How to Deal with Stress and Anxiety When Learning to Code

In today’s article I’m going to talk about how to deal with stress and anxiety on your journey to become a software developer.

A lot of you guys getting started in this field you are doing everything you can. You’re working nights and weekends. And you also have a full-time job and a family.

And dealing with this new lifestyle where you’re working a ton. Where you’re trying to learn the skill that’s very difficult to learn.

You will probably be experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety.

So, how do you manage that?

Well, I’m going to share my experience because I’m not a doctor and I can’t tell you that this is the best way to do it.

But I’ve certainly experienced my own levels of stress and anxiety at different periods.

And so, I’m going to share with you what I’ve found to work.

If you’re new here, I’m Peter Mukundi. I coach and mentor people who are looking to become software developers.

I help teach them the skills. I help give them a system for landing that first job.

So, I would highly recommend checking out my blog from time to time if you want more content that’s similar to that.

So, let’s just get into it.

So, what does it mean to have stress and anxiety?

Well, for a lot of guys who are working towards this goal of becoming a software developer. Whether you’re doing on your own or you’re going to school.

You’re putting in a lot of time and effort but there’s a lot of uncertainty.

So, you don’t know necessarily right now if your efforts that you’re expending are going to equal the result.

So, maybe you’re sacrificing time away from friends and family and it can cause a ton of stress and anxiety.

For me, I always experience a lot of stress in 2 main ways.

Number one is expectations. So, whenever I’m having perfectionist tendencies and expectations that are so high, it causes me a lot of stress because there’s no way I can make progress quickly with this.

My progress becomes very slow and incremental. And so, for a person like me, who is a perfectionist, it’s never quite good enough.

Even if I have some sort of breakthrough today, tomorrow I’m going to be back to the monotonous routine of working through an application.

Or working through one of my learning resources.

And that can cause a ton of stress and anxiety if I don’t manage that.

The other part of stress and anxiety that’s a big one for me is working too much. This means I could be working too much in a day.

It can mean not taking breaks in between my work periods. Not following my Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes break).

It can also mean a prolonged period of time, maybe a month where I’m just working too much. Say, 70 to 80 hours per week.

And this causes a ton of stress and anxiety because I don’t have time away from the computer.

So, for me those were always the biggest ones. Now let me tell you what I have done to help deal with the problem of stress and anxiety.

Monitor your emotions

Number one, I monitor the hell out of my emotions now. The best thing you can take away from this article is that when you’re sitting there on the computer.

And you’re working. But then you begin to feel the emotion or the negative emotion then, it’s already time to step away.

So, if you are working through one of your apps. You’re building one of your applications, say for your portfolio. And you’re frustrated because this thing isn’t working.

Which happens all the time!

And you’ve reviewed every line of code but nothing is making sense. And you reach that point where you’re tensing up, you’re grinding your teeth and you’re ready to punch a wall.

Then, it’s already too late.

At that point you need to step away from the computer. Whether that’s 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour or for the rest of the day.

I don’t know exactly how much time you need but the point is you have to monitor your emotions constantly.

It’s not enough to not be aware of your emotions with this because there are so many times in my own experience where I thought in my head that I can just go through any problem.

That I can just sit there and the more frustrated I get, I assumed that I could just keep on pushing and pushing.

But the truth is that the negative emotion of frustration, of anger and of anything just makes the situation worse.

The truth is you don’t become a better problem solver when you’re frustrated. You actually become less better

So, the key takeaway is monitoring your emotions and as soon as you start to feel those tinges of anxiety, stress and negativity.

Take a step back. Maybe you need to just do some meditation. Maybe you need to go for a walk outside and spend some time in nature.

Maybe you need to go socialize.

But be hyper aware of that and don’t let yourself get to the point where you’re frustrated and end up losing a lot of time doing that.

Understanding your effort “sweet spot”

The next thing that has really worked for me is understanding the sweet spot for effort. And what I mean by this is that with software development specifically there is a certain amount of mental strain.

Where you’re just like, “I’m going to try to figure this out”.

There’s a certain amount of that that is actually counterproductive.

So, if you push yourself too hard and you’re trying like so hard to figure things out, it just doesn’t work. And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum.

You need to have a certain amount of stimulation.

Some amount of motivation.

And sort of like mental concentration to actually make you learn more and progress through something that you’re working on.

So, you really have to understand that sweet spot for yourself and it’s only going to come from testing those boundaries.

I would say it’s like a car’s engine, like the RPMs on a car’s engine.

You want to get as close as you can. You want to rev that engine as much as you can without red lining it because when you red line it, the engine will explode.

The same thing with working hard. When you’re spending a lot of hours and you’re in that intense work mode.

The problem with that is that if you’re going so hard for so long you will burn out.

Like, instead of the engine exploding, you will basically get to the point where you feel like empty!

And I’ve had this experience many times where I wake up in the morning but I just can’t do the work.

Like there’s something missing with my mind. And so, I’ll have to take a day or two offs.

In the worst cases I’ve had to take months off. At one point I tried to start a company but ended up failing because I got burnt out at the end.

And I had to take two months off because I was working 12 hours a day on the weekends. And I was also working during the week for my regular 9 to 5 job.

I had to be working for at least 80 hours a week for the peak periods. And it was just too much that I ended up burning out.

So, know your sweet spot and try to always stay within that.

And the only way you can do that is by testing it.

Try going really hard.

Try pulling it back a little bit

But find that sweet spot and be very good about staying in there.

Revisit why you’re doing this   

Another thing for me that has been very helpful is just revisiting why I’m doing this. Which is something you forget over time.

A lot of you guys out there are sacrificing a lot of your time and you’re doing this for good reason. Maybe you want to make more money. There’s a big driver for a lot of you guys.

Or you want to improve your life situation and have a career that’s strong and secure. Or you just want to get in a career that you love. Where you’re doing something, you love.

Those are all great reasons but if you boiled it down to what that essentially is, it’s you want to have a better life. You want to be happy. You want to be content and more peaceful.

The mistake I’ve done in the past is I’ve traded unhappiness in the moment. Where am like, for the next 6 months am going to work really hard.

I’m going to be unhappy as I possibly can because if I do that for 6 months.

If I grind through everything and work for those 12 hours a day that at the end, I’ll come out with some sort of result that will then make me happy.

It’s sort of like a loop that you think is going to make sense.

Something like.

If I’m miserable, I’m going to grind through all this stuff then I’ll get the result and then I’ll be able to be happy.

But the truth is that it doesn’t work that way.

Instead, the quality of your work goes down because you’re not happy. And you’re less likely to sustain this long term.

And as you know to be successful in anything you really have to focus on the long term.

You can’t be just a couple weeks of hyper intense focus. With that approach you’re less likely to succeed.

Even if you can persevere through all the crap that you’re putting yourself through. And you get the result.

Guess what happens?

There’s a moment like momentary elation but then you go back to this state that you were in before. Which is you being miserable.

So, make the means justify the ends.

Enjoy the process.

It doesn’t have to be this thing where you’re sitting yourself down in a chair and like tying yourself to the chair to force yourself to do it.

Instead, find ways to make it more enjoyable.

Build up your strength and stamina to work long periods of time but beyond that don’t make yourself miserable to do this.

It never works!

Cut back on stimulants

And the last thing is a little esoteric but it’s very personal to me and that is cut back on the stimulants.

So, to me I’m pretty sensitive to stimulants and despite that fact I’m still a coffee drinker. Right now, I’m like on and off every couple month.

But I will tell you this, for me personally I’ve noticed that when I’m at periods where I’m drinking more caffeine and coffee.

The anxiety and the stress come back very quickly.

And no matter how many times I’ve seen it happen I still somehow talk myself back into drinking caffeine and coffee.

And then I get to the point where like the stress and anxiety come back and I quit.

I know we all have different level of sensitivities so take this with a grain of salt. But for me I’m a little bit more sensitive that the average person so I definitely need to be careful.

For a lot of you guys just monitor your caffeine levels.

If you notice that you’re drinking more caffeine and also there’s a correlation that you notice you’re also feeling more stress and anxiety.

Maybe it’s time to reduce it and see how you feel.

Little things like this they can matter quite a bit. And people don’t realize what the effects of stimulants have.

And that could be anything by the way.

It could be caffeine and other legal stimulants that people are prescribed to use.

So, take a look at that as well and see what other stimulants that you’re taking that could be affecting your anxiety.

These are all things that I’ve dealt with in my journey to become a software developer and I hope this article gives you a better sense of how you can deal with stress and anxiety when learning to code.

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