A Simple But Effective Mental Health Routine For Programmers

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David Oscar is a full stack web developer and a mental health enthusiast. Other than writing awesome code, he is an editor at Improve Your Brain Power, a … More about Dave ↬

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Quick summary ↬ Maintaining optimal mental health is critical for programmers because most of our work is more mentally demanding than it is physically. However, building and maintaining a reliable and rewarding strategy to maintain a healthy balance in our work demands can be a challenge. In this article, we’ll look at why taking care of our work-life balance is important, how to develop a simple and effective mental health routine, and the most common and efficient techniques you can use to make your custom routine.

After working on a coding project for a good couple of hours, many developers like myself tend to hit a wall. The level of creativity goes down, and we feel extreme mental exhaustion (especially if we have been working for more than three hours straight). We can’t help but want a fairly long break from our computers or working (desks) before we can continue with our work.

However, when we have a deadline to meet, we usually brace ourselves and keep going. At times, doing this works because we tap into our deeply hidden mental energy, but also, there are other times when it simply doesn’t work. Our brains go on strike until their demand is met. Which demand, you ask? A long and well-deserved break to refresh and reset.

If we decide to deny or ignore this demand consistently, sooner or later we’ll find that our overall rate of productivity goes down for a good deal of time. We also run the risk of failing at almost everything — including our personal lives.

Let’s take a good look at how we can establish an effective routine that will help ourselves bring benefits work-wise and health-wise in the long term.

Why Having A Routine Is Important

Generally, having a routine we follow has been found to have its own benefits. A study published by The Lancet concluded that people who have a stable daytime routine tend to have a better cognitive function, restful sleep, emotional stability, and improved overall well-being due to maintaining a good circadian rhythm (the natural cycles of life, like the sleep-wake cycle).

Another study published by Sage Journals showed that those who follow a daily routine tend to feel life is more meaningful for them than those who do not. Having a planned list of activities for the day and ensuring we do every activity when we are supposed to allow us to be less stressed and feel more fulfilled. On top of that, doing everything in our routine gives us a sense of accomplishment and purpose, and adds value to our lives. It also helps ease the tension that comes with the regular demands of life and the hecticness of some of the tough mathematical calculations and creativity-based activities we get engaged in as programmers.

Moreover, it helps us relax and refresh our brains after a long period of work. Now let’s take a look at the actual mental health routine.

More after jump! Continue reading below ↓

The Simple Mental Health Routine For Developers

Personally, my mental health routine has allowed me to be more productive, break through the mental and physical limitations at work and be able to strike a good balance of my work, family and personal life.

Some of the techniques I have used that have proven to be effective are:

  • Resting awareness,
  • Meditation,
  • Mindfulness,
  • Reflection,
  • Body scanning,
  • Visualization,
  • Note-taking,
  • Mindful programming.

The last one is the meat of my routine. Here, I go about my programming tasks as usual but I try to remain aware of myself as I do it. If you would like to have a look at my personal mental health routine in detail where I go in-depth about each practice and how I work with it to better myself and my programming skills, I encourage you to try it out yourself.

Some of the benefits I have seen from the routine are as follows:

Reducing Momentary Negative Effect

For the most part, coding can be quite intimidating and disappointing for a beginner or even a well-versed developer. When we write code with all our hearts — hoping that we got everything right — and then find out that some areas of our code are not working and we can’t seem to figure out where exactly the problem is, we can easily become temporarily frustrated pessimists.

During such times, mindfulness can come in handy for us because research has shown that it helps reduce momentary negative effects. By doing mindful movement techniques such as walking meditation and mindful walking, we can increase positive feelings within ourselves and help us keep going.

Boosting Focus And Attention

When I am aware, I often find it less difficult to keep my focus and attention levels high and I am able to keep going without distractions. Scientific research attributes this ability to a brain wave called Alpha Rhythm that regulates information that brings about distraction.

Thinking, Remembering And Processing Information Better

When we are in the present moment, we get to understand things easily and remember them without a lot of hassles. Reasoning and figuring out how we are going to implement certain bits of our code to achieve the desired goal also become effortless over time.

Studies that focus on this particular topic have revealed that this is due to the ability of mindfulness practice to increase the density of the gray matter in the brain — specifically in those areas that are associated with perspective thinking, learning abilities, self-referential processing, and emotional regulation.

Feeling More Stable After Working Long Hours

Have you ever felt overwhelmed to the point where you you have lost control of yourself in terms of peace and calmness? Mindfulness gives us clarity on what we are working on and keeps us peaceful. In the past, I had scenarios where I felt so overwhelmed and disappointed by the constant inability to solve various bugs in my code that made me question why I got into programming in the first place.

As I practiced mindfulness, however, I was able to tell when I was exaggerating issues in my mind and when my thoughts were blowing things out of proportion. With the help of mindfulness techniques such as mindful walking and reflection, we get to see reality as it actually is, and not as we think of it. This changes our perspective for the better.

Regulating Stress And Anxiety

Are you about to miss deadlines and your mind can’t calm down and let you finish up on the remaining tasks in peace? Well, mindful breathing and visualization of your situation allow you to be aware of the stress and anxiety, and better react to them. It helps bring down the high levels of the Cortisol hormone that is linked to stress.

The points above are part of a simple mindfulness-based mental health routine that we can all easily work with as employed developers, freelancers, or as we run our own programming ventures (link to the mental health routine freebie). Implementing some of these would require a few minutes of meditation in the morning and then after that, we remain aware of ourselves and our environment as we go about our work in our typical day.

Getting Started With Your Own Mental Health Routine

In case you feel, individually, like you want to make some more customization to the given mental health routine above, by all means, feel free to do it. At the end of the day, it is about finding a mental health routine that goes well with you and has a positive impact on your work and life as a whole. Your mental health routine should be something that complements what you already have in your life and what you feel is good for you as a uniquely different person.

So don’t feel the pressure to have to stick to something that doesn’t necessarily sit well with you. However, below are some ideas or other mental health improvement strategies that are effective which you can explore.

Yoga

Yoga is a practice that helps us quiet our minds so as to ground ourselves in unbound consciousness, which is our essential nature. It helps unite the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives. Some of its benefits include improving memory, learning abilities, social-emotional processing, sensorimotor processing, and many other cognitive functions. This can make a good addition to your routine if these are the benefits you are looking for.

Other Meditation Styles

Other than mindfulness meditation, there are other meditation styles such as focused attention meditation, zen meditation, religious meditation (for various religions), and others that help train our brains on various personal values. You can look at your life and decide which areas you fall short in that affect your programming career and life in general, and go for a meditation practice that helps you with that. For instance, if you struggle to remain focused, you can work with focused attention meditation to sharpen your focus.

Sleeping

Funny as it may sound, sleep is a really good technique to refresh our minds and bodies. Studies show that it helps with improving the communication between nerve cells. On top of the mindfulness-based practices I work with, sleep is another one of my go-to techniques when I feel I need a total refreshing of my mind.

When you feel confused or overworked, leave your workplace and find yourself a place to lay down and shut down for a few minutes (if that won’t get you fired). However, don’t get into the habit of sleeping, or that will become counter-productive. I always recommend sleeping as the last resort.

Plan Ahead

One of the things that lead to confusion is a lack of planning. If you start off in many directions, you are sure to lose and come out more confused than you started. Programming requires a lot of mental planning before we get to execute it physically and research has linked this kind of planning to project success, not only in programming but also in other areas of our lives.

What I normally do isgain a good understanding of the entire project I am working on, the areas that I am supposed to work on, what is needed in those areas, and then I break down the work into small steps in my to-do list. Everytime I finish a task, I tick it off my list. This helps me make consistent progress and achieve the goal much faster.

Physical Exercise

While physical fitness is good for the body, it has also been found to have a positive effect on the brain. It reduces anxiety, depression, and negative moods. So, whenever you feel anxious or moody, just get into some exercises before getting back to work and you will most likely love the results.

Look For A Developer Friend

Sharing your problems with someone who understands the gravity of the issues, and who can also help you solve them, is among the most valuable things in life. Look for a programming buddy or team you can easily get along with and become work and life buddies.

Hold each other accountable, help each other through your projects, and consult each other when you need genuine feedback and constructive criticism. This makes for peace of mind, enjoyment, more productivity and satisfaction with your career.

a man wth a programming buddy
A programming buddy or team helps to motivate each other, and keep the programming fire burning. (Image Credit: Lagos Techie) (Large preview)

Change Your Working Environment (If You Can)

This works well if you are a work-from-home developer. Although, it is also possible to change your environment in your workplace if your company has provided alternative sitting areas. Changing your environment can reset your mind and help you through some hurdles you have been struggling to get past. You can choose to change your sitting position, or move to a different corner of your office or working space. These actions might seem small but all have a significant impact.

Get A Breath Of Fresh Air

Exposing yourself to fresh air allows you to get more oxygen to your brain which helps improve the performance of the brain. If you stay in a poorly ventilated room for a long time, you can hurt your brain in the long run. By regularly getting some fresh air, you improve the power of your brain which can, in turn, help you push even further.

Listen To Your Favorite Songs

Different songs have different effects on people. Whenever you feel mentally and physically exhausted, listening to songs that remind you of your dreams, goals, and visions, as you relax, can energize you and make you want to keep going with your work.

Just close your eyes, lean back on your working chair, and listen to those songs as you visualize your goals and the amount of effort needed to get there, and you will notice your energy levels and motivation increase after some time. My personal favorite playlist is the slow independent (indie) songs or a playlist of slow soothing songs or instrumentals.

Conclusion

When trying out any of the techniques mentioned in this article, please ensure that you go for the ones that will blend in with your daily schedule, habits and beliefs as that will make it possible to have a much better experience working with them.

Taking care of our mental health is of utmost importance. We only get to have one brain throughout our lives so we need to do all we can to take good care of it. And the best part is that you don’t need to do much to make that happen. All you have to do is to get started on a mental health routine and stick to it. The first step is by adding the routine to your daily schedule. If the provided mental health routine works fine for you, figure out where you can begin doing mindfulness meditation and then remember to work mindfully.

If you want to spice things up, you can consider the other mental health techniques you like and use them to create your custom mental health routine that best fits your lifestyle. It is entirely up to you.

The key takeaway here is, you should seriously consider working with a routine and it’s even better if you get started with one as early as now if you want to improve your mental health, your work, and your overall well-being for years to come.

Again, if you would like to have a look at my completely detailed mental health routine, feel free to download it here.

So, what technique or daily routine works best for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Smashing Editorial (ah, vf, yk, il)