Category: Healthy Living

Most Software Programmer Are on The Verge to Burnout

Published:07 Mar, 2017     By: Salan Khalkho     13 min read

Burnout is not just a state of mind but is a condition that leaves its mark on the brain and on the body as whole. Being tired and lacking engagement in your work is no fun, but the risks of burnout run even deeper.

burnout is a condition whereby brain starts to associate work with faliure


Burnout is more common among software programmers than professionals from other fields.

Experts have no definite answer to this.

But a common consensus among experts is that when you repeatedly make large amount of sacrifices in order to direct all your effort and time into high-risk problems that fails. Over time, this conditions brain into associating work with failure.

Arianna Huffington once said that burnout can get the better of you even when you have great passion for your work.

She had experienced it first hand when she almost lost an eye from burnout. She was so tired working out that she passed out, hitting her face on her desk.

She broke her cheek bone and had to get four stitches on her eye.

    This made her re-think about her life and she realized that there is no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance. According to her performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving.

      It is common for anyone to experience tiredness after a long days work or feel the urge to go on a vacation after working on a new project for several months in row. But sometimes people experience constant tiredness all the time.

      In most cases it can be cured by taking a leave for a day or two. However, if the symptoms of tiredness persist, it could be the symptom of burnout.

      The term "burnout" was introduced by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger in 1970's. He used the analogy of a burnt-out house to explain the concept of burnout.

      He said that burntout person may be alright from outside, but from inside, he seems as if all his resources are consumed by the fire, leaving great emptiness inside.

      Characteristic of a burnout person

      Studies suggest that burnout can be explained in three parts.

      • Exhaustion
      • Cynicism
      • Inefficacy

      Exhaustion from burnout

      Burnout person may find himself getting easily upset over things that don't matter much. He or she may also find it difficult sleeping, get sick often and may struggle to concentrate.


      This is sometimes also referred as depersonalization. People undergoing burnout feel alienated from other people they work with. They also lack engagement in their work.


      They stop believing in their abilities to perform their job well. This leads to decrease in productivity and what they have previously being achieving.

        Recognize burnout before it starts

        Signs and symptoms of burnout - Recognize burnout before it starts

        When people start to become disengage with their work and feel general sense of apathy, that the precursor to burnout popularly called brownout.

        This is just a caution zone since the person experience burnout is not yet in an all-out crisis. Though they may be experiencing disengagement, yet they may still be performing at their highest level.

        One thing is common among people who experience burn out. They know the value of working and constantly push themselves, often beyond limits on a regular basis. But there is a limit to how much one can achieve.

          If you have been doing this, you may be close to burnout.

          Recognizing burnout before it starts is the best strategy to avoid burnout before it reaches problem stage.

          Health problems

          Burnout has massive and negative impact on your health (both mental and physical health). If you experience back pain, depression, obesity, heart disease or you are just getting sick too often, you need to slow down. Burnout is affecting your health. You have to decide now whether your approach towards your work is worth the consequence.

          Cognitive difficulty

          Studies have found that stress affect prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for executive function. It can impair your of your decision making abilities, memory, emotional control and focus. You will notice that you are making silly mistakes, forgetting important things and having outburst of emotions. You may also find yourself making poor decisions. You are most likely burning out.

          Personal relationship

          Work stress will spill over everything. It will specially reflect how you interact with people. If you are able to keep your stress under control at office, it can show its ugly side at home. You may often lose your cool and get involved in silly and unnecessary stress. Many people even start to avoid people they love to avoid conflict.

            You have started taking work home

            If you can't stop thinking about work even at home, it's a strong sign that you are burning out.


            If you continuously feel exhausted and don't feel recharged even after taking good amount of rest, you are burning out. The hallmark of burnout fatigue is waking up with no energy after a good night's sleep.

            burnout happens due to working too hard for too long

            What causes burnout?

            It is a common belief that burnout happens due to working too hard for too long. This is only true to an extent. The real reason for burnout is when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition and relaxation.

            According to Christina Maslach, a professor from the University of California, there are six components of workplace environment that can cause burnout:

            • Workload
            • Control
            • Reward
            • Community
            • Fairness
            • Values

            Burnout results when one or more of these components of workplace don't match the expectation. About 2.7 million workers in Germany reported feeling of symptoms of burnout in a research by Gallop. In another survey that was conducted among HR directors in the UK, about 30 percent directors believed that there is widespread burnout in their companies.

            Risk of burnout is real

            Feeling tired all the day, not willing to go to work, lost interest in work, lack engagement in work is no fun by any means. It significantly cuts down productivity and renders the person useless at least temporary.

            The chronic psychosocial stress that is commonly found in people suffering burnout, impaiers their personal and social functioning. They cognitive skills and their neuroendocrine system become overwhelmed. If burnout is not treated sooner, it can take a toll on their memory, attention and may even create emotional problems.

            In one study, accelerated thinning of the brain's cortex was observed. This is essentially important for healthy cognitive functioning. Usually this section of the brain thins as part of the natural aging process. However, this thinning effect was found to be more pronounced even in people who experience burnout.

            Another study that studied approximately 90,000 workers found that burnout significantly increases the risk of coronary heart diseases.

            Burnout is more common in programmers

            People from all industry experience burnout. But burnout is more common among software programmers than professionals from other fields. Here are some possible reasons why burn out is more common among IT professionals.

            Sitting long hours at desk - Physically sitting for long hours at desk, day-in-and-day-out can make you feel lethargic. This is not a healthy habit and can lead to other bad habits such as unhealthy snacking, indulging in stimulants. Programming profession may also keep you awake late in the night etc.

              Highly cognitive intensive and stressful job - The programming job itself is highly cognitive intensive and stressful. The mental fatigue caused may take a toll on your healthy mind and body.

              Programming may be soul sucking job for many - If you find programming job to be soul-sucking and unrewarding, you may be close to burnout. You should take time off and do something that you would like to work on purely based on your interest or just for entertainment.

              How to conquer burnout?

              If you observe the symptoms of burnout, you don't have to worry. These are just the symptoms and usually don't have long term implication. Conquering burnout is as simply taking self-care. You need to take steps to separate yourself from your work, so that you can take rest and recharge. This will help you achieve more or long run and stay healthy.

              Here are some steps you can follow to fight burnout:


              Making yourself available to work round the clock exposes to a constant barrage of stressors that prevent you from refocusing and recharging. Keep your weekends entirely for resting and having fun. Indulge in activities that you love doing such as playing, driving etc. You can keep aside an hour in the afternoon to check and respond to emails. But it should be pretty much that's it.

              Pay close attention to your body signals

              It's easy to think that a headache may be due to dehydration or your stomach is upset because you ate something. But often these could be the signals that your body is giving about burnout.

              Set time for relaxing

              Relaxing is just as important as working hard. You should schedule time to relax. For example if you love reading, schedule time for reading. Scheduling time for relaxing will give you something to look forward to.

              Stay away from sleeping pills

              Sedatives greatly disrupts your brain's natural sleep process. Anything that interferes with the brain's natural sleep process has dire consequences for the quality of your sleep, and you need adequate, quality sleep to avoid burnout.

              Take a regular break throughout the day

              Physiologically we perform best in spurts of an hour. Experts recommend that you take at least 15 minutes break every hour. Don't wait till you feel tired to take a break. By then it could be too late.

              Burnout current trend

              Burnout itself is a new concept and so there is still lack of proper definition. The exact figures on a nationwide scale are rare. But burnout symptoms are well recognized. According to a survey of the American Psychological Association, almost two thirds say that they suffer high levels of stress in combination with extreme fatigue. The survey was conducted across all industries in North America.

              women reported higher level of job burnout than the men

              Women in STEM are more likely to experience burnout

              According to a study published in the Times Higher Education, women working in the university science department have reported higher gob-related burnout than men. The research also observed that women leave profession at an earlier career stage and at a faster rate than men.

              A study conducted at the University of North Dakota, surveyed 117 people working in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) department at a research intensive universities in the US.

              About 30 percent of the people surveyed were women. The survey found that women reported higher level of job burnout than the men. The experts assume that this is because women faculty in STEM face increased pressure to seek external grants and to live up to the expectations. There are other pressure also such as isolation, tokenism and lack of support. The study also suggested that when women move from academia to other careers, they don't feel burnout.

              Burnout in technology

              Burnout for developers is common. Programming is a highly cognitively intensive job. Developers spend most part of their day sitting at their desk performing intellectually taxing job. To deal with burnout many professionals take 3 months break, some take two years break while few other entirely change their careers. Many developers spend their days working on fixing bugs (problems) that come up in code. It can get boring, tedious and over time may not provide enough of a challenge. With hours piling up and the work itself not changing, boredom turns to disengagement. This subsequently leads to burnout.

              There are only few employees who gather strength enough to speak up that they are having problem. While rest of the lot struggling with the problem, find it difficult time discussing about whats going on with themselves emotionally. Moreover there is also stigma involved with any sort of mental disability, which keeps lot of people stay silent on their struggle.

              No matter how much they love their job or how much they believe in the company, they will eventually find themselves in a catatonic burnout haze.

              Bouncing back from burnout

              Bouncing back from burnout can be more complex than it may sound. It is not just about reducing your workload or making it easier to manage, or delegating or just saying "no" more often or analyzing what's making you stressed and working it out. Burnout out is not just about workload, but is also about workload stress. That means if you have to overcome burnout, you will need to find ways to relax and spend quality time to enjoy and appreciate your life. It's about living life to the fullest.

              Three ways to bounce back from burnout

              Till here it's clear that if you have to bounce back from burnout, you will need to spend quality time on yourself. The question is how you are going to do this. Here are three things you can do to bounce back.

              • Spend time in doing things that you really enjoy
              • Focus on your daily care
              • Pickup something new

              Spend time in doing things that you really enjoy to bounce back from burnout Experts believe that burnout is caused by things that are simple and easy to fix. For example your feeling of resentment toward your job. In many occasions, resentment stems out when work makes people miss things that are really important to them. This resentment can lead to burnout.

              You can avoid resentment to cause burnout by acknowledging what you really care about most and then schedule time for those activities. Kent Nguyen, in his blog confesses that he started to feel burnout when he was overburdened with managerial responsibilities and couldn't spend a time writing code which was his passion.

              Focus on your daily care

              Daily hustle and bustle of life can make you easily forget about looking after yourself. When you have too much on your plate, you are stressed out; the last thing that will cross your mind is to care for yourself. Experts suggest that you should make sure you are eating right, staying hydrated, exercising and getting plenty of sleep to avoid burnout. Here are some of the things you can do to take care of yourself.

              Eat well

              Eat whatever you love eating. Just make sure whatever you eat is healthy. If your day is filled with unhealthy food, start to make small healthy changes such as drinking water over soda and including more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Eating regularly and not missing your breakfast. These are basic healthy-eating habits, but will take you a long way.

              Sleep well

              Sleep like a baby and you will be more productive and energetic the next day. There are many things you can do to create a better sleeping environment and wake up more refreshed. For example you can reduce blue-light exposure at least half an hour before you go to sleep. You can install flux on your computer's display.

              Don't overwork

              Overwork in short run may make you appear more productive, but in longer run, you will observe our productivity decline, regardless of the amount of hours you put into your work. It's impossible to stay productive at a highly cognitively intensive job such as programming long-term, with a long number of working hours every day.

              Take break every half an hour

              Since programming is a highly cognitively intensive job, you should take a 5 minutes break every half an hour to remain productive. You should spend this 5 minutes away from your computer monitor. For example you can take brisk walk or do a quick push-ups.

              Stay fit and active

              If you haven't taken gym membership, that shouldn't be an excuse for not exercising. There are simple things you can do to stay active, for example you can choose stairs over elevator or reach to your workplace cycling. There are many other ways you can incorporate things in your daily life to stay fit and active.

              Pickup something new

              Well, this might sound counterintuitive to pickup something new when you already have enough on your plate. James Sudakow, author of Picking the Low Hanging Fruit: And Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World, explains in his book that he had a hectic schedule and was headed to burnout.

              He added piano lessons to his already overburdened schedule. He adjusted his daily schedule to include 30 minutes of piano class per week and one hour of practice session every day. This was 6 hours of additional commitment to already overburdened schedule.

              This actually did work. His additional commitment helped him stave off burnout. He suggest to choose something that will help you rejuvenate your energy. Playing piano in the night helped him feel better and sleep. He also started feeling more fresh and relaxed in the morning when he wakes up.

              Take away

              When you are already running from deadline to deadline, finding more time for something that you enjoy may seem blasphemy. You may start with taking care of yourself by focusing on getting quality sleep, eating well and aiming to get little extra exercise every day. These teeny tiny things will help you avoid the worst of burnout while you get back on track.

              Important Note: Medical and health related information given in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This article is intended for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.

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