydrated

Keeping your body hydrated goes hand in hand with eating. "Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles." -- Harvard Medical School. It's easy to think you are hydrating because you are drinking something liquid, but a large amount of soda/pop or coffee doesn't always give your body what it needs.

Drinking water isn't always a high priority, sometimes checking out other ways to get the hydration we need can make staying hydrated easier. The 5 Best Ways to Rehydrate Quickly:

  • Water
  • Coffee and tea
  • Skim and low-fat milk
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Oral hydration solutions

Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for helping a person maintain optimal health and well-being. When it comes to their health, sleep is as vital as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet. -- Medical News Today

When your body is getting enough sleep, it can help increase your concentration and productivity. A lack of sleep can slow your learning process and could lead to making unnecessary mistakes. Your emotions can also run higher when you are tired, leading to stressed interactions with your family, friends, and peers. There is also a higher risk of increased Imposter Syndrome, Depression, and can affect your immune system.

Eye Care

"Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use." -- American Optometric Association

Developers especially stare at computer screens and other devices continuously throughout the day; this can lead to symptoms such as:

  • eyestrain
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • dry eyes
  • neck and shoulder pain

So how do you help maintain the health of your eyes?

Look Away Taking a break and looking away from your computer can go a long way to helping protect your eyes.

Adjust your setup Tilt the screen slightly to avoid reflections or glare, make sure the screen is not too close to your face and put the display either at eye level or slightly lower.

Glare-blocking tinted computer glasses There are a variety of frame styles with varying shades of tinting, even prescription tinted, and prices range greatly to help you find the right pair for you.

F.lux is a program that adjusts a display's color temperature according to location and time of day, offering functional respite for the eyes. F.lux reduces eye strain during night-time use, helping to minimize the disruption of sleep patterns.

Get your eyes checked Having your eyes checked on a scheduled basis will help identify problems early.

Hand Care

Sitting at a desk and working all day can strain your muscles and joints.

So how do you prevent computer-related injuries?

Invest in an ergonomic keyboard "The problem is that the monitor and keyboard of a laptop are very close together. To position the monitor at the right height for your back and neck causes you to lift your arms and shoulders too high. But to position the keyboard at the best height for your arms and shoulders, you must hunch your shoulders and neck to see the monitor." -- Better Health

Use a Mouse An ergonomic mouse can help reduce strain on your wrists and hands. If you get a mouse, have your mouse at the same height as your correctly positioned keyboard and try to place it as close as possible to the side of the keyboard. Then use your entire arm, not just your wrist, when moving the mouse.

Adjust your typing style Do you hit the keyboard hard when typing? Try using a lighter touch to help reduce the wear and tear on your fingers and wrist.

Mix up your work to relax your hands Find other tasks that you can work on to give you a break away from the keyboard, when doing those tasks give yourself time to allow your arms to relax and rest in a different position than you would at the keyboard.

Stretch Simple hand stretches can be done anywhere and just once a day or week will help prevent carpal tunnel

Body Care

Use a Standing Desk If your office provides it, standing desks can be a great way to relieve pressure on your back and hips from sitting in a chair all day.

Try Chair Yoga Unlike Yoga poses you might be familiar with, chair yoga is all about stretching and moving while seated. Chair Yoga is a great alternative when you are in the office and need to help relax your posture.

Take care of your Mind Taking short breaks between spurts of productivity can provide essential mental rest for overworked minds. The Pomodoro method is a system that breaks up 20-minute intervals with short periods of rest. It works exceptionally well since you set regular reminders to help you keep taking breaks.

Take a Day Off Between work, online tutorials, and side projects, it's easy to let programming consume large chunks of your 'off time,' including weekends and holidays.

Have Fun

Development doesn't have to be all work and no play. Simple things like customizing your terminal, buying a colorful keyboard, or decorating your office space can go a long way.

Manage your stress

"Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like there's nothing you can do about stress." -- Help Guide

Stress Management can help you break the hold stress has on your life so that you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. So how do you combat stress?

Identify the sources of stress

Easy to see stressor examples might be changing jobs, moving, relationship changes, or attending an intensive learning program. It helps to start by identifying the real source of your stress by looking closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary, "I just have a million things going on right now, " even though you can't remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life "Things are always crazy around here" or as a part of your personality "I have a lot of nervous energy, that's all"?
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely usual and unexceptional?

Avoid, Alter, Adapt & Accept

Avoid unnecessary stress

Learn how to say NO. As work life and home life become more complicated, it is easy to take on too much. Learn to distinguish between the "shoulds" and the "musts" and ask for help prioritizing if you are not sure of the difference.

Avoid people and situations that stress you out. It is ok to step back and away when you need time. Take control of your environment by limiting your exposure and allowing yourself to regroup.

Pare down your to-do list. Use your time management skills to take a look at what you need to do right now and focus on those. It is ok to postpone less important tasks for another day.

Alter the situation

If something or someone is bothering you, it is essential to express how you feel. Create open communication where you can share your concerns openly and respectfully. Part of that conversation should include compromise, working on a team means finding balance among differing opinions.

Create a balanced schedule, while you are pairing down your to-do list take a look to see how you can add in things that you enjoy. Make sure to schedule some time for your family, social activities, and solitary pursuits.

Adapt to the stressor

Reframe the problem. Trying to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective can be difficult, but in the big picture, small stresses can lead to individual growth and learning.

Adjust your standards; sometimes, we expect perfection. In the world of development, our code appears broken until it works. Trying to come to terms with that can be difficult when you expect to get it right the first time.

Practice gratitude. Take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your positive qualities and gifts. Celebrating your successes, no matter how small, can also help combat stress.

Accept things you cannot change

Don't try to control the uncontrollable. Being a developer often means we face things we cannot control regularly. New features, projects getting canceled, and bugs that cause something to break are just the tip of the iceberg. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as how you choose to react to problems.

Look for the upside. When facing challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. When your choices contribute to a stressful situation, take the time to reflect on them, and learn from your mistakes. Learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made; take your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow to become a better developer.

Share your feelings. Sometimes the most significant stress relief can come from talking through your problems. Whether you speak to a friend or a counselor having a sounding board for your worries, challenges, and feelings can bring comfort and clarity.

When you need extra support, seek a professional. Sometimes taking care of yourself requires assistance. Seeking professional help does not mean you can't handle it yourself. Counselors are there to listen, provide support, and offer feedback when you need it most. Another added benefit is you have someone that is there to listen to you and only you.



Resources on Stress and Stress Management

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