Avoid tech burnout: 5 ways to disconnect and relieve stress

If simple self-care isn't recharging your batteries, look for ways to create more long-term improvements in your work life and mental outlook.

Avoid tech burnout: 5 ways to disconnect and relieve stress
Ryan McGuire / Gratisography (CC0)

Here’s one of the things I do when I’m stressed about a tech challenge or a work-related problem, from my new book, Digital Trailblazer.

Walks help clear my mind, but I seek a bowl of Japanese noodle soup when things get really bad. I still have a soft spot for nabeyaki udon, which I first tasted after interviewing for my first role out of graduate school on Long Island. A piping hot rich broth, shrimp tempura, fish cakes, veggies, an egg, and udon fills the body and comforts the soul. 

Leading agile teams, driving transformation, fixing complex defects, and resolving major Priority 1 (P1) incidents can be stressful. You put your heart and soul into your work, and business stakeholders pressure you to do more, faster and better.

Work too hard or let stress consume your well-being, and it’s easy to burn out. I know, and I’ve written from experience about what to do when your career hits rock bottom. I also share many of my own stressful moments in Digital Trailblazer.

Burnout is a serious problem for anyone, and maintaining mental health can be challenging for technology and security professionals. In the State of Burnout in Tech 2022 report, 42% of tech employees are working with a high risk of burnout, and 62% feel physically and emotionally drained. Those numbers are worse for security professionals; in the 2022 Voice of Secops survey, 91% report feeling stress in their roles, and 46% know at least one person who has quit because of it.   

Please consider burnout and medical health seriously. Signs of burnout include being cynical at work, impatient with coworkers, or finding it hard to concentrate. Burnout, depression, and anxiety are just a handful of mental health issues. Please seek help if you are struggling.

Now is always a good time to reflect and take steps to relieve your stress. Here are some ideas to consider.

Disconnect from work and devote time to your passion

Jagdish Chugani, chief people officer at Appfire, says, “When burnout occurs and physical and mental resources are depleted, the best solution is to simply disconnect yourself from the work environment.”

Chugani recommends pursuing activities and hobbies outside work, such as “taking a walk, playing an instrument, or reading a chapter or two of a book.”

Even if you are under a deadline or feeling pressured to get more work done, overtaxing yourself is often not the answer. Chugani continues, “Powering through a burnout phase can significantly compromise the quality of your work and make you more unhappy in the long run. Recognizing the symptoms of burnout and recharging before they escalate is very important for developers. The best outcomes were never a result of someone being burnt out.”

My recommendation for passionate developers and security professionals is to block time in your calendar for yourself. On some days, you might use it to read or learn and other times to pursue a passion or hobby.   

Refocus through meditation and breathing exercises

Another way to destress is to create short mental pauses and breaks from your work. Your first impulse might be to grab a snack, join a watercooler conversation if you’re in the office, or check out what’s happening on your social media feeds. Activities like these may give you a break from the task at hand but are unlikely to help you destress or regain focus.

Frédéric Harper, director of developer relations at Mindee, has this recommendation, “Meditate a couple of minutes per day.” He continues, “The goal is not to stop thinking but to bring back your attention to an object or your breathing when your mind wanders. It does not need to be a lot—even five or 10 minutes per day will help make you feel better overall.”

Meditation, breathing, and other mindfulness exercises help many people maintain focus and step away from stress. Apps for meditation and breathing can help teach these practices.  

Develop checklists to prioritize and simplify incident management

I find many people suffer from work-related burnout because they are trying to do too many things at the same time. Multitasking or context switching between tasks is often inefficient, and not getting to work on the more critical or time-sensitive assignments on your plate builds up stress. 

Emily Arnott, community relations manager at Blameless, has a simple recommendation: “One way to manage possible burnout is through checklists.” I use checklists to set priorities. I have a scrum backlog that I review every Monday to set my week’s priorities, reducing stress during the week as I know what work I need to do.

Arnott recommends thinking of checklists more broadly, as a tool for resolving issues. “Checklists codify known methods of resolving issues and can be improved over time,” she says.

Arnott provides a common example for people working in network operation centers (NOCs) and security operation centers (SOCs) with the stressful responsibility of resolving major incidents. “Introducing checklists reduces errors by reducing stress in situations such as a Sev1 incident. Checklists reduce cognitive load because individuals don’t rely on memory alone when under stress.”

Foster communication between leaders and tech teams

Stress often stems from the interactions (or lack thereof) between teams, managers, and executives.

Do you feel supported at work with a strong understanding of how your contributions impact the business goals? If you are in a leadership or management role, how often do you communicate with your tech and security teams, and do they have the resources and tools to do their jobs effectively?

James Carder, CSO of LogRhythm, suggests that gaps in communication, resources, and other supports can lead to stress, especially for people in operations roles. “A lack of support at the executive level often leads to higher stress and turnover in tech-specific roles like cybersecurity due to insufficient budget and resources, leaving teams feeling powerless to protect their organization against a rising tide of risk,” he says.

Carder suggests that leaders must invest time to align with their teams. “Developing and maintaining a mutual understanding between tech teams and executives helps to ensure a successful program, prevents friction between departments and, ultimately, helps to alleviate stress and burnout.”

Developing relationships with hybrid work teams poses additional challenges, and leaders should find ways to connect with employees through stress-reducing and team bonding activities.

Seek “lifeops,” a life of purpose and health

Ronak Rahman, developer relations manager at Quali, suggests that every technologist should focus on their life’s mission. He says, “A life of purpose, fulfillment, and good health allows devops practitioners to refill their tanks, fueling their dedication and creativity in all aspects of their life.”

Defining long-term goals and a mission doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Rahman suggests finding activities that offer a personal focus. “Think of it like lifeops,” he says. “Things like swimming and yoga allow me to focus on just the activity and stop worrying about work. I also enjoy home repair because each situation is different and allows me time to joyfully problem solve.”

Biking, hiking, cooking, and taking long walks are my activities.

There are many rewards to a technology career, but no one says it is easy. Finding balance and recognizing when you need a break can help you reduce stress and avoid burnout.

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