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'IT burn out' or why do programmers suffer from emotional exhaustion and what we can do about it?

Jul 16th 2020 / Eurocoders

We're pretty sure you've imagined it as something like this:

the start of the new working day, the first cup of coffee, and awaiting a new project or one that you've been working on for a while, anticipation for the creating process. And for a long time, it was exactly like this - pleasure and fulfillment for being lucky enough to call your hobby also a job. 

And while the latter is still truthful, there is this other lurking feeling bringing the exact opposite spark - the one of emotional exhaustion.

If you know a fellow programmer or you are one, then surely all this sounds familiar. The burn out syndrome attacks the majority of people working in the IT industry. In today's article, we'll take a closer look at this constantly growing problem, and we'll try to come around the reasons that lead programmers to the state of emotional exhaustion. The good news is we also find a solution. That's the way we are - programmed to finding a solution to every problem. 

What is burn out and how to recognize it?

The state viewed as burn out affects mostly people whose sphere of business is dedicated exclusively to mental work instead of a physical one. Arty, project-oriented, engineer jobs require creating, observing, inventing, judging, and every mistake dooms the project, leading to failure.

Psychological pressure is stronger in jobs where one is not expected to follow previously planned tasks but rather has to create something from scratch that doesn't really exist yet. And it's expected to work. To work properly, that is. 

If you notice feelings like apathy, tiredness, unhealthy sleeping routine, lack of excitement for doing the things you love, and you are easily getting mad and being antisocial, then you may be experiencing emotional exhaustion. The most frequent mistake we all do is to ignore all these feelings in hopes they would just go away by themselves. We all have bad days but if the occurring feelings last for longer than a week then we should most definitely pay attention.

Why do programmers reach a state of emotional exhaustion?

People who work in IT face the risk of burn out more frequently. There are several reasons behind this and we would like to take a moment and observe them.

We've mentioned that jobs that require specifically mental processes only are at bigger risk - initially, programming and software development is exactly this.

The deadlines set for executing a specific task or a project are often too short which leads to high amounts of pressure and stress. When we try to meet those deadlines we put our mental state under the attack of psychological stress - this further leads to making mistakes and more pressure. This vicious circle of trying to beat time and desire to perform the best way possible leads to emotional exhaustion.

Programmers spend their entire working day in front of the screen. While there are plenty of other jobs that require this, they still offer plenty of other tasks that allow us to get away from the computer even for a little bit. Software developers lack this opportunity - daily they are stuck to their desks. This, essentially, leads to physical discomfort which affects our mental health.

We often witness how programmers fail in drawing the line when it comes to separating working hours from those dedicated to hobbies and spare time. How often does it happen for a developer to come to a solution for a specific problem that has been troubling his mind for days during his off-hours? By willing to check if their idea is right, programmers get back to work - this prevents them from actually taking a break.

What can be done?

The good news is that we could use the same methods for both preventing burn out from happening, as well as to beat it once it hits us hard.

  1. Don't be too hard on yourself - sadly we often enter this loop of self-accusations even when the reasons behind failure are not up to us. One of the most important and fundamental ways of dealing with emotional exhaustion is by acknowledging our own capabilities and work speed abilities.
  2. Pay attention when you feel not ok - the symptoms we described above are here to tell us that something is definitely wrong and it is a huge mistake to just ignore them in hopes of them disappearing by themselves. Pay attention to your physical and mental state in order to identify the problem in time so that you can deal with it before it damages you.
  3. Talk - even though the majority of people choose to keep their suffering to themselves, talking is one of the best ways to deal with emotional burn out. By shutting people out you feed on the antisocial behavior caused by the emotional exhaustion which makes the matters worse. Often an open and honest conversation with a close friend would do the trick.
  4. Get back to your hobbies and cherish your spare time - if your life is filled up with work schedules and appointments, then you should most definitely put a distinctive barrier between work and free time. Getting back to a specific hobby of yours will affect your mental health in a positive way - by bringing good mood and inspiration.

The most important thing is to self-reflect - ask yourself questions regarding your feelings and inner state. The answers will surely give you information about your physical and mental condition so that you can take some actions on time. By doing this, you prevent yourself from falling into the depths of burn out.