Physical and Mental Health for Developers by@ChrisChinchilla

Physical and Mental Health for Developers

Chris Chinchilla HackerNoon profile picture

Chris Chinchilla

Freelance technical communicator to the stars. Podcaster, video maker, writer of interactive fiction

OK, I’m late again, but this time I have a decent excuse. My Wife has been in Hospital the past week and it has thrown my planning and timing. By pure coincidence, it leads me nicely to the topic I wanted to discuss this installment based on a presentation I have given twice. The topic is physical and mental health for developers.

Let’s get started!

Why Care in the First Place?

The life of a developer or a person involved with development can be a busy and stressful one. In addition to your day job you are likely keeping up to date with tech news, attending meetups and events, contributing to open source projects, mentoring other developers and much, much more. On top of all that, maybe you even have a family.

All this adds up, and let’s face it, intensely using your brain all day more tiring than people think.

Some may say, well hang on developers, don’t you all:

…get paid well?
…get amazing benefits?
…work in amazingly cool offices?
…spend all day drinking beer/mate, watching cat videos or playing table tennis?

Maybe some of us do, but this doesn’t necessarily detract from the long hours, constant deadlines and mental activity. Your health is important, and most of the time, you only get one chance with it.

What can we do to help ourselves? I will preface this article by saying I am not an expert, I’m not even the fittest or healthiest I could be. I intend to present (what I think are) simple and achievable tweaks to your life that will help your physical and mental health.

Physical Health

Sitting is (Possibly) Killing Us
We all sit way too much, and according to the NHS, sitting to much can cause:

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events
  • 49% increase in death from any cause
  • Posture and back problems

Here’s a great article and infographic from the Washington Post on the perils of sitting too much.

Prolonged sitting means sitting for 8 to 12 hours or more a day.

This is not unique to tech or a new story, everyone in the modern workforce is sitting down way too much.

I will often stand at events and the number of awkward looks I receive is staggering. People keep offering me a seat, or hover near me thinking that there are no seats available. Just because we know something is bad for us, doesn’t mean we stop doing it.

Standing and Walking Desks
Search the internet and you will find plenty of advice on standing and walking desks, but I think the key is variety and balance. There have been reports that suddenly switching to a standing desk all day is the equivalent to training for a Marathon. Take your time and build up to these things. It’s all about making sure you get up regularly and move around, more than not sitting down all day.

A lot of the problems caused by prolonged sitting is due to poor posture, and again, we all know what we do wrong, but doing something about it is hard to keep on top of. Again, a quick search of the internet will find nuggets of advice. Try small things and gradually introduce as much movement into your routine as possible.

Mental Health

Researching this topic I became interested to know if prolonged intense mental activity (i.e. coding) used more or less energy than physical activity. Whilst it’s known that the brain uses a lot of the energy our bodies consume, there is no proven correlation between the amount, and our mental activity (yet). There is a more psychological connection between mental strain and our energy levels. Sustained concentration is exhausting and can send you on an emotional rollercoaster through highs and lows. This can cause a variety of negative effects from stress to eating, smoking and drinking poorly to compensate for feeling low. Whilst I look at diet and smoking in my presentations, I wont cover them here, we all know what is good and bad for us, what’s more key is knowing why you’re pouring crap into your body. If it’s to make you feel better, then time to make some changes.

A lot of reducing mental stress and strain is about helping you sleep well. And sleep is really good for you, it helps with energy, immunity, focus and much more.

Switching Off
Technology is amazing, and to many of us who grew up isolated from the world around us because we were ‘different’, it has been a lifeline. However, look around you on public transport or in a bar and what do you see? People buried in digital devices. Whilst (to someone my age) this feels like a massive shift, I’m unsure if it’s good or bad yet. But there does seem to be a diminishing consciousness of what is going on around us, wether this be walking into someone or living in a filter bubble of people who share our own opinions.

The constant connection(s) we now have are very seductive, they can make you feel important and needed, but this ‘always on’ life is taking it’s toll, in ways we may not even be aware of yet. I struggle with this myself, as I am easily bored. Try to spend more time away from your digital devices when possibe and question whether being ‘in the loop’ is as important as you think. Go for a walk, play a board game or a musical instrument etc…

There have been reports (that are still inconclusive) about the effects of screens on our eyes and brains. In recent months I have been using apps like f.lux and an eBook app with a blue light filter (Moon Reader) and I feel like they are benefitting me, but I’m not yet certain.

I work from home half the week, and many of us are now working remotely in a ‘wonderful’ work/life balance. I like working from home, but I do enjoy the couple of days when I don’t. I am a member of several coworking groups and work somewhere with one of them at least once a week. In short, it’s easy now to see no-one (in the flesh) for days and it can take forcing yourself into social interactions to meet anyone. Depending where you live, this can be easy or hard. I live in a big city, so if I feel I need to get out and do something, I can do this in minutes. I have always lived in cities, so I don’t have masses of advice for those of you living in small towns or the countryside, I guess you’re used to it.

Saying No
There seems to be a constant tug-of-war in certain tech circles between those who always want to appear ‘busy’ and those who have a ‘perfect’ work/life balance. Being the best at either of them is almost a badge of honour and importance. The latter may be harder to accomplish, but getting ‘busy’ is an easy trap to fall into and can lead to stress, which then leads to poor sleep, bad diet etc. If you don’t take on too much in the first place, then a lot of problems can be avoided.

I appreciate that saying ‘no’ takes a certain workplace culture, a level of confidence and luxury that may not exist for you. But sometimes it takes one or more people to point out that something in wrong or unacceptable to turn around a toxic and unhealthy work culture. Being the first to voice an opinion is hard, but if you feel strongly enough about it, then it could be a positive outcome for everyone. Problems are typically caused by assumptions and people not speaking up soon enough when there is a problem, if this describes situations you find yourself in too much, then it needs changing.

Look After Yourselves

OK, that’s it for this post, a bit of a random ramble through ideas in my mind. My last presentation has more ideas you might enjoy and I would encourage you to post your suggestions in the comments below.


All of the Weekly Squeak posts are accompanied by a podcast where I go more in-depth into the topic, subscribe here or listen to the individual episode to the left.

I don’t know why Soundcloud wont find the episode, here it is

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