How to Reduce Stress and Overcome Anxiety as a Software Developer

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Updated: 04 August, 2023

I can only code no more than 2 hours a day, laying in my bed and with a video playing in the background so I don’t feel lonely!

That was a typical day in my life 5 years ago.

I was having panic attacks a few times a day, constantly trembling, having migraines, being dizzy, and being locked in a perpetual state of intense fear every day, every hour, every waking moment. Even sleep wasn’t an escape, I was waking up with panic attacks every other night.

Anxiety was taking a toll on me and I didn’t even know what it was at the time. I thought I was dying after googling my symptoms…

Looking through the window of a car

How did I get there?

There wasn't just one cause that contributed to intense anxiety and burnout! It was a combination of many other stress factors like:

  • Unrealistic deadlines and underpaid work.
  • Having FOMO(fear of missing out) and chasing the best framework/language/practices/design, etc.
  • Being a perfectionist, trying to write the perfect code and spending way too much time on other unimportant things!
  • Constantly worry about my job and if I will have enough money to live by next month.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns due to irregular work schedules and late-night work.
  • Neglecting to spend time on other important things like family, friends and hobbies.
  • Not being aware of the signs of anxiety and not knowing how to prevent/deal with stress, burnout, loneliness, anger and other emotions I was dealing with at the time.

There were probably many other factors that may have also contributed to my intense state of anxiety. However, I didn't need to identify all of them in order to start healing.

My life was about to change!

I was very lucky to come across a YouTube video that talked about anxiety and how it manifested. That was the day I decided to start my healing journey and overcome anxiety once and for all.

By implementing small, positive changes in my daily routine, I created a snowball effect that improved my overall well-being in the coming weeks, months and years.

I did meditations, yoga, therapy, affirmations, exercising, read psychology books, began spirituality practices, went on a few silent retreats, reframed past traumas and everything in between you can think of.

After many months and years of commitment and hard work, I can confidently say that I became a better husband, a better entrepreneur, a better friend and a better Software Developer because of the lessons anxiety taught me. I am no longer stuck in a constant state of fear.

Since then, I became a nomad and started traveling across the world, living the life I dreamed of since I was a kid. I found the love of my life, got certified and scuba-dived with manta rays and turtles on remote islands, did a road trip on the motorcycle with my wife across Bali, hiked volcanos, and currently hopping between islands in South-East Asia.

All of this is thanks to the lessons Anxiety taught me during the most challenging times in my life. It wasn’t an easy road, I had to do a lot of things out of my comfort zone, but it was worth it!

Getting certified as an SSI Open Water Diver

Getting certified as an SSI Open Water Diver

I realized I was not alone!

After I became aware of Anxiety and how it's manifested, I started to hear a lot of Developers sharing their similar struggles: constantly burning out because of unrealistic deadlines and too much work, dealing with imposter syndrome, being perfectionists, trying to write the perfect code, the constant struggle of not being able to keep up with the industry due to the fast-changing pace (FOMO), worrying about job security and so on…

There are some external factors here at play for sure and while we can try to wait for things to change for the better, it’s better to change our mindset and how we react to these events.

How to overcome anxiety?

While there are a lot of things you can try to do to overcome anxiety, reduce your stress at work and also prevent burnout, you don't have to try everything in hopes to change your life in one day. Oftentimes, less is more!

So, I would recommend starting to incorporate small things that don't take too much effort and time. These are some things that helped me that I recommend:

  • Practice mindfulness. Starting a meditation practice is a good start. Start with daily 1 min meditations in the morning. I recommend using a mediation app like Headspace - 30 days Free Pass, Waking Up - 30 days Free Pass or anything that works for you! YouTube is also a great place.
  • Lower your caffeine/alcohol intake and replace it with tea instead. Green teas are known for their calming properties due to containing a chemical called L-Theanine. Here are a few of my favorite teas: chamomile, moringa, rooibos, rishi and mint.
  • Exercising for 5-15 minutes after work. Don't overdo it, find your pace first. I have been doing the Hybrid Calisthenics Routine for a few years and I highly recommend it! It helps me to reset after work and enjoy my evenings with my wife.
  • Set boundaries if necessary with your boss/co-workers/co-founders and make it clear that you prioritize other things in your life too, not just money! Spending quality time with your family and loved ones are always more important than making sure that bug/feature is fixed by tomorrow! Set priorities and stick to them!
  • Take regular breaks during work even if you don't think you need them! Don't manage burnout, prevent it! I use an app called Flow for Mac, but any Po­mo­­doro timer will work too. Just make sure you actually use it!
  • If you are going through really challenging times, get a therapist. If you can't afford one, try Woebot Chat App. It introduced me to CBT which helped me to handle anxiety a lot better. I also felt heard, even if I was just talking with a Chat Bot.
  • After work, engage in soothing activities such as walking in nature while listening to an audiobook (not work related), etc. and avoid highly stimulating activities such as Gaming, Watching action movies/tv-shows, social media, etc.
  • Avoid using your phone/laptop/gadgets 1 hour after waking up and 1-2 hours before sleep. Blue light has been found to influence our circadian rhythm which affects your sleep which in turn makes you wake up anxious and unrested. Read a book, journal, meditate or do yoga(Wind Down Yoga | 12-Minute Bedtime Yoga). Any boring activity will do!
  • Keep your notifications in check. I use Apple Focus feature to set my work hours on my iPhone which syncs with my MacBook and makes sure I don't get buzzed out in the morning and evening when work is done. I use the same feature for limiting my notifications during work time so I don't get distracted too much by friends and family. There is a similar feature on Android I believe.
  • Listen to relaxing music/ambient noise during work in order to get into the Flow state easier. I personally alternate between Apple Background Sounds and freeCodeCamp Radio during work.
  • Educate yourself about mental health! The right knowledge will ease a lot of the anxiety and stress as you will become more confident that there is a way out! There are great books available that I recommend(Emotional Intelligence, The Body Keeps the Score, Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Mindbody Prescription, The 4-Hour Workweek).

Honestly, I could go on forever on changes that I did and still do to this day that helped me to overcome anxiety and prevent me from going back to the state I was in a few years ago!

However, as I said, you don't need to implement everything that's mentioned as it will just create more anxiety and keep you from actually healing. Pick a few suggestions(1-3) that you like and start adding them to your daily routine. Let the process become natural, rather than be forced!

📧 You can also share your story or the challenges you're facing by emailing me at: me@andreizgirvaci.com

I would be pleased to listen and offer at least one piece of advice that might help you in your current situation. You don't have to face anxiety alone!

Overlooking mountains after a hike stop

Fagaras Mountains, Romania

What else can you do?

After overcoming anxiety, I got inspired to start The Anxious Developer Podcast:

There I started sharing my knowledge on how to reduce stress, becoming more present and productive as a Developer. I also started a blog and wrote a few articles on this topic too:

A lot of the advice I shared in the podcast and my blog were things that worked for me. I was very pleased to hear from some of my listeners/readers that I managed to inspire them and also teach them ways to reduce their stress.

Here are just a few messages I received from my listeners/readers:

👩🏻 “I’m really enjoying learning how to calmly and effectively approach programming work in a way that reduces anxiety and burnout. I am happy to know I’m not alone. Thanks for sharing your learnings!”

🧔🏻‍♂️ “Even though I haven't had panic or anxiety attacks, it's so valuable to be prepared and know how to deal with it. Thanks Andrei for sharing your experience.”

👨🏾 “You are so inspiring. You are helping change our mindset. Thank you.”

While the podcast and blog were helpful and valuable to some Developers, they lacked a simple structure that will guide Developers on how to overcome Anxiety. That's what motivated me to start something that I am super excited to share with all of you!

What's next?

Today, I am excited to announce my 4-week daily guided program, The Anxious Developer Program!

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💡 I want to make it clear that you don't have to buy my program in order to overcome anxiety! There are a lot of resources all over the internet on how to deal with stress, burnout, anxiety, etc. I also included some of my personal suggestions above which helped me along my healing journey. You can also work together with a therapist on the problems you are facing and you might find it's enough. I did all of them, but also I did a few programs that were focused on anxiety and other underlying issues which gave me additional information and tools that I didn't practice with my therapist, but were essential in me overcoming anxiety.

I wanted to pack all my learnings, practices, tools and resources into one program so I can make it easier for Developers to get them on their healing journey faster! And that's how I came up with the idea to make The Anxious Developer Program.

The Anxious Developer Program is aimed for over 4 weeks, to guide you through weekly videos and daily tasks aimed at identifying the root cause of your anxiety and providing you with effective tools and techniques on how to overcome your anxiety as a Software Developer!

While the program is not yet ready as I am working on some final touches as I want to make sure it will benefit you the most, I want to make sure that you will be the first to know when it launches!

📥 You can join our waitlist now, to be the first one to know when the pre-sale begins, get a special discount and receive weekly issues on how to reduce stress and overcome anxiety as a Software Developer!

The program is expected to be priced at around $150, possibly slightly higher. But there will be a considerable reduction in cost during the pre-sale period. While I do not have an exact figure yet, I anticipate it being somewhere in the range of $75-90.

I am so excited to launch this program as I know many Developers are struggling with Anxiety right now and how challenging it is. I have been there and I believe you can overcome it if you are ready to take the necessary steps towards it!

Standing on a hill with my arms wide open

Bukit Holbung, Indonesia

When?

I'll be sharing much more about this program in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, make sure to join our waitlist so you can stay updated with the latest news about the program!

You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter where I will also post news about the program!

Thanks so much for following and talk to you soon! ❤️

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