If you spend any time in software development, inevitably there will be some tight deadlines and death marches, leading to stressful weeks or months for all team members—developers, testers, analysts, and managers. Having found myself in just such a situation lately, I began internalizing the project stress, compounded by some odd hours with a dispersed project team. Chronic stress can be a serious damper on productivity and happiness, so I tried several methods to help mitigate the impacts of stress in my life and in my job.
Through a combination of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, and a sleep schedule, I began to more effectively manage the stress. If you leave work at the end of the day with tasks outstanding, it can be difficult to detach from work.
There is a careful balancing act between short term tasks and achieving a sustainable long-term velocity. If your project has you burning the midnight oil, try these tips to help restore your work-life balance.
For me, regular cardio exercise was the single biggest stress reliever. After a long and trying day at work, a relaxing run or walk allows me to work out pent-up energy from sitting all day. The endorphins released through regular exercise also make me calmer and more focused the following day.
Plan out exercise time like a regular meeting, and treat it as an obligation. If you can’t make it to the gym after work due to time constraints or familial obligations, try taking a walk around the neighborhood before starting work for the day.
Sometimes, exercise alone did not provide sufficient stress relief. Taking time out of a busy day for purposeful and planned relaxation may seem counterproductive in the short term, but just like exercise, the mental boost will provide greater returns over the long term.
Relaxation does not have to include transcendental meditation on top of a mountain peak either. Time away from screens, reading a book, walking, listening to music, or cooking a solid meal can all provide the necessary detachment from work-related stress and anxiety.
Establishing a sleep routine has been essential to my own stress management. Prior to reflecting on my sleep patterns, I would lay in bed watching TV or checking twitter late into the night, only to awake groggy and unrefreshed the next morning, further fueling my caffeine addiction.
Objectively, this was a pretty unhealthy spiral. Making a sleep schedule and reducing excess caffeine intake has made it easier for me to get 7-8 hours of sleep, making the starts of my days much more efficient and enjoyable.
Food can have a surprisingly major impact on my stress levels. If I am feeling stressed and anxious, I am much more likely to gorge on empty calories—the exact wrong thing to be eating under stressful circumstances. Those late night office orders of pizza and Chinese food are not exactly brain food.
More or less, the foods that are good for the rest of your body are good for your brain as well. Vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, as joyless as they may be, will help you feel focused and alert.