The benefits of deep breaths and vacations

Benalamadena Spain, photo by Nick Kenrick

Most software developers work in stressful environments. Servers will break, code full of bugs and defects will go into production and cause issues for users, the managers won’t allow the developer to have any feedback on the product or project or on the budget or the schedule, heated conversations with coworkers may happen and so on. Lots of stress and anxiety and an open plan office further compounds the effects with any disagreements amplified to the rest of the team or company. The software developer stress level can be very high indeed.

We’ve noticed that developers are less likely than their counterparts in other industries to take a vacation. We know in one instance that a developer took absolutely no vacation for two years, they ended up taking every Friday off for almost half a year at the urging of a manager. In another instance, only 25% of the office had taken a whole week of vacation.

This article by Daniel Rowinski goes into this issue further:

Other types of burnout exist. The most frequent one I see on a yearly basis is project burnout. When you work on the same project for so long that the creativity is gone, all that is left are repetitive tasks and bureaucratic nightmares that never end. Frustration, anger, fatigue and apathy result. People that work 80 hour weeks on the same project over and over again are ripe for burnout.

Two Steps To A Healthy Work-Life Balance

Our first recommendation to software developers in a stressful situation is to book a vacation day (or week) and step away from the code and project and work environment. Turn off your pager, cell phone, email and any other means of company communications. Don’t worry about an emergency, you work with capable people who can handle it.

Our second recommendation is to practice deep breathing using the box breathing method of Kokoro Yoga instructor Mark Divine. The method works like this: four deep breaths, repeated four times, making it 16 breaths in total. We’ve found that after breath number six, you feel much more relaxed. Your body is gaining more oxygen and you’re using much more of your breathing potential. Past breath number ten, your thinking becomes clearer and focused (For more information on the box breathing method check out the Seal Fit blog). You’re ready to handle the situation without feeling stressed about it.

Our breathing is our life force. When we’re stressed or making our bodies work hard, our breathing becomes shallower feeding into a feedback loop where your body doesn’t get as much oxygen as it could and becomes more stressed.

Take a vacation and when you can’t, try box breathing. You’ll be focused and the stress will evaporate. Your life isn’t only about work and technology.

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