14 ways to maintain your well-being as a software engineer
I am a self-taught developer with over 15 years of experience in the tech field.
Over the years, I’ve learned that your success as a developer depends on more than your ability to write code and debug programs.
Your overall well-being is essential.
Early on, I believed that “job stress” was just part of the developer’s lifestyle. Being a developer was fun and fulfilling. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work, you do work in front of a computer screen a lot, and it can be stressful.
But, if you want to do great work, you can’t sacrifice your well-being.
If you want to build a solid career as a programmer, you need to develop healthy habits. Because if you don’t, your productivity, mental acuity, mental health, and physical health will suffer, eroding your ability to do the work you love.
If you want to build a career, be successful at being a programmer, launch your freelance side-gig, or start the software company you’ve always dreamed about, you need to prioritize your mental and physical well-being.
In this article, I’ll discuss 14 ways to improve your health as a developer and debunk the popular myths of the hustle culture while giving you practical ways to achieve your well-being.
Hustle Culture isn’t healthy
Software development is competitive. However, there’s a difference between pushing yourself to be your very best and going too far, ruining your health and mental well-being.
By all means, work hard!
Hustling is good if it gets you the promotion ahead of others or helps you raise funds for your startup. Hustling is good if it keeps you motivated and supercharges your goals. But, if hustling affects your well-being as a software engineer, it is too large a price to pay for career growth.
Too often, we confuse the difference between hustling to finish a project or accomplish something with living life in a constant grind that wears us down, pulls us away from what is essential, and hurts our mental or emotional health.
Let go of the “hustle culture” and create a work environment that prioritizes your mental health and well-being as much as the company’s growth.
Sometimes this will require minor changes, like getting up from your desk more often or eating healthier. Other times, it will require major changes, like finding a new company or job that allows you to live a healthier lifestyle.
If you put work over your well-being, you’ll eventually pay the price. And, the longer you do it, the higher price there is to pay.
Sitting Is The New Smoking, Stand Up Every Few Minutes
Did you know that sitting at your desk without moving for long periods is as unhealthy as smoking?
Your muscles slowly atrophy, you gain weight, you lose cardiovascular stamina, and your health gradually deteriorates.
The simplest thing to avoid these problems is standing up after every 30-40 minutes.
Even better, take a 5-minute walk around the office. Walk to your co-worker’s place and have a chat, eat lunch outside your office, or walk around outside to get some fresh air - just walk.
If your team is small, you can consider replacing a few sit-in meetings with walking meetings.
If you work from home, walk around the block or down the street. Get up and do a few minutes of housework or do a few quick exercises on your office floor.
Walking increases the blood flow throughout your body and makes you feel better. It acts as a much-needed buffer to combat the ill effects of your sedentary routine, which helps you stay healthier and work more efficiently when you are at your desk.
Another study shows that walking 40 minutes three times a week makes you smarter .
There’s no reason for you not to walk. So, set a timer on your phone that reminds you to move every hour or so.
Keep Good Posture
Sitting at a desk for a long time affects your back, shoulders, arms, legs, and spine. So, posture is essential.
While you sit, ensure your feet are hip-width apart and flat on the floor and avoid crossing your knees or ankles. Moreover, you should keep your spine as straight as possible.
When it comes to typing, one of the healthy habits as a developer is to relax your shoulders while you type and keep your elbows in towards your ribs to form a 90-degree angle.
If you follow these steps, you will be sitting in an ideal posture.
If you can get one, work at a standing desk. You can then rotate sitting and standing to help you incorporate more movement into your daily routine.
Add Stretching Exercises To Your To-Do List
Even if you maintain good posture while sitting, tension starts building in your muscles due to prolonged physical inactivity.
To provide some relief, do stretching exercises during your breaks.
You can do full-body stretches at work without causing everyone in the office to stare at you.
Take ‘Real’ Breaks
For many of us, a “break” includes having a snack, listening to music, or surfing the web for a few minutes.
You are still at your desk, so it’s not a real break.
Get up from your desk, walk, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, relax, and practice stretching exercises- just make sure to award yourself a ‘real’ break.
You can also use chrome extensions like Break Timer to remind you to take breaks.
Your break should be the opposite of what you normally do. If you sit while you work, your break should inevitably involve getting up, stretching, and moving around.
Caffeine doesn’t solve those bugs. Drink more water instead.
All programmers love coffee, including myself. It’s basically a fact of life.
Coffee, tea, Coke-a-cola, or highly-caffeinated energy drinks help you stay awake while you finish the final pull request on Github. We’ve all been there, slamming back yet another cup of coffee or sugary drink to keep ourselves awake for the final push of a programming project.
Consuming too much caffeine is bad for your health.
Caffeine is addictive, which means that the more you drink, the more your body craves it. Many of us get into a continuing cycle of needing more and more caffeine just to function, increasing blood pressure, and introducing a host of potential health issues into our lives.
Do your best to limit or eliminate addictive substances from your life, replacing them with healthier, more natural substitutes.
The best thing to drink is water.
Dehydration is linked with all kinds of side effects like lack of focus, inability to concentrate, and even headaches.
Maybe what you need isn’t your 5th cup of coffee of the day but a nice glass of cold water.
Setup your work desk to be more productive
Because most developers spend most of their time on their desks, setting up an ergonomic work desk is the key to improving your well-being as a software engineer.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can begin with two essential things.
First, keep your monitor 20-40 inches away from you.
Second, buy a well-designed keyboard and mouse to help you maintain the correct posture and eliminate the stress on your shoulders, hands, and wrists.
If you place your keyboard and mouse to the side, you will have to twist your body more often, straining your torso and shoulders. It is best to keep your keyboard and mouse at the center so that you can type in a natural position with your shoulders relaxed.
Make sure to set your chair, desk, and all your accessories to maintain a natural and ergonomic posture as much as possible.
The 20/20/20 Rule Will Save Your Eyes.
Staring at your monitor for long hours causes eye fatigue.
And, as a programmer, you stare at monitors a lot. To be kind to your eyes, make sure to do two things; position your monitor far enough away and calibrate its brightness to reduce strain on your eyes. You can use f.flux , a free color adjusting tool, to manage your blue light exposure and eliminate excessive glare.
The 20/20/20 rule is simple. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away from your computer screen for 20 seconds. And to save your dry eyes, blink.
Moreover, if you wear glasses, update your prescription regularly.
Hitting the gym is hard, especially if you don’t know what you are doing.
It’s intimidating. You don’t know what to expect, and you fear doing something incorrectly. We’ve all seen the videos on social media. Who wants to be the target of the next viral gym video?
Getting a gym membership with a personal trainer to help you is great. But, nowadays, there are so many fitness trackers, digital apps, and internet-based programs you can get so much of the same support without going to a gym.
Sleep More And Eat Healthy
As programmers, we sometimes brag about how little sleep we get when we are in the middle of a project. ‘I was awake for two days, but I finally solved that bug.’ The stories of programmers staying up for days just to solve a problem, finish a project, or get something off the ground are a part of every tech startup.
Unfortunately, these stories are so common we feel like those need to be our stories.
But, this isn’t normal or healthy.
While it might be exciting to stay up for a couple of days to solve a problem, this isn’t a long-term solution.
Getting good rest will help you prevent many of the problems that force you to stay up all night to fix!
You’ll go farther and get more done by getting enough rest at night.
Getting back to your natural sleep cycle and getting enough rest will solve half of your fatigue, among other health issues.
You also need to fuel your body correctly. This means ditching fatty and fried food for healthier fruits and vegetables to improve mental and physical health and performance.
Kill the imposter syndrome
Comparing yourself to others makes you feel weaker, creates stress, and raises your anxiety.
When we compare ourselves to others, we start to question our skills and end up doubting our abilities, creating imposter syndrome. As a result, you work harder and try to achieve the impossible to prove you can keep up with others.
Stop comparing yourself with others and get off social media. Instead, focus on your work and give your best.
Instead, focus on your progression. Ultimately, your success lies not in being better than other people but in making sure the work you do today is better than the work you did yesterday.
Prioritize personally fulfilling goals over trying to outcompete or surpass someone else.
Share how you feel
Sitting in isolation and stressing over your problems has never helped anyone. The more you keep insecurities locked up, the larger and more imposing they tend to become.
If you are dealing with negative thoughts, self-image, anxiety, depression, or other things that impact your well-being, talk to someone.
Talk to a professional counselor or psychologist. Confide with a trusted friend, coworker, or family member, or seek spiritual guidance.
We are realizing the importance of mental health and the benefits to our jobs and communities that it makes.
More and more people are seeking professional help to help them improve their well-being. This help could come from talking to a counselor, getting medication to help a chemical imbalance in your brain, or developing strategies to improve your mental health.
Get the help you need.
Prioritize your social life.
We all know the stereotype of a developer or programmer. But, the socially awkward person who prefers computers over people, drinks sugary energy drinks to stay up all night, and covers their loneliness with video games isn’t real.
Thankfully, our society is beginning to realize this.
But, if you do struggle with loneliness, get off the computer and connect with people more.
Take up a new hobby, like table tennis, chess, or TTRPGs. Learning something new is invigorating, and going through that process with other people creates social bonds quickly.
Our world is increasingly interconnected, and we can form increasingly fulfilling relationships with people worldwide.
Or, maybe you need to get away from your desk and visit friends, go out to dinner with someone you love, or even connect with an old friend.
Don’t let work drown out real, fulfilling human connection.
One of the best things for your well-being is to get away from your computer and invest in valuable relationships.
When you return to your work, you’ll feel better, be more focused, and enjoy your work more.
Take Some me-time
Tight deadlines, a non-inclusive work environment, work stress, all these things feel heavier if you are not focusing on your mental health.
Taking some me-time is among the most important healthy habits as a developer.
Meditate for a few minutes in the morning, go cycling, and do that hike that has been on your bucket list.
Find what makes you feel naturally happy outside of writing computer code and take off some me-time to pamper yourself.
Before You Go…
I am not a health expert, but I am an experienced developer, and as someone who learned the hard way by doing things wrong for over a decade.
I know, maybe you are reading this on your twenties and you don’t believe me now, at that time I didn’t believe it either, and it’s not that I’m old, at the time of writing I’m 36 years old, but believe me that your body changes, and all the energy, power, and willingness to take over the world is not the same as you age.
But, how much impact aging has on your body and your mental health can at to a certain point (remember those genes as well) be controlled by our actions on the day to day.
Even if today you feel great and amazing going for a week on no sleep and coffee diet, it won’t be like that always, take care of your body and mind today, and be thankful tomorrow!
Thanks for reading!