Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When writing too much code can kill you

So now that I lured you in with that provocative title I suppose I need to clarify. Well it's true; too much coding can kill you, the real question is "what is the reason?" and the answer to that is; Chronic Stress.

So why write about this; well it's personal. You see: it happened to me, and I'm hoping to tell other people that it could happen to them to.

"Holy Smokes Batman, do you mean it takes years"
So what is Chronic stress. To quote Wikipedia: Chronic stress  is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period over which an individual perceives he or she has no control.

A few key observations:
  • Chronic stress is prolonged stress experienced over a long time, period often years.
  • There is a distinct physical effect on the body resulting in the continuous release of hormones meant to only be released for a temporary period of time.
  • When you are in state of prolonged stress, you may not recognise it or if you do, feel that you cannot do anything about it.

The Human body is designed to deal with stress, provided it's temporary. When you are under stress your body releases hormones most notably Adrenalin and Cortisol. Adrenalin boosts your heart rate and energy supplies. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream and increases the bodies ability to produce glucose and ability to repair tissue.

If you were to compare is to a car, Cortisol is like Nitrous, Adrenalin is your Turbo.

Now Nitrous is meant for a short boost, running it permanently is not great for your engine. Adrenalin and Cortisol is pretty much the same. If you run it permanently it's not great for your body.

Here are a few highlights of what you might expect when you suffer from Chronic Stress.
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Recurring Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Depression
  • Reliance on boosters such as caffeine
  • Spikes and drops in energy at odd times
  • Unexplained sudden weight gain
  • Increase in illness and difficulty in recovering from illness
And (The ones that can kill you):
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease.
It's also worth noting that many of the symptoms have knock on symptoms. 

For me particularly I started suffering from Insomnia almost a year and a half before I was diagnosed with Chronic stress. The effect this had quite a negative effect on my mood and concentration. 

Developers are like Soylent green.
So Developers - contrary to popular belief - is people. In other words they are fallible limited creatures who have limitations in what they can do.

The problem is that we often subject ourselves to increased stress, because of crazy timelines, unrealistic expectations (both by our employers and also by ourselves) and no small amount of ambition.

This is complicated if you are a bit of an A-Type personality who has a tendency to take more and more things on.

The sad part is the more you take and the higher your stress levels become, the less productive you become.

The writing is on the wall
First chronic stress is not like a common cold, the symptoms develop after a long period of time and furthermore it's not something that really well understood.

The result is that it's that this type of thing that creeps up on you, and before you know it you are chronically stressed out and now you need treatment.

So here are some early warning signs that you can learn to identify it:
  • Recurrent episodes of insomnia.
  • Multiple people repeatedly tell you: "You look tired" or something similar.
  • Your buttons suddenly start being pushed often and you find yourself getting more easily aggravated at things.
  • You start becoming very negative and people tell you as much.
  • You suddenly realise you haven't engaged in a personal hobby or done something you like in quite some time.
  • You often have a headache and/or heartburn.
  • You struggle to turn off work and/or you're always anxious about a work.
  • You often work overtime because it's the only time you can get "flow" due to the multitude of distractions in your environment.
Deal with it!
There is quite a lot help out there with regards to reducing stress, but from a personal view there are a few things worth mentioning:
  • Ultimately no one actually forces you to be stressed out, If you don't find a way to deal with it no one else will.
  • Other people won't get it or recognise it unless they have first hand experience, you have to accept and deal with it yourself.
  • Acknowledge your limits.
  • Take stress seriously, it can damage your relationships, your career and your health.
  • Don't be afraid to get professional help.
  • Take that vacation.
  • Be careful when you blur work and pleasure, Especially if one of your hobbies is writing code.
So I hope this was informative and here's hoping to no more stress and - off course - staying alive.

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