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The psychology of stress and burnout (bbc.com)
318 points by pmcpinto on Nov 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 205 comments



It's all in your head, for better or worse.

Extreme sports or intense physical exertion have been key, for me, in dealing with daily stress.

And no, I'm not some superstar adrenaline pumped athlete, just an amateur that loves skydiving/paragliding/fast motorcycles/hiking/etc over the weekend.

I didn't realize how much these activities help me, until I had to take a break from them for whatever reason (e.g.: winter where it's cold enough that you can't do most sports, but with not enough snow to go skiing or something).

I could almost measure the effects: the longer the break, the lower the threshold for daily stress -- from feeling slightly irritated to almost angry over the simplest triggers, if enough time had passed.

Then I'd do one skydive and it would make all the difference in the world, whatever daily stressful thing would happen "in the real world" it just felt like it didn't register as dangerous/stressful in the brain.

My feeling is that you can raise your tolerance threshold for what counts as stress, you just have to find out what works for you.

I'm guessing it also has something to do with these activities being very focused, so you're kinda disconnected from what's happening in the world and just truly "in the moment".

Maybe that pause from stress is what does it?

Has anyone else had similar experiences?


Yes, exactly this. By increasing the regularity with which I exercise and engage in other non-IT pursuits, my ability to deal with bullshit at work has grown tremendously.

I think it boils down to this: The more you value your out-of-the-office life and the more enjoyment you gain from it, the less negative impact your job can have on your life. Of course that's dependent on having a job that permits you to have a life outside of work, being able to schedule regular out of work activities, and if not, finding the motivation to go do random stuff ad-hoc.

Now I visit a farm every week for ~30mins to see some animals, go ice skating regularly, gym regularly, and give my friends a break from parenting by taking their kids to the park to play.

When I stopped going to the gym regularly, when I started going to bars after work more, drinking more, and my life became more "sleep, work, drink, repeat", my mental state deteriorated, my ability to cope with bullshit at work reduced. Getting something resembling a routine of Good Things I Enjoy outside of work resulted in a near instant turnaround.

Thank you for posting this, I love reading other people having similar life experiences as myself, and I hope you feel the same from this too.


> By increasing the regularity with which I exercise and engage in other non-IT pursuits, my ability to deal with bullshit at work has grown tremendously.

Perfect summary.

> Of course that's dependent on having a job that permits you to have a life outside of work

It probably explains the increased demand for flexible hours.

Although a lot of employers view that as a signal that the employee is a slacker, when I'm actually incredibly more productive if I can just take a break randomly in the middle of the day, do Outside Stuff and continue later.

> Thank you for posting this, I love reading other people having similar life experiences as myself, and I hope you feel the same from this too.

Definitely feeling the same.

One thing I have noticed is that some activities raise that bullshit threshold waaay more than others, and I can't really understand why, it's definitely not because one is more pleasant than the other.

Have you noticed anything similar?


> It probably explains the increased demand for flexible hours.

Or desire to not have flexible hours, but go back to rigid 9-5 and to know you'll always be free after 5pm unless the business is burning down (rather than constantly on-call dealing with more bullshit every other day)

> One thing I have noticed is that some activities raise that bullshit threshold waaay more than others, and I can't really understand why, it's definitely not because one is more pleasant than the other.

Not sure if pleasant is the right word, but rather, internally rewarding.

Going to the gym is unpleasant, and whatever muscle group I've worked that day aches for days due to the intensity of the workout, but the end result (looking in the mirror) is hugely rewarding. Going to the farm isn't always very pleasant given the smell of animal droppings, but for some reason, by the time I leave the farm I'm feeling great. Ice skating is also gruelling, I fall a lot, I can't go more than 2-3 times a week as invariably I do something to damage my leg or ankle one of the days, but I still come out feeling great despite the pain.

Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, and have gone from being punished at work (high stress, high deliverables, high reward, followed by burnout) to similar outside of work.

Then again, I've discovered a love for musical theatre which is no pain but still huge gain (for me).


Video games and board games for me, especially strategy games or tricky action/puzzle games. On weeks where I don't play them I get a lot more irritable, and I pretty much completely forget the outside world while I'm playing them.

Walks in nature also do wonders for alleviating my mood. I've actually started taking outdoor walking breaks at work since the circumstances of this year lead to a lot less opportunity to walk out in nature than usual. This is also why I try not to work in a major city, because I need to see trees, grass, and hopefully flowing water on a regular basis.


> > Of course that's dependent on having a job that permits you to have a life outside of work

> It probably explains the increased demand for flexible hours.

> Although a lot of employers view that as a signal that the employee is a slacker, when I'm actually incredibly more productive if I can just take a break randomly in the middle of the day, do Outside Stuff and continue later

That's awesome when you can find that. More often I find that "flexible hours" means "if you're an early bird, you're on your own until we decide to meander in, and expect to hear from us about work at 8pm or 9pm at any point during the week."


>The more you value your out-of-the-office life and the more enjoyment you gain from it, the less negative impact your job can have on your life.

This 1000 times. There was nothing physically challenging about the work that burned me out. I wasn't starving to death, I could stop doing it at any time (in theory), and it would have been perfectly manageable for someone in a stronger mental state than me. It was the all consuming, this-work-is-my-life attitude that allowed it to become something so crippling.


I've found the same outlet in racing cars, soccer, and working out. I've actually told people before that I think the reason racing helps so much is that you are absolutely 100% focused on the task at hand when you're being the wheel, which means no work or personal stress at all for the time you're on the track.

Soccer is one of the few things I do that allows me to interact with people in a completely different professional field.

And working out gives me a sense of accomplishment completely divorced from my career, which I can carry with me all day in the way I feel physically.

All of these help provide context to my life (and reality), which I think helps me deal with stress at work. Another outlet my dad once suggested was reading fiction as a way to remind yourself there's more to the world than your world and to keep things in context.

Some ask how you have time for these activities with work. I ask how you can work without these activities.

Edit: Formatting and expansion.


I absolutely experienced that feeling when road racing motorcycles this past year. When you're on track, the only thing that occupies your mind is the next turn. I'd call it a poor man's meditation if it wasn't so damn expensive..


> I've actually told people before that I think the reason racing helps so much is that you are absolutely 100% focused on the task at hand when you're being the wheel, which means no work or personal stress at all for the time you're on the track.

That 100% focus is probably it then, you're basically relieved from stress for the duration because you don't have time to think about it like when you're "idle".

And the risk of crashing because of wandering thoughts is a pretty good motivator to be focused 100% :)

> And working out gives me a sense of accomplishment completely divorced from my career, which I can carry with me all day in the way I feel physically.

That feeling!

While actually doing it you might, or might not, actually enjoy it, but that whole feeling in your body after you're done... it truly feels like a really rewarding accomplishment.

> Another outlet my dad once suggested was reading fiction as a way to remind yourself there's more to the world than your world and to keep things in context.

It works, but I find that fades pretty quickly, you need to do it really often to persist it.


My weekly 5-a-side football game is definitely one of the things I miss from working in an office.


I would be careful. I got into extreme sports (motorcycle road racing) when stress became overwhelming for me and it turned out to be a manifestation of my BPD. It was therapeutic for the reasons you give, but also because I had a death wish.

As a result, I came very close to dying or permanently injuring myself on a couple different occasions – and I am the sole provider for my family with a one and four year old.

If engaging in risky or dangerous activities makes you feel normal or alive, you should probably take that as a warning and maybe get checked out. Can't hurt, anyways.


Thank you for the friendly warning.

Yes, it did start as a reckless "last thing I want to do before I die" depression kind of thing while I was a teenager.

Fortunately for me, all the physical effort/socializing/amazing scenery/nature changed my perspective 180° and now I'm a happy camper.

People that knew me before actually commented on how responsible/cautious I've now become with all my hobbies, some even call me grandpa :)

I probably won't be able to do all my hobbies forever, I feel that my reflexes are not what they were, but I'm compensating with experience.

Life is beautiful, I want to experience it as much as possible.


That's great to hear. Gives me hope for myself.


Feel free to email me if you need someone to talk to.


"It was therapeutic for the reasons you give, but also because I had a death wish."

This is a problem. High sensation seeker, (dopamine seeker) with low perception of risk. Understanding risk is a skill. You can improve it through training and applying conscious decision making. Risk management is trying to mitigate the "unknown, unknowns." If you do not understand the risks, you cannot avoid the pitfalls until it stares you in the face.

Risk is also relative. Stand on the side of a busy road you are (mostly) safe. Walk out onto a busy road you are not. It's that stark.


It was very interesting to get into motorcycle racing, which is primarily an exercise in gauging risk. The more risk you're willing to take, the faster you go. But the less experience you have, the more often you will end up crashing. So I found myself doing very well as a novice racer, but I also crashed or had near crashes much more often.


"It was very interesting to get into motorcycle racing, which is primarily an exercise in gauging risk."

Mark you are really out there :)


That's funny, I thought the same about skiing.


I've had similar, but not with skydiving. I've only done one dive, and it was pleasant, lovely view, but did absolutely nothing for me in terms of adrenaline, at all. What did work for me was commuting by cycle in London, flat out race with everything for 10km. Legs burning, drop the temperature, maybe some snow in the eyes, bring on the elements. Great stuff. Winter is great for that, cold at first, but ride hard, warm up, and get to work without needing a shower.


I love cycling in London, because it teaches me not to be shy.

But once that lesson is learned -- there's not much need for adrenaline. Just rational aggression.


Teaches you to look in the eye of the guy in the car behind you at the lights to make sure they've noticed you :)


> [...] but did absolutely nothing for me in terms of adrenaline [...]

I don't (think) I'm doing it for the adrenaline, that would have faded sometime in the last 10 years.

Besides, as you said, you can get that cheaper/faster by riding a bicycle in rush hour traffic or standing near a ledge.

I think it's the 100% focus that does it, which sounds similar to what you describe with racing mode.


Cycling the streets of London, yes! I loved that. Did a Putney to Canary Wharf commute for about 6 years. Weaving in between traffic that's stuck fast is wonderful.

Even when I got a soaking it didn't really matter, you get so wet you can't get much wetter and then get home and have a warm shower.

It was also a great way of getting rid of tension. If you're angry you pedal harder and go faster which is more fun, so breaks any vicious cycle.


Sleeping (like 9+ hours a night) can also help a lot.


It truly can.

The first thing I recommend to anyone that shows early signs of depression is: take care of eating/sleeping/exercising.

Besides giving a concrete plan of action, if you take care of those, quality of life greatly improves, and you can "build" on that, getting out of the rut.


Not suggestion that one should sleep lesser, but it's more important to have a deep sleep. If one is able to sleep like a log even for 6 to 7 hours, it's extremely helpful.


Except that you may not be able to sleep more than 5 or 6 hours, exactly because of stress / burnout/ depression. I haven't scored a 9 hours night in many years, not because I don't have time for it, not because I would be the kind of people who only need short nights, but because I cannot, even after a sleep deprivation period.


As I've gotten older I can't sleep 9 hours straight like I used to. On days where I only sleep 5-6 hours, I get up to pee and go back to bed and rest for another hour or 2. Sometimes I go back to sleep, sometimes not. But it's interesting, because the days I don't go back to sleep, I spend that hour or 2 half asleep and think about my work (HashBackup). I just let my mind wander to whatever it wants. It's sort of the same thing that happens when I have a programming problem I can't easily figure out, go take a shower or a walk outside, and the answer comes to me. This reduces stress because instead of pounding on a problem, you let your mind solve it more slowly in the background while you are focused on other things.


I had this perspective being involved in a few sports some would consider "extreme" it was a fantastic distraction to be totally engaged in a sport and out in the outdoors with a brilliant community of like-minded friends. However after having a serious injury and witnessing a death of a a couple of friends it didn't seem like fun anymore.

Nowadays family life provides enough of a contrast to work as does a few holidays in the mountains and some day trips hiking in the countryside.


I always respect those that know when to exit.


I had to spend a week in bed once, I discovered the runner's crave that week.


> It's all in your head, for better or worse.

It originates from the head but the impact is on the whole body impacting the HPA and other hormonal systems. And later whatever is controlled by them e.g. body fat. And once it impacts the body additional distress signals may be generated there. Healing obviously needs to take into account the head but that may not be enough.

Prevention and early counter measures are very critical!


>Extreme sports or intense physical exertion have been key, for me, in dealing with daily stress.

But intense physical exertion _is_ stress, so this approach can backfire when your stress load is too high.


I don't know, for me, there's something different between the stress of carrying a 20kg (44 pounds) paraglider up 750m (2460ft) over a 5-35% grade mountain to the launch site in a hurry to catch the noon thermals versus the daily worries that you may, or may not, have any control over.

Probably because one is achievable and you know more or less how much you've got to go and the other is pretty abstract.

Maybe also the fact that one ends pretty soon (not to mention you can stop at any time) and the other goes on for way longer (and maybe you can't stop it).


They feel very different, but they both do add Cortisol to your bloodstream... both are similar to your body.

Which is to say... if I wanted to be the #1 code all the time coder in the world, I would not want to be training for an Ironman or something that required 15 hours of fairly high physical stress a week.

Or if I wanted to train for an Ironman, I would not also work for a startup with my hair on fire all the time.

Clearly some people do both. Investment bankers love triathlon in fact. It seems to have negative physical effects after a while though... something has to give..


Sounds like a lot of fun!


I'm not that much of a fan of carrying stuff up a mountain against time, but since we don't have a cable car or any alternatives, you gotta do what you gotta do.

At least I get to fly after that :) ... unless the weather changes


What if you are afraid of extreme sports? What alternatives would you recommend?


If you live near an indoor rock climbing facility, I'd recommend checking it out! Rock climbing can be done in an "extreme" way, but also can be done in a very beginner-friendly, incremental way.

I climb, have lots of friends who climb who do software. The two seem to go together well.


Yes - it's a wonderfully technical activity.


Anything that gets you into flow at a high heart rate. Basketball, lifting, and intense yoga fit this for me. I've read that Tai Chi can fill this as well but I've never tried. Though basketball has given me more serious injuries than skateboarding and snowboarding ever did.


> What if you are afraid of extreme sports?

There's a quote in a jump plane that I really like: "you just have to get comfortable with fear"[1].

> What alternatives would you recommend?

Anything that requires you to be 100% focused on the task at hand, or physical exertion (or even both).

The catch is that you need to feel satisfaction from it, and humans suck at predicting what activity is going to give them satisfaction, that's why it's best to just go ahead and try different stuff, see what works.

You can usually tell within the first few minutes if it's for you or not.

[1] - http://i.imgur.com/zzszs.jpg


I'm chuckling at "You can usually tell within the first few minutes if it's for you or not." in the context of Skydiving. I did a 10kft tandem jump for my first, and it was the first time I'd ever been on a plane. It was terrifying! I was actually more comfortable under the chute than I was in the plane.

You're right though, some activities give me a big ol' "meh", and some make me feel joy right off the bat. Don't know for sure until you try it.

This year's new activity is going to be snowkiting, if we get any snow... (Snowless-November in the Canadian Prairies? What the heck?!)


> I was actually more comfortable under the chute than I was in the plane.

Even after 10 years, the ride to altitude is the scary part for me -- and others that had the decency to admit it -- as soon as I'm out the door, everything calms down in the body, it's weird.

I'm guessing it's because while in the plane you have very little control over what happens, and the exit is especially dangerous because a lot of weight (skydivers) shift to one part of the plane.

> Snowless-November in the Canadian Prairies? What the heck?!

I feel your pain, we haven't had a decent winter in a few years now.


Take up a musical instrument. Music can be insanely difficult and challenging. You have to be 100% focused on the activity, it has a physical aspect to it, and successes are very rewarding. It's not as physical as extreme sports of course, but is similar to sports in that the more effort you put in to practice (workout) every day, the greater the rewards. IMO it's also good for keeping things like carpal tunnel at bay (I play piano, but most instruments have finger/hand things going on).

Like sports, you are never "there", you are always just getting better. You can take a break and play easier pieces just for fun, challenge yourself and practice difficult pieces, or focus on one specific area for improvement like rhythm/counting, switching from classical to jazz for a while, playing crazy orchestra reductions with way too many notes, improving your ear by trying to play along with pop music, etc.

The other nice thing about music is it's convenient to take a half-hour break from work, play/practice a while, then go back to work. It's funny: while I love playing music, I don't much like listening to it when others are playing it. I can spend 2 hours working on Chopin, but am bored after about 15 minutes listening to classical music, even if it's with someone at a concert. Just doesn't do it for me to listen. Played Fr Horn in a band and that was a lot of fun too, lead to friendships, etc.

If you're into it, music is a huge field that you'll never outgrow, even on a single instrument.


I did rowing ('crew') at University. There's something quite geeky about rowing - there were 6 CS guys rowing in the boat with me. There's something about perfecting one stroke that you do over and over again. You don't have to be a teenager to start doing it either - most clubs will accept novices of any age.


Most "extreme" sports have differing levels of ability. You can start mountain biking on relatively flat smooth trails, and work your way up to more difficult one when you feel more comfortable.


I have a friend that is to damn good as a developer and allowed one of the big Canadian companies failed projects to burn him out thoroughly.

He is looking into opening a bakery now, and by the look of it, no amount of convincing is going to change his mind.

So no matter what you do, your mental robustness and coherency comes first. Don't let anybody every come close at touching that.

Btw opening a bakery is an amazing prospect if you go into it full force ahead, with happy thoughts and planning. Opening one as a result of a burnout, well I guess it can be therapeutic, but not sure about the validity of the idea in that case. Taking half a year off everything can probably bring you more life force at your disposal.


As someone who's been there, it all depends how hard it was. You can recover from light burnouts quickly (by traveling, taking sports), however, hard burnouts change you for life - you'll be lucky to not end up as alcoholic or drug addict.

For me, it took couple of years and few failed jobs until I got on track. Today, I'm more than happy to be my own boss as freelancer.


Hello! I'm currently on the "couple of years and a failed job" track... any advice?


Not the op, but, Therapy, exercise, and develop at least a few deep friendships.

For me talking about stuff helped me realize i was angry and depressed. It's hard to see how your mind comes up with ideas, an outside observer can point out motivations for behavior that aren't obvious from inside my own head.

Exercise kind of quiets my mind down. While burning out, work kind of hurts. It's not exactly but something like painful to execute. With excercise, I kind of rescale that feeling. Executing on X isn't as bad as running for a half an hour.

Having a couple of friends you can talk to about whatever is nice. Family is great too, but they don't always have the perspective to give helpful insight. Parents, spouses, might not tell you the whole truth, or their perspective is colored by the past. A friend will tell you you're being an idiot, or not.


Stay away from anything remotely stressful for a while, slowly build your tolerance for stress back up, pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you and don't let anyone force you back into the same situation.


* Be patient - time is the best healer. * Find a partner who understands your situation. I was lucky and my girlfriend at that time (today my wife), was in IT too. * If you are programmer and like coding, change language/environment - pickup something totally different. At that time, I adore Rails/Ruby and today I can't think myself ever touch it. However, I find joy in LISPs and C/C++ coding these days. * Sport is essential for you; it will clear your mind and improve your physical health. More demanding sport, better. Boxing, swimming, hiking, diving, pick one and be consistent.

Also, fellow commenters gave pretty good advice too.


Good to hear you found your way. I'm getting burned out on freelance.


What is it that burns you out most? (fellow freelancer here)


The thing that burns me out about freelance is the client just views you as a cost center. Always want more work in less time. I start to fantasize about the "camaraderie" of being on a team. Maybe there needs to be a Freelancer's Local Union.


I had the exact opposite experience freelancing. I was lucky enough to land some really smart and well-funded clients, while also filling a crucial position that made my value obvious and impossible not to appreciate.

How do you land those roles reliably? I have no idea. Some combination of luck and networking, I'd say, as my best positions were always inbound requests. (Generally: Hey Courtland, we saw that you built cool thing X. Could you build the same for us?) It really helps to be in the financial position to say no to anything that doesn't meet your standards.


Try to find a partner and do your freelancer thing as a team. I incorporated with a fellow student of my university, and as a result we became fast friends. We are basically two freelancers under one brand, and share everything. This really helps!


I second this. Every time I drive by a big corporate building and I see groups of employees joking while having a smoke or coffee, it makes me envious. I joke about it saying that I m something like Batman who always works alone. Lately I ve been doing short trips to the client's offices, about 2000km away (on my expense) just to get the teamwork feeling.


Loneliness is the killer. I recently found out that I had this belief that the others don't need me around, and so they don't ask me for my company. That was actually self-victimization, because I should be the one to reach out when I want company. Doing much better now with that out of the way. This goes for every aspect of life, for me.


I found reframing myself as a vendor (and small business owner) rather than a freelancer changed everything.


This is especially valuable if you can develop a specialized skill to sell as a "product" over and over... I suppose I've found that a "can/will do anything" attitude is much better suited to employment/cofounding than consulting.


Try joining a meetup or two, they are really good for meeting people in similar situations to yourself and having conversations about work.


You need to learn to say no more often & get also get some new clients.


This is very true, not sure why you were voted down.

Don't be afraid to say "no" to the client, especially if you have given them an honest estimate and they are pushing you to revise the estimate downward.


It's gone quiet of late but The Remote Together Slack group [1] is a great place to chat if you're working on your own.

  [1]: https://remotetogether.slack.com


Thanks, will check it out!


Thanks for asking. For me, the issue is not the quality of clients and work. I tend to keep my prices high which seems to filter many junk jobs. I'm also lucky in a sense that many jobs find me and not the other way around. I suppose what burns me out is the instability in income. I try to mix it up as much as possible with fixed cost and hourly jobs but most good thing eventually come to an end. Some days I'm lucky and good projects find me and we come to a mutual agreement quickly but occasionally I have a time gap in my daily schedule that needs to be filled. I'm not a developer or I'd work on a side project to fill my time. I typically spend any extra time on making a new, more thorough portfolio but then I'm reminded that the clock isn't running and I can't bill myself. Is anyone in the same shoes or have some advice?


Growing up, I was "taught" / conditioned to "endure" severe, chronic stress.

This led to an accumulation of adverse events I was too stressed to effectively manage. Including especially physical injuries that had lasting negative effects.

I "hung in there" until my early 40's, when a career blow knocked the last pin out from under me.

I knew what I needed and wanted to do next. But I was frozen.

Physical health issues have continued to accumulate and to paint me into a corner.

Guard your physical health! Without it, life is much harder, and one problem tends to become two, become three...

Your physical health is the basis of your mental health and well-being. When you are physically unhealthy, it is much harder to be positive and productive. Especially when symptoms weigh on you persistently and take away your ability to focus and think effectively and to be comfortably social.

There is precious little in life that is worth the sacrifice of your physical health. And beware of scenarios that suggest or demand a trade-off against some future promise.

Those reassurances most often simply serve the person or system demanding the sacrifice. And it is a sacrifice -- don't expect to "get it back."


God please do everything you can to convince him not to open a bakery. The hours are brutal, the money is poor, the margins are slim, and the people are terrible. Customers, employees, vendors, they're all terrible.

Baking for friends is a fun way to pass the time. Baking for money is a quick road to a second burn out; it was literally years before I was able to stomach the thought of baking cookies or bread for my wife after I left the bakery I worked at.


My father was a baker for a large portion of his life. It really is difficult work, with insane hours, for low pay.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a working class mexican neighborhood where trades and unskilled work are the majority of occupations, but sitting in an office chair for 7hrs a day is paradise compared to baking, mechanics, or any type of manual labor.


> for low pay.

This is the real problem with manual labor, low-skilled labor, and jobs like baking.

The real stress isn't the day to day work, it's knowing that you are slowly wearing down your body but not earning enough to "get out of the game".

It's lack of financial security.

If as a baker you could buy a nice home and pay it off in 7-10 years it wouldn't be such a tough gig.


"Baking for friends is a fun way to pass the time. Baking for money is a quick road to a second burn out"

8+ hours a day, 5-7 days a week, nearly every week for years on end is liable to turn any hobby in to a slog eventually. Except for some people and some hobbies it doesn't. Somehow some people make it work, and enjoy it in the long run, without burning out.

Don't ask me how. I haven't found that magic job myself, and always tend to burn out on anything eventually. I need variety. I can't do any one thing for the long run without getting sick of it. Unfortunately, making career changes is difficult and stressful. So I'm not sure what the solution is. Maybe someone who's made it work for themselves can chime in.


That's odd, an ex cs classmate went into bakery. Some HS friend in chemistry speaks about leaving all this to open a restaurant. I, too, am thinking about bakery or coffee place.

There's something about serving food to people that seems to be the emotional counterpoint of mad tech.


Most restaurants fail. It doesn't seem like a way to avoid stress?


You know sometime even a failure in something you like can be healthier and more motivating than safe thing you ended up dreading deeply.


Unless you drain your life savings, end up divorces... etc.


Professional gamblers* have something to teach everyone about managing risk.

In this case, the primacy of establishing a separate fund as your bank roll, and protecting it by not letting too much of it ride on any single bet (no matter how great the bet seems), is very appropriate to self-funding your own businesses. If you lose your bank roll, then you have to stop gambling, which is bad if you are convinced you have an edge.

*I'm not a gambler of any type, unless you count investing 401k/IRA savings in index oriented ETFs and mutual funds gambling (not an unfair position).


You're right, management risk is extremely important for anyone wanting to quit their job.

My advice would be to not even consider it without having enough money to sustain yourself for a minimum of 2 times the period you predict will take you to become profitable in your desired venture.

So if you spend 3000 a month, want to become a freelancer and expect it to take you 6 months until you build up steady business you should have a minimum of 36,000 saved up.

I learned this the hard way, hope someone out there heeds this advice.


You're doing it wrong


i think stress really just depends on the kind of work, and the expectations of your customers.

yes, most restaurants fail, but most businesses fail, because people think of it as some kind of paid vacation rather than an actual job.

getting up at 5am and making croissants is a very different thing than getting up at 5am and dealing with people screaming at you because an api endpoint isn't functioning.


It is very easy to fail as a restaurant because you signed the wrong lease/for the wrong place/at the wrong location/in the wrong neighborhood, or any combination thereof. Everyone I personally know in the food services industry works harder than anyone I know doing computer programming. Every task that happens in back and front of house has a very specific start time and a very specific duration allowance - there is no flexibility and no opportunity for pacing or giving yourself some slack.


The difference is the type of stress, the mental effort, and the expectations.

At the end of a hard day in the kitchen I'm ready to go hang out with friends and enjoy my free time.

At the end of a hard day as a software dev I can hardly string a sentence together and want to go be by myself.

Likewise in the kitchen I didn't get given completely unrealistic timeframes. As long as I focused and worked hard it was all good.

As a software dev I constantly have pressure to perform miracles and hit unrealistic deadlines from all sides. And the pressure is cumulative. If I have a bad day today I'm going to have to work extra hard and under more pressure the rest of the week to catch up.

If the food services industry paid as well as software dev I'd go back in a heartbeat.


That's most of what I tried to express earlier about the difference between dev/eng and "production" work. Being in the blur and under pressure, without moving targets around and under your feets that creeps in your life seems to be prevalent in the former way more than in the later (even though https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12987866 tells a different story too).


Seems like you're describing the experience of being a worker? I expect someone starting their own restaurant has a whole new set of worries.


we're talking about workers, not management/ownership. e.g. like at apple, vice president in your title means the excuses stop mattering. it's your job to fix it, or you're fired, end of story.


A piece of fish cooks in 6 minutes regardless whether it's plain or encrusted in black pepper.


> It is very easy to fail as a restaurant because you signed the wrong lease/for the wrong place/at the wrong location/in the wrong neighborhood, or any combination thereof.

this applies to any business.

> Every task that happens in back and front of house has a very specific start time and a very specific duration allowance - there is no flexibility and no opportunity for pacing or giving yourself some slack.

you've clearly never worked in ops or SRE. or working in a mine, on an oil rig, or on an airplane, or a squad car.

not everyone lives the life of a spoiled computer programmer which seems to be your baseline for evaluation.


I don't think you would need to do much due diligence to rise above most restaurateurs.


Many restaurateurs have been running restaurants and cooking professionally for years before they try to open their own. I'm not sure writing software is as helpful experience wise.


You would be surprised. It's an extremely competitive industry, with some very hard-working people. And hard work is no guarantee of success either.


What strikes me as recurring problems from the things that make it on to shows like Kitchen Nightmares are the following.

  * Can't or won't keep the accounting books in order.
  * Micro-management of staff that want to do the job.
  * Under-management of staff that aren't doing the job.
  
  * I /suspect/ not paying the staff enough (in money/respect/etc) to keep good staff and keep the motivated.


Unfortunately the real world is not like Kitchen Nightmares. Often restaurants with good management still fail due to other reasons, the margins in hospo are razor thin, it doesn't take a lot going wrong to go out of business.


> Don't let anybody every come close at touching that.

Another way to look at it is, nobody can tell you what to do unless you're willing to hear it from them -- so always be mindful and reasonably opinionated about who you have at your "ear".


Stressed and burned out so he is opening a food business? What??

I operate a restaurant and I know about 50 people who do. Believe me - there is no shortage of stress and your just as likely, if not more so, to get burned out.

Tell your friend to seriously think twice...


It's well known that food industry is stressful, but maybe the nature is different. It's more physical and less mental. Also more social (you interact with customers, kids, families, birthday cakes paint a different mindset)

One of the hardest job I took, digging trenches (summer) which made me cry the first week, was one of the less stressful mentally too.


There's plenty of mental stress working in a bakery.

You have a 100# mix of french bread, and it isn't rising properly. Will it continue to rise if you leave it in the proofer long enough, because the water it was mixed with was too cold? Maybe the guy doing the mix forgot the salt, or the yeast (because trust me, unless you're doing the mixes yourself, those things are going to happen).

If the mix will rise eventually, how long will it take? How are you going to change the schedule of the bakes so that the oven is at the right temperature and the bread is finished baking before the local restaurant comes to pick up their daily order?

If the mix is missing an ingredient, do you have time to make a new mix? Do you have room in the freezer for the dead dough, so you can save it to stretch out other mixes? Do you have anything delicate in the freezer that might melt when you dump a hundred pounds of warm dough into the same space?

If you're making a new mix, do you need to order more flour now, because you're using more than you expected? How is this going to impact the rest of the mix schedule?

Repeat that chain of thought for every kind of bread or pastry your bakery sells. It's exhausting as hell, mentally.


Point taken, but....

Humans have been baking bread for thousands of years. At this very moment I could find 100 sources of information, free and for sale about the specifics of baking bread. I could get these in the context of baking at home, baking for a group, or baking for commerce.

Contrast that with the poster's problem of implementing an architecture for an identity access management system. (I have experience with this).

There is no way to relate the tasks involved in baking for profit to designing and building a working technical system that likely is highly unique to the technologies and circumstances of his environment.

I quite sure IBM could set out to design and build 500 profitable bakeries with their own people and be successful on upwards of 90% of cases. Those people setting out to build 500 different <insert your favorite complex computer system here> would fail upwards 50%.

I'm not saying running a bakery is easy, but I am saying running a bakery is less stressful than implementing a functioning computer system.


Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/793/

I think it's really easy to look at something from the outside and think "how hard could that really be?" I bet if you asked someone who wasn't in CS how hard an identity management system is, they wouldn't think it is all that hard. Only once you get into the details do the challenges become apparent, and I suspect that's very true for bakeries as well.


>but I am saying running a bakery is less stressful than implementing a functioning computer system.

Has anybody here claimed the opposite?

Somebody (who I suspect has never worked in a bakery) posited that perhaps the stress of food service was physical, as opposed to mental. That's a guess which sounds reasonable, but it turns out that there are a lot of problems that need to be solved in a commercial bakery that are perhaps non-obvious to people who haven't fully considered what goes in to making a successful and financially stable bakery. I wasn't trying to argue that building an operating system is less stressful than a bakery, but I WAS trying to establish that there's plenty of mental stress to go around (in addition to the physical stress of being on your feet and moving around all day) when it comes to working in a bakery.


I only worked at a satellite bakery[1], not the bread making part, which is not taxing mentally after 20 days. For the rest I honestly cannot speak.

[1] sandwich preparation, finishing touches for cakes, closer to a starbucks.


Ah, okay. My experience was with an independent bakery doing both retail and commercial production; that is, we would bake mix, proof, and bake bread/pastries in house for direct sale to the public, and additionally provide bread and pastries to local restaurants for resale.

I worked there for almost but not quite two years, and by the end I was managing the bread dough for all the mixes (moving things in and out of the proofer and fridge as necessary to make sure they were ready to bake at the right time), mixing all the specialty breads (multi-grain loaf, rye breads, holiday breads, basically everything but the sandwich bread, french bread, hot dog buns, and pizza dough), handling 95 percent of the actual baking, plus I was the person who kept track of the pastry stock, produced and baked pastries, and did the final prep work (frosting the brownies and cakes, etc).


Pardon the slight arrogance, but isn't most of this a technical problem that can either be solved mechanically or you end up knowing by heart after a few months ?


When it all goes smoothly, it's a technical problem that can be solved mechanically or with a schedule that you know by heart after a few months.

If you're curious, please don't hesitate to ask me how often things went smoothly.


Aight, forgive me for asking, I just never encountered this, most of the restaurant I worked at where more industrial than a bakery.


No worries (: It's hard to express how much of the mental stress comes from stuff going wrong. It can be exhausting to have to reassess the plan and come up with a new solution that will still get everything baked in a timely manner while making sure that nothing is over or under proofed, five or six times a day, every day.


I would say that baking the bread is the easy part. Dealing with customers, managing employees, getting to the bakery at 3am EVERY DAY, and dealing with other business bureaucracy is the mentally taxing component.


Each of us have wildly varying experiences it seems. The madness of tech projects made me feel so helplessly alone. Probably because it involves my own brain and soul rather than a production job, where I can just go, do my task brainlessly, clean and leave everything behind to enjoy the my free time. And customers / colleagues interactions felt nowhere near problematic. It wasn't a special crowd either, a blend of rich tourists and lots of working class at rush hours.

ps: I am not saying thta being the customer interface is easy. Just not in bakeries and some other kinds. My mother was a post office clerk, it was famous for the angered waiting line venting violently on the powerless employees, sometimes physically. I never had to deal with this in the food serving business.


I'm sure IBM couldn't set up a single profitable bakery.


I'm in the midst of a light burnout right now - and I realize it's partly my expectations, and partly the expectations of my company.

As part of a start-up you're expected to be insanely productive at all times - so much so - that "normal" productivity feels like you're spinning your wheels and not getting anything done.

The other side is the company encouraging being a "hero". Being the one who can do anything, who gets X, Y, Z done on time, even if it takes all night. The praise and recognition fades quickly - as you realize you've set the expectation such that you can function at 200% at all times. (And you start feeling stressed as you fall to 150%, to 120%, to 100%.)

Some of the comments in this thread are spot on. For the level where I'm at (not full-bore burnout), I'm trying to prioritize my life outside of work again (aka have a life outside work). Sleep well, exercise, pick up hobbies again, go for hikes again, and so on.

Burning out to me - is letting work take up a disproportionate amount of your time and mental energy - so much so that the microcosm of work starts feeling like the most important thing.

Getting out of it (for me) is all about regaining that perspective.


One thing for a some perspective.

Many people struggle to even achieve 100% most of the time. Work consumes such great amounts of energy that not much fun can be had on evenings or weekends. Going out with friends? Forget it. Laying down is most that can be done. Even though that work is only 8-10 hours each day (not much considering how much many people work) there is nothing left at the end of the day. All energy is spent on just keeping oneself alive and getting by. Sometimes even that is too much and after years of a seemingly good job, everything is gone. Quitting is not an option since there is not much money saved. Working less won't provide the money needed to keep on going. Changing jobs won't cut it since all other jobs would be worse. With friends forgotten and family dead, there is no point to keep on going.


Burnout is caused by a series of failures. Your brain is quick to pick up patterns and will assume your next attempt will be a failure.

To get over burnout, you need a series of successes. Create small, attainable goals and complete them. Engineers in particular need a sense of accomplishment. This way you will look forward to you next endeavor instead of dread it.


My personal experience here disagrees. I had a series of failures resulted in me feeling like I was on tilt, and after identifying that, designed a series of simple easy wins which helped get over that.

Those easy wins then made it easier to focus and successfully complete a major 9 month infrastructure overhaul without any downtime(!), and while the sense of accomplishment from completing that successfully was huge (and the bonus wasn't bad either), the stress during that period was extremely high, and the resulting burnout was very real. A few months later, as that became obvious, I quit my job. It took more than 15 months off work before I began to feel even slightly recovered.

EDIT: and to tie this in to my other post[0], it's also worth noting that all I was doing during this period was "sleep, work, drink, repeat", which no doubt contributed to it.

# [0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12986124


I don't think this is necessarily true. I had a light burnout earlier this year because I went through a very busy, successful period with my business. I taught and recorded an online course over a 2.5 month period, and this recorded course became my product.

It went great! But, it was very busy, and I couldn't hit pause because i was teaching a live class. Took me 3-4 months to recover, and I got almost nothing done.

I was running over capacity, and I knew it (I also knew it was temporary, which is why I did it). Yet it was anything but a failure!


> Burnout is caused by a series of failures. Your brain is quick to pick up patterns and will assume your next attempt will be a failure.

I like the simplicity and elegance of that definition. It means work, pressure, "stress", pain, etc., are all completely irrelevant as long as there are enough successes over some interval of time.


For anyone interested in the wider philosophical questions around stress and burnout, I recommend reading "The Burnout Society" by Byung-Chul Han [1], a contemporary Korean-born German philosopher. Very little of his work has been translated to English, but it's written really well. Makes a compelling case that the pressure for positivity and achievement lead to self- or auto-exploitation [2]. If anyone has additional reading recommendations around this, I'm interested!

[1] - http://sup.org/books/title/?id=25725

[2] - http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2016/01/we-have-bec...


The real problem I see, and experience myself, is a form of addiction to stress whereby one's cortisol levels eventually raise one's baseline. This translates into a need for more stress to reach the baseline, which is perceived as the resting-point. This is achieved easily with quick acting hormones boost such as adrenaline (base jumping...) but just perpetuates the problem as it does nothing to lower the baseline... Similarly, one can also counter cortisol with other hormones, such as oxytocin (love, music), serotonin (empathy, pride) or endorphins (exercise) or trick the system with mimicking substances, but that won't solve the problem either. There are also available options to lower the cortisol baseline (e.g. phosphorylated serine) but I am afraid that the only way to achieve a permanent normalization is a change in lifestyle. Even if a profession is stressful in itself (e.g. restaurant/bakery) it might not be as stress-inducing to me as it is to you. Reasons for these individual differences are complex and not easily solvable. No silver bullet. Cortisol can be measured easily with saliva tests. If these levels are high, including at night, you're stressed out, that you feel so or not.


From DOES16 London - Better Faster Cheaper .. How? (slide #29) [0] [1]:

  Recipe for burnout is inverse of recipe for success

  Word Overload: Job demands exceed human limits.
  Lack of control: Inability to influence decisions that affect your job.
  ...
Also: Understanding Burnout [2].

[0] http://www.slideshare.net/botchagalupe/does16-london-better-...

[1] https://imgur.com/a/5yrMm

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kLPyV8lBbs


I'm in full-blown burnout mode right now, but it's more related to dissatisfaction with the work I'm doing. I'm fucking sick and tired of building web apps and I want to work in more interesting/technical topics such as computer vision. But the time investment needed to build the background and experience required to be useful working on those kinds of problems seems impossible to manage while working full-time. I'm really at a loss as for what to do. What's worse is that this longing for more meaningful work has begun morphing into a pretty serious case of depression and is impacting my ability to do my job. Anyone ever found themselves in this kind of a situation? What did you do?


As someone who just transitioned from university to a pretty much unrelated programming job, it occurs to me that I could have gone into either web development or computer vision, to use your example. Either way I would have been joining a team as a junior developer with only hobbyist experience and expected to learn on the job. Perhaps if you lowered your salary expectations and were willing to accept a relatively junior level role you would be able to break into that area of work, and with your existing experience would be able to work your way up more quickly than a truly junior dev like myself.


I probably would be willing to take a salary hit. Thanks for the advice.


> Dealing with stress over time can break down the body’s ability to deal with short bursts of stressful situations, he says.

For what I could get from the article, under (mild) stress your thinking becomes sharper, but as it lasts longer, it breaks you down and you can't handle stressful spikes.

So, perhaps, not being stressed all day long is the key? I mean, just surf the stressful spikes, don't have a light stress constantly, because you won't be able to deal with those hard moments of stress (and yes, they will come someday and all you've gained from the light-stress-boost will be thrown away because you'll burn out).


Acute stress is good (adrenaline -> fight or flight), chronic stress is bad.

So, worrying about money or being fired or <insert real life problem> all day every day will wear you down and limit your ability to reason. There's not much brainpower left over. This is why it's, for example, difficult to be super productive at work when you're going through a divorce or dealing with a breakup. And why it's never a good idea to launch a new product while moving house.

But, going bungee jumping or downhill mountain biking or racing cars or just driving too fast on the freeway. That's relaxing. Gives you focus, gets you away from the chronic stressors and into the immediate. Wonderful.


> Acute stress is good (adrenaline -> fight or flight)

citation needed


The purpose of stress is to quickly adapt the body to survive a fight. A set of changes happen to the body.

For example, the blood becomes thicker in order to clot faster when you are bleeding. However, with chronic stress, this can cause thrombosis.

Under stress, the stomach stops the digestion so that the energy goes into running to flee the danger. With chronic stress, your stomach is messed up and you get all sort of indigestion.

And so on. Many examples of changes that have a simple explanation but are hazardous in chronic stress situations.

For reference, read the Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers or anything by Robert Sapolsky.


In the context of the article it looked like "Acute stress is good" was referring to episodes of acute stress on the workplace.



Acute stress keeps you alive. It's a response to esp. novel and potentially harmful events. Its effects on cortisol/insulin -> diabetes however, seems to be contentious.


I think it's a price you decide to pay or not. If you want to think sharper, you need to pay with the side affects. Very similar to Limitless (the movie and tv show), if you saw it.


The implication I see (I am not an expert) is that stress was/is used to get our ancestors and other mammals out of short-term problems, i.e. to escape a predator. It's not useful or healthy as a lifestyle, or else evolution would have favored the "baseline" of modern humans to be closer to what our "stressed" state is.

It seems to follow that stress is useful when it's really needed to make you sharper, but one should prioritize getting out of that state as soon as possible.


A large part of why I left my business after eleven years six months ago was because I mismanaged stress to the degree that it had severe consequences upon my health.

At the time, like a frog in warming water, I constantly normalised it - working 20 hours a day for a year isn't stressful, it's heroic! I enjoy this! I thrive on stress. The booze? Oh, that's just to help keep me awake.

About four years ago I stopped eating and sleeping properly - I mean, previous to that I hadn't done either properly either, but four years ago it ceased to be voluntary. I lost huge amounts of weight. I told people I was on a diet. I started having bouts of delirium and puking that would put me out of action for days or weeks on end, unable to sip water even, slipping in and out of sweaty consciousness. I told myself I was just really unlucky with food poisoning.

About six months ago I just stopped - couldn't go on, couldn't face another day in the hell I'd created for myself, stomach knotted from anxiety and hunger but not hunger. Went on sabattical. Watched mountains for months. Read. Cried. Ranted and raved. Began to heal. Got medical help. Discovered that I had given myself a stress driven syndrome not really seen since children in fucking Victorian workhouses - cyclical vomiting syndrome.

Gave notice. Sold equity to company, made orderly transition. Three months on, I'm still coming to terms - beginning to remember wanting things, having desires, not feeling like every moment not spent working was a betrayal - being able to feel something like joy. Above everything else, I haven't puked in months and I'm even beginning to have to watch my weight.

The main thing I've learned on reflection is that I did this to myself. I chose roles and responsibilities that crushed me, and I failed to emotionally disinvest in the company as it grew. I also habituated stress to the degree that I didn't even perceive it as stress, and denied it to myself even as I ground my teeth to aching stumps. In hindsight, I can of course aim to not put myself in the same situation again, but at the time I had nothing to really check my reality against. People around me were supportive - but rather than saying "hey, you're killing yourself", it would be "want another coffee? Need smokes? You work so hard." - so essentially enabled the behaviour rather than confronting it. There's an almost dangerously cultish obsession with industriousness in our society.

I digress.

The other thing I learned that I hadn't really understood was that stress can ruin your physical, not just mental, health.


> There's an almost dangerously cultish obsession with industriousness in our society.

Yes, exactly. This behavior is encouraged and ingrained in just about every aspect of Western culture (especially American culture), and it's ruining people's lives. "I pulled myself by my bootstraps, so you should too! Nevermind I did it right after WW2 when America was most prosperous and other countries were rebuilding, nothing has changed at all in 50 years, you can easily do it too!"

People pretty much have to go through burnout themselves in order to stop buying into the cult-like behavior.

I spent most of my 20s working for startups and constantly being stressed out and working crazy hours because they weren't doing so well, and I wanted them to succeed. It took being hospitalized for me to finally disconnect from it a bit.

I also didn't look as hard as I should have for a new job when I was laid off, and that time helped me recover, although it wrecked my finances in the meantime, which I'm still recovering from.

Best of luck to you.


Thank you so much for sharing this. If more people would share then maybe it would help solve the root problem.

It's too easy for many high-performing people to display an image that it's all cake, no stress - even when they're secretly being crushed. Then, other high-performing people see them and think, 'that person does so much and barely breaks a sweat - I've got to pick up my game.' And, then it spreads and spreads until we are all secretly playing the game and slowly killing ourselves.

Not too long ago, I walked away from a potentially large payout. It sucks to think about it. But, I had enough money in the bank, and it just was not worth it. I was the company's hero, the core of the technology, and I was leading many of my younger employees along my same self-destructive path. On the surface I looked invincible and had answers for everyone and could take on every task, but on lunch breaks I was doing shots of whiskey in my car.


I'm so sorry about the cyclical vomiting syndrome. I've watched a friend wrestle with it for years, it's no joke. Her's is also triggered by positive stress, like excitement to see a favorite band in concert. I'm so glad for you that things are turning around in your life. It sounds like you've had to do some hard work to get here. Thank you for sharing.

> There's an almost dangerously cultish obsession with industriousness in our society.

Yes!


Mine was (I really hope the past tense continues to apply) also triggered by both positive and negative stress - weddings and work disasters prime catalysts - but I think the constant high background level of stress was a mandatory part of it. Used to wake up every morning feeling sick. Don't any more. Haven't had an attack since I out and out quit.

I hope she continues to find a way through it - it sucked even more when I had no idea what it was, and was rationalising it, sometimes into nightmarish proportions.


Quick note about stress, the somatic impact can be real. Méditative activities can smooth part of it.


Wow, thanks for sharing. I hope your recovery goes well, that sounds harsh.


I recommend Christina Maslach's books on the subject of burnout. Her research tends to focus on institutional and group-dynamic causes of burnout, which is a nice counterpoint to the self-care and personal-wellness discussions that people often have around the subject.


Burnout happens when you're doing what you don't like. Grinding down, going against the grain. The techniques I use to deal with stress are: Zazen - Japanese Zen meditation. If it was good enough For Japanese samurai fighting duels, then my life is So easy compared to this. Painting - very relaxing and fun, but then you need to like It. Mileage may vary.


I was getting extreme, severe panic attacks and had become agoraphobic. Tai Chi and meditation changed my life.


Highly recommend Robert Sapolsky's work on this. You can find his lectures on youtube, very educational and entertaining on Human Behavioural Biology. And more to the point his book, https://www.amazon.ca/Why-Zebras-Dont-Ulcers-Stress-Related/...


Frankly, this!

You can read from the other comments that it is not common knowledge yet what stress actually does to you.

Stress as a facility is useful for humans and other animals. It helps the body to focus on the threat and increase the chance to escape and survive. Stress makes a tiny damage to the health but once you survive, the body returns to health.

However, there are cases where you have long-term continuous stress, without any release. It is common with social animals like humans, and an example is the burn-out. The tiny damage becomes major damage and can be irreversible.


This is an interesting side to HN. The BBC article is pretty dull, the comments are far more interesting.


Stress is such a huge killer of productivity and even, at chronic levels, people. We're trying to put a dent in it - Shameless plug, support our Kickstarter! https://getlief.com


I saw John Willis, Director of Ecosystem Development for Docker, talk about this at QCon London in the context of our industry. First time I've ever cried at a tech conference; it was an absolutely amazing session. There is a video here: https://www.infoq.com/presentations/it-burnout


Please don't go to hookers if you are burnout. I was using alot of hookers and now going through very painful stds.


I would add music and workout. Music help get distressed very easy. And workout help bringing more oxygen in the system.


>Music help get distressed very easy.

You mean de-stressed, not distressed: the captain of the Titanic sent out a distress call because his ship was sinking, while the string quartet played music in hopes of de-stressing the ill-fated passengers.


Thank you for correcting me. Wont blame the autocorrect :)


Stress is a state of mind and a function of how much you have practiced stress.


Drink hot water and go for one hour early morning walk;


I don't know about the hot water, but definitely taking my dog for a 3-4 mile walk around town every morning helps me out. Days that it's crappy outside or I get rushed up and don't have time to do it, I'm considerably more irritable and less willing to put up with the bs.


These are empirical remedies and there are many of them.

As discussed in other comments, stress has a very simple and intuitive explanation.


I love how people are like "go for a walk" or "work out" or "sleep more" or "it's all in your head" (maybe you should tell someone who has pancreatic cancer "Oh it's all in your belly"). It seems to me like most people don't understand the incredible destructiveness and pain of an actual burnout. How trapped you are and how you do not see any way out anymore. I nearly got there and I have seen people who have been crippled for life by it.


Given, that the body still functions,

> "go for a walk" or "work out" or "sleep more"

is actually sound advice to bring back normality. "Fake it until you make it" is part of recovering and becoming a "normal person" again. Those "normal people" giving you the advice catch depression like one catches a cold. They suffer for three days and then it vanishes again and the sun begins to rise in the moring. They don't understand the concept of eternal darkness and slow but steady decay while being still technically alive.

In order to recover the source of the illness needs to be cut out from ones body and life, whatever the source is. Sometimes (often) it's not even obvious.

Yes, you are in pain, yes, you are broken, yes, you cannot go back to your old life. But there might be a new life you can evolve into. You probably have to let go of things you hold dearly. Habits, people, substances, part of your senses, part of your body, your goals, your beliefs, etc. whatever it is that makes you sick.


As with depression, one of the best things you can do for yourself in burnout is to recover your sense of agency - the confidence that you have the power to positively affect your life.

This is very hard, to be sure. But it is possible, and while I'm not sure I'd agree that it's absolutely necessary to recovery, it certainly does make that outcome vastly more probable.

Of course this is hardly a new concept. But, for reasons beyond my knowledge at this time, it seems almost never to be usefully expressed. We see it everywhere from "oh, just cheer up, it's all in your head!" to the Christian doctrine that the only truly unforgivable sin is that of despair - but only rarely anything that's likely to help those who need it most.


> (maybe you should tell someone who has pancreatic cancer "Oh it's all in your belly")

Well... isn't it?

I actually phrased it as "it's all in your head" to highlight that you _can_ do something about it, unlike cancer, it's something you can control by power of mind/will (not saying it's easy).

- formerly burned out.


The fact that something is "all in your head" doesn't imply much about how much control you might have over it. Schizophrenia is "all in your head." Some people do have a reasonable amount of control over the situation, but many people have little control.


> The fact that something is "all in your head" doesn't imply much about how much control you might have over it. Schizophrenia is "all in your head."

So is a brain tumor or glaucoma, in a literal sense, but I doubt many people would seriously use the expression "all in your head" for any of those. In my experience it's overwhelmingly used for anxiety and depression, with the implication being that there's no hard physical problem and that you just need to change your habits/attitude/beliefs (which, incidentally, is an approach that is notably ineffective for schizophrenia, apart from being done with others as a harm reduction mechanism).


> How trapped you are and how you do not see any way out anymore.

I was there, and then one of my friends died, which triggered me to quit my job, which ultimately led to me being able to get enough mental acumen back and make good decisions to lead myself out of the hole I'd dug myself into.

Over 15 months before I was capable of getting myself back into the workforce properly. Fortunately I have very understanding family who let me live with them rent free, and had saved enough that I was able to do this. Not everyone is this fortunate.


I've gone through burnout before. At the time I didn't go for walks or worked out or talked to friends or sleep properly.

The going for walks, making sure I spend time with friends, etc, is what I do now to insure that burnout is a lot less likely to happen again. It does seem to help considerably.

I had to go through a long period of stress and burnout to really believe that burnout was something that could happen to me, though, and take preventative measures seriously.


so people shouldn't suggest taking remedial or preventative action (work out), because there are incredibly destructive consequences and pain from burnout ? If we conceded that a stressed person is "trapped", what should we do then ? silently ignore them and not suggest they attempt to break out ? If people can break out of crippling chemical dependency, people can break out of depression. It's not fucking easy, but it's possible and people do it all the time.


those are really helpful advices that can help you on track (apart from that head thingie). what else do you expect from people around you? we are all responsible for our own lives, people in burnout cause it by their life choices, in similar way as alcoholics.


They are not helpful at all. Everyone with half a brain knows what he should do, but it doesn't mean he can.

So not only it is not helpful, but it is infuriating to be repeatedly lectured about the same old wives' advices he already knows, as if he was stupid.

I won't even comment on the abyssal stupidity of your last sentence, you really have no clue of what you're talking about.


I'm in one of those (inescapable) open-office nightmares right now. All day, every day, people are talking right next to me, making it impossible to concentrate. They're not even talking about work, they're talking about cars, or kids, or movies, or inane bullshit. I don't care that they're talking (and apparently management doesn't either, because since we're in a panopticon, if I know it, they know it too), but when they do it five feet away from me, I can't block it out or concentrate. I can concentrate well enough to write this post on Hacker News, but I can't concentrate well enough to put together a workable recommendation on centralized identity and access management. But I'll be asked for a recommendation on identity and access management anyway, because I'm expected to know every answer to every question off the top of my head instantaneously, even though I haven't been able to concentrate on anything effectively for the past ten years. Yeah, team work makes the dream work. BRB, going to set the building on fire.


I have the same problem. Try listening to really long (unpwards of 10 minutes) songs or albums that really flow together. You want to avoid distraction and listen to things that are repetitive and don't require you to lose focus and fiddle with your music player.

Another that I can't recommend enough is listening to old video game music. Something you love and played as a kid. For me it's N64: Zelda, Mario Kart, SM64, Banjo Kazooie. It's all on Youtube. There's something Pavlovian about music that accompanies passive focus and puzzle-solving.


> Another that I can't recommend enough is listening to old video game music.

Amiga games. Can't go wrong.

Also "pink" noise works rather well for me in extreme situations. I can even sleep in busy airports with it.


Doom stoner metal is really good about this.

I.e. Sleep https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIw7oeZKpZc


That's awesome, I was going to recommend Sleep too in that post but opted not. Nothing kills midday stress like Dopesmoker. Electric Wizard works great too.


Quick answer: Headphones and music/white noise.

Long answer: If you really feel this strongly about your working environment then you should seriously consider telling your manager. It's in their best interests that you're happy/comfortable/working as smoothly as you can. If they can't or won't change your situation, look for another employer. Ten years, Christ.


> look for another employer. Ten years, Christ.

Actually I've had 3 over the past ten years. They're all the same. You've never noticed?


Hopefully the previous two didn't burn down...


If it's causing you so much pain and you don't think they're going to change it, here are two suggestions:

* work from home

* rent a private room in a co-working space


Do not use regular headphones with music! 8+ hours a day for years damages your hearing.

Use passive insulation, either in high quality headphones or ear defenders (much cheaper, but no music).


Exactly my solution. My brain is tuned to human audio, I can't block out conversation.


Headphones lead to hearing damage, especially when used all day. One of the reasons I'm glad I'm out of the bullpen environment for now. My hearing is bad enough already.


I couldn't tell if your post was satire or not but, assuming it's not, why are you still working there?


some people are weak decision makers in real life.


Unnecessarily cruel, but not necessarily untrue.


Others just lack options...


And what we just witnessed were two fundamentally different ideologies, often at the root of the conflict between republicans and democrats. It's the "strong father" vs. "nurturing mother" dispositions.


o.p. has been in that situation for _10 years_. TEN YEARS. this is a tech job. tech workers are in high demand. he could find a new job if he wanted to.

i mean come on.


> o.p. has been in that situation for _10 years_. TEN YEARS.

o.p. has had three different employers in 10 years (and actually this goes back more like 15 years, since "open offices" became a fad, and five different employers). Every place is exactly the same.

source: am o.p.


One of the elements of a panopticon is that it only has to be possible to be observed.

That's why you have fewer guards in that system.

It breaks down when folks stop getting 'caught'.

But for my part, I don't know how you'd work under those conditions. I have a hard enough time working from home with my wife on the other side of the house teaching kids violin. I have both over the ear headphones and IEMs, though... that might help?



Sounds like something to tell your manager.


Managers are usually completely powerless because office design decisions are almost always made by (or at the recommendation of) executives.

Here is what it comes down to: you can put a dollar figure on the money saved from going with an open office plan. You can't easily put a dollar figure on lost productivity due to conversations going on around you.


Sounds like your company cares more about their bottom line than your well being.


Wait there's another kind?


The only other kind is the company that realizes a healthy work-life balance and solid benefits helps them retain talent for the long term. Not many companies do that, but I have some acquaintances that work at one of them (SAS).


The best professional skill is compartmentalizing.

Leave work at work.


That advice is about as useful to me as "you're depressed, so snap out of it!" I don't mean that as an attack, it's just that what is obvious to some people is very, very difficult for others to do so simply.


No, it's extremely useful, and no different than other people in the thread who express how exercise or hobbies have helped them cope with work stress. They're implying compartmentalization too, because having a hobby shows that there's more to life than work life.


You're right! I just didn't have the ability to see that. Thanks for your insights.


You can replace work thoughts with work on your sideproject thoughts. That helps... a little bit


Keep in mind that's not an option at every job.

In my case, not being able to leave work at work has been one of the factors in my decision to leave academia.


Easy to tell. If people who are hit by burnout could do it, they would have done it and wouldn't have been hit by burnout.


The only time I think about work is if I'm angry at someone. I never think about a tech problem at work in my spare time.


Probably unpopular, but has anyone tried psychedelics?

I always use it to "reformat" some terrible behaviors due to stress.

Definitely not the answer to anyone's problems, but perhaps gives a new perspective.


Are they trying to say that exercises are good to us, until it is too much? What does not kill us makes us stronger.


you can screw up your body in numerous ways if you overdo it, ie grow enlarged heart, screw up joints or spine and end up semi-disabled relatively young. just look at pro lifters, most of them after career end up obese with various health issues, some barely able to walk or lift anything more than sheet of paper.

it's a think line to walk, unique to each of us, where you try to grow as much as you can without crossing it


That is what I failed to emphasize - it must be "just right" - not too much and not too little - optimal - slightly better than good-enough.)


Not always. Things that don't kill you immediately may kill you in the long run.


In the long run, we all die anyway. It's not necessarily unreasonable to evaluate one's options on a quality vs. quantity basis.




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