Debugging Stress: A Tech Worker’s Guide to Protecting Mental Health

We’ve all been there: tired, overwhelmed, feeling like the walls are closing in.  In the tech industry, it’s not uncommon to find yourself working under pressure that can significantly up your stress levels.  Even if your job is usually stress-free, sometimes things don’t go as planned, and you can quickly find yourself facing extended work hours and tight deadlines.  Effective stress management is essential to maintaining your mental health and keeping yourself productive when the going gets tough–so, in this article, we’ll explore some stress-relief strategies for those working in the tech industry.

Recognize Stress Triggers

A annoyed-looking woman sitting at a table with an open laptop computer. She is glaring at something off-screen.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The first step in managing stress is to understand what’s causing it.  You may be feeling overwhelmed because of rapidly-approaching deadlines, complex problems that seem unsolvable, or a need to quickly understand a new technology or programming language in order to get the job done.  Identifying the root cause of stress will often help you come up with appropriate ways to handle that stress. 

Once you’ve identified the source, you can take steps to mitigate it: break down complex work into smaller, more manageable tasks, prioritize the tasks that have to get done first, and set realistic deadlines for work (realistic being the key word).  Software developers often strive for perfection, so it’s very important that you are setting realistic expectations for how much work you can accomplish in a given time period.  

If you’re feeling like you don’t have control over prioritizing work and setting deadlines, speak to your senior developer, team lead, manager, etc about how you’re feeling.  Open communication is a key part of healthy work environments, and letting your leadership know that you (and perhaps other team members, as well!) are struggling to keep up will give them some insight into what’s going on and allow them to find ways to help, such as pushing back deadlines, delegating tasks in a different way, or hiring temporary employees to distribute work more efficiently.

  • Use a schedule app or paper calendar to plan out manageable units of work to do each day 
  • Create to-do lists based on project tasks
  • Talk to your manager or a more senior employee about managing stress at work
  • Ask for help from peers or senior employees when working on complex tasks 
  • Beware of imposter syndrome

Make Time to Take Breaks

It may seem counterintuitive to take breaks when there’s a lot of work to be done, but don’t fall into the trap of overworking and stressing yourself out even more.  The average adult human sustained attention span is not very long, so if you find yourself struggling to stay on-task or tying yourself in mental knots trying more and more convoluted solutions, you need to take a break.  Continuing to focus on a problem for far longer than you should will only lead to more stress. 

Light exercise, like stretching, calisthenics, or a short walk, can be a good way to mentally and physically reset.  As we all learned from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy.  In addition to getting your circulation going and relieving physical discomfort from sitting at the computer for too long, taking a break to exercise can actually help you regain focus and improve your ability to concentrate.

  • Go for a short walk (even a walk around your office building counts) 
  • Look away from your computer to relieve eye strain 
  • Take a short catnap if you’re feeling very tired (set an alarm so that you don’t oversleep!) 
  • Leave your desk to get a drink and/or snack before moving on to a new task

Practice Self-Care & Maintain Work-Life Balance

When you’re stressed, it can be tempting to skip meals and replace sleep with energy drinks… but that’s not a good idea.  It’s very important to take care of yourself when you’re under stress: eat full meals at normal meal times, drink water to stay hydrated, and don’t stay sitting at your workstation for too long.  Do your best to avoid crutches like convenience food, alcohol, and recreational drugs, especially if you find yourself coming to rely on them for a “quick fix”–they will absolutely not benefit you in the long run.  You can also try adding meditation to your daily routine: techniques such as intentional breathing, guided visualization, and mindfulness meditation can help you stay in the moment, reduce anxiety, and develop a positive mindset.

It is also crucial to maintain some separation between your work and your personal life.  Establishing a clear boundary between work time and personal time puts you back in control of your own schedule and will help you to relax and not focus on work in your “off hours”.  If you work at home, leave your laptop in another room or put it away out of sight when you’re not working, and silence any work-related apps installed on your mobile phone.  

  • Do your best to eat foods with decent nutritional value, and not just convenience food that is quick and easy to eat 
  • Watch out for reliance on junk food, alcohol, caffeine, and recreational drugs–it can sneak up on your when you’re feeling stressed
  • Go to bed at the same time each night, and set an alarm to wake up at the same time each morning
  • Add meditation to your daily routine to reduce anxiety–you can use an app or free online videos to learn how 


It can be tough to keep up with the demands of a fast-paced work environment, which means that stress management is an important skill to have!  Tight deadlines and complex problems can easily lead to elevated stress levels, even in the chillest of workplaces.  Being able to break large tasks down into manageable steps, setting realistic expectations for work, and having open communication within a team can help us gain a sense of control over our work environment.  Taking care of ourselves and maintaining a separation between work and personal life also helps tech workers to stay resilient and prevent burnout and poor mental health.  When it comes to working in tech, stress-relief strategies are a necessary and proactive approach to being successful–so, do your best to stay calm, carry on, and… happy coding! 

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