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I'm a Software Developer with over a decade's worth of experience in the IT Industry. While primarily a Java Developer I've working in - among other things - everything from C to Visual Basic to JavaScript to Ruby to Objective-C to C#. I officially consider myself a member of the cult of Lisp which tends to colour the way I think about how code should be written Julian is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 11 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

When too much coding can kill you.

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So now that I lured you in with that provocative title I suppose I need to clarify. Well it's true: too much coding can kill you, the real question is "what is the reason?" and the answer to that is; Chronic Stress.

So why write about this; well it's personal. You see: it happened to me, and I'm hoping to tell other people that it could happen to them too.

"Holy Smokes Batman, do you mean it takes years"
So what is Chronic stress. To quote Wikipedia: Chronic stress  is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period over which an individual perceives he or she has no control.

A few key observations:

  • Chronic stress is prolonged stress experienced over a long time period, often years.
  • There is a distinct physical effect on the body resulting in the continuous release of hormones meant to only be released for a temporary period of time.
  • When you are in state of prolonged stress, you may not recognise it or if you do, feel that you cannot do anything about it.


The Human body is designed to deal with stress, provided it's temporary. When you are under stress your body releases hormones most notably Adrenalin and Cortisol. Adrenalin boosts your heart rate and energy supplies. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream and increases the bodies ability to produce glucose and ability to repair tissue.

If you were to compare is to a car, Cortisol is like Nitrous, Adrenalin is your Turbo.

Now Nitrous is meant for a short boost, running it permanently is not great for your engine. Adrenalin and Cortisol is pretty much the same. If you run it permanently it's not great for your body.

Here are a few highlights of what you might expect when you suffer from Chronic Stress.

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Recurring Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Depression
  • Reliance on boosters such as caffeine
  • Spikes and drops in energy at odd times
  • Unexplained sudden weight gain
  • Increase in illness and difficulty in recovering from illness
And (The ones that can kill you):
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease.
It's also worth noting that many of the symptoms have knock on symptoms. For me particularly I started suffering from Insomnia almost a year and a half before I was diagnosed with Chronic stress. The effect this had quite a negative effect on my mood and concentration. 

Developers are like Soylent green.
So Developers - Just like Soylent Green - is people. In other words they are fallible limited creatures who have limitations in what they can do.The problem is that we often subject ourselves to increased stress, because of crazy timelines, unrealistic expectations (both by our employers and also by ourselves) and no small amount of ambition.This is complicated if you are a bit of an A-Type personality who has a tendency to take more and more things on.The sad part is the more you take and the higher your stress levels become, the less productive you become.

The writing is on the wall.
First chronic stress is not like a common cold, the symptoms develop after a long period of time and furthermore it's not something that really well understood.The result is that it's that this type of thing that creeps up on you, and before you know it you are chronically stressed out and now you need treatment.So here are some early warning signs that you can learn to identify it:
  • Recurrent episodes of insomnia.
  • Multiple people repeatedly tell you: "You look tired" or something similar.
  • Your buttons suddenly start being pushed often and you find yourself getting more easily aggravated at things.
  • You start becoming very negative and people tell you as much.
  • You suddenly realise you haven't engaged in a personal hobby or done something you like in quite some time.
  • You often have a headache and/or heartburn.
  • You struggle to turn off work and/or you're always anxious about work.
  • You often work overtime because it's the only time you can get "flow" due to the multitude of distractions in your environment.

Deal with it!.
There is quite a lot help out there with regards to reducing stress, but from a personal view there are a few things worth mentioning:
  • Ultimately no one actually forces you to be stressed out, If you don't find a way to deal with it no one else will.
  • Other people won't get it or recognise it unless they have first hand experience, you have to accept and deal with it yourself.
  • Acknowledge your limits.
  • Take stress seriously, it can damage your relationships, your career and your health.
  • Don't be afraid to get professional help.
  • Take that vacation.
  • Be careful when you blur work and pleasure, Especially if one of your hobbies is writing code.
So I hope this was informative and here's hoping to no more stress and - off course - staying alive.
Published at DZone with permission of Julian Exenberger, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Michael Simpson replied on Wed, 2014/06/04 - 7:33am

Related: Google Sitting is the new smoking

James Lewis replied on Wed, 2014/06/04 - 8:49am

Your 'deal with it' section is insensitive and unhelpful. 

Thank you so much for bringing this to developers, but your 'deal with it' advice is badly written when you have acknowledged a couple of paragraphs before that we are people. We are not problems to be solved and if you are the person experiencing chronic stress absolutely the hardest thing to do is find a comfortable way to start talking about it, to find help that works for you, and to stick with it and change what are probably deeply seated behaviours that are leading to your stress.

Also I can't believe that you haven't added the simple point that if you have been through this, and you see someone who looks like they're going through it, GO HELP THEM.

So, some advice on how to start that, from someone who also has been through this a few times:

- Don't worry! There are lots of people dealing with various forms of stress, anxiety and depression. There are things you can do about it, and it will go away. Even if it doesn't seem so it's likely most or all of the people around you just want you to be happy (even if they also need you to build something for them) and will support you in whatever steps you need to take to be happy.

- Talk to people, online, in real life. Try to get over the bump that you don't know quite what this thing is yet or how to describe it by starting with simple conversations in any media you feel comfortable with. It's ok that you don't know how to describe this feeling right now, or what the cause is, it will take some time to build up the vocabulary, and this is an iterative process.

 - Do the simple stuff. Although medication (prescribed, bottled or smoked) can help with relief, it is not the solution. Whatever you can do in 'the basics' will help: sleep well, eat well, consume less caffeine, exercise, socialise.

- Work towards a long term solution. Generally in my experience this stuff takes time for everyone to fully work it out, and you will be using the lessons you learn during this process every day for the rest of your life to slowly tweak your behaviours and help make sure the stress doesn't come back. Take your time, find a good person to talk to. Learn the behaviours, find a long term solution that works for you.

Matthew Wagner replied on Wed, 2014/06/04 - 12:33pm

 Also, search for software developer burnout.  There are numerous stories out there on the subject.  In some cases, more serious steps may be needed to correct the problem.  A vacation may not be enough, but it may be a good start.  A longer term break from the industry may also be helpful.  If the problem has been building for many years, it may take a year or more to resolve.  Exercise is the natural solution, but again, it alone may not be enough.

Mental Lion replied on Wed, 2014/06/04 - 1:32pm

I've read and I put into practice the fact that high performance workers are those that can work a number of hours and take small breaks of rest, several along the day. Small naps or meditations can avoid the accumulation of sodium and potassium imbalance ratio product of too much mental workout. 

A brief period or nap or meditation (about 5 - 15min) can restore the ratio to normal resulting in mental refreshment. If you need help to take short naps at work try one of these audios online: 

With this method you can work up to 12 hours per day for a good enough period of time. 

Please share other ways to improve performance without put at risk out health. I heard about also about vibrating lights or even magnetic fields.

Julian Exenberger replied on Thu, 2014/06/05 - 6:29am in response to: James Lewis

Hi James.

My goal was no to be sensitive but rather to be jarring if that makes sense.

I wrote this from the perspective of my own experience which - believe me - was jarring and  I am trying to portray  that harsh reality.

In terms of dealing with there are tons of resources  out there on  how to deal with stress but IMHO all that is  moot until you recognize the problem.

I only recognized the problem  when I had already done the damage to myself and I still had to be held responsible for that damage I did.

Therefore my focus is to jar you into acknowledging the problems and  dealing with the fallout.

Hope that makes sense

Kurt Reinke replied on Thu, 2014/06/05 - 1:15pm in response to: James Lewis

I never reply to these things, so this is really an exception for me.   I read both your comments and Julian's reply below, and I see where you are both coming from.  You also provide some excellent advice.  I would, however, and not to take away from anything you wrote, just like to comment on Julian's "deal with it" comment a bit. 

I was working in Dallas on a year long project, 16 hour days, away from home, kids in college, unrealistic deadlines, lots of pressure, etc., etc.  My paycheck and our company's future depended on this project being a success.   9 months into the project I told my boss, project co-worker, and friend "J" that I couldn't handle all these negatives.  After some friendly and understanding conversation his response was ... "Well ... you'll just have to deal with it". 

At the time I too thought this was an insensitive and uncaring comment and I felt somewhat betrayed as his friend.  I discussed it with my wife later that day and she thought so too and we decided together that I was going to start looking for another job; but in the interim I had to pay the bills and that meant I had to get back to work now and I had to "deal with it" ... whatever that meant. 

Sometimes insensitive remarks can piss you off just enough to make you do things about your situation.  That was certainly the case here and as I got back to work I took on a whole new way of approaching "my problem".  I started to laugh and joke more and I started to practice "not caring".   

After this project was over (and a huge success I might add), I later read an article by a golf writer who was watching Brad Faxon on the putting green.  Brad Faxon was/is known as being a great putter.  When he asked Brad what he was doing, Brad responded ... "I'm practicing not caring".  I indeed laughed out loud when I read this; for if you've ever stood over a 2 foot to win a dollar bet on the final hole of a golf match against a friend, you'll know what that stress means.  I guess that too was Brad's way of "dealing with" the pressure of tournament play. 

I am your typical Type A personality and I had 6 bypasses.  But I chalk that up more to heredity than my lifestyle; for now when I start feeling overstressed, I think of my friend's words and Brad Faxon and it makes me laugh and reminds me that I need to resume my practicing of "not caring".  

"Dealing with it" takes many forms, you just have to figure out which is the best way for you.  It's the NOT "dealing with it" that's the problem for many; it's not something we teach in school; but maybe we should.  Thing is, we wouldn't understand it until it happened to us on a personal level. 

BTW ... My putting is so much better now too ... and I'm currently boasting a 4.7 handicap index ... :)  I find that no one cares but me if I miss a putt ... just as long as I don't crab about it and make their golf day a bad one ... :)  And when I stand over that 2 footer on the last hole to win the match ... I stand back, take a deep breath, and just don't care ... :)  It's not as easy as it sounds ... :)  But surprisingly, for some reason, your end results and performance seem to improve. 

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