Decoding Stress: A Guide to Managing Stress for Software Developers

While the physical risks of Covid-19 will hopefully be better managed with vaccines, the experts warn: we’re likely to still struggle with the pandemic’s impact on our mental health. In the interview with Anna Cyrańska, Anna Schattovits and Urszula Mojska, coordinators of intive’s “Less stress” program, we’re talking about the importance of mental well-being, and sharing the best tips for preventing and reducing stress in current challenging times.

The pace of change in the IT sector is extremely high. With all that’s going on in the world - does it count as an additional stressor for intive’s employees?

U.M.: The fast pace of change is an inherent part of the IT industry. I think that people who work in this field are already used to it, and the dynamism itself isn’t a stressor for them. However, the combination of the current pandemic situation with such a dynamic working environment might increase stress.

A.C.: Now is the time when we should be paying more attention to ourselves, as well as our fellow team members: how am I handling day-to-day issues? does the pace of work exceed my capabilities of coping with them? If that becomes the case, then support from both the managers and the HR is necessary. The manager has the greatest visibility for the needs of his or her team, while the HR knows how to act in specific situations.

A.S.: On an individual level, we always have to remember: the situations themselves are not stressful, only our reaction, our interpretation of these situations can cause stress. For one person, the fast pace of work and new challenges can be something attractive, for example, an opportunity for development. For another, they will be associated with enormous anxiety, as they go beyond the limit of individual self-regulation capacity. That is why it is so crucial to develop our mental resilience, which expands our range of acceptance and ability to deal with difficult situations.

Over the past few years, chat tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack have become an important part of work processes. How do these new ways of communication affect us?

U.M.: Online communication tools allow us to work globally, from any place in the world. It's fantastic that we can communicate with colleagues from other countries, work together on projects - but there is a price to pay. Written communication, online conversations without the use of cameras help us to get things done, but on the other hand, we impoverish our interpersonal relations, they get reduced to mere messages. And I strongly believe that we need something more at work - a sense of belonging to the community, even acceptance.

A.C.: I agree. Nothing can replace face to face communcation. Without visual and physical contact we lose the possibility of co-regulating through interaction with other people. It is much easier to read the mood and intentions of the other party in a real one-on-one conversation.

A.S.: I would also like to point out yet another issue: communicators such as Teams or Slack force us to stay constantly alert. Notifications flood our screen, even when we are conducting an important online meeting. Our brain is very sensitive to this type of stimulation: subsequent notifications stimulate our nervous system to act. We don't like uncertainty, so notifications informing us of another incoming message invoke a state of tension. To remove this tension, we open each new message as soon as possible, which makes it more difficult for us to focus and remember new information.

What kind of psychological support or activities would be helpful to people who work in front of computers all day long?

A.S.: First of all, mindfulness – contact with our body, registering how it feels, whether there are places full of tension and discomfort in it. We often work in one position behind the desk for such a long time that we forget about our body! We ignore hunger, thirst, the numbness in the limbs.

Doing so can lead to serious psychosomatic diseases. That is why movement and breathing are very important. We don't have to do yoga or go out for a run for an hour. All it takes is a few moments – just to focus on our breathing and notice whether we need a moment of relaxation.

A.C.: At intive, we offer employees meditation classes once per week. We have also created a space on Teams called "Stay home and have fun", where we have a space dedicated to physical activity: our employees have prepared videos with sets of exercises to relax muscles while sitting, yoga exercises, and so on. Every year we also organize an Active Spring competition when we compete in outdoor activities. These activities are designed to support both the body and the spirit.

U.M.: We’ve also initiated the “Less Stress!” program for employees to provide better psychological support for our people. Everyone can join! We organize coaching sessions, training and webinars on topics such as mental resilience, burnout etc. We also have a discussion forum on Teams where we give room to talk about stress and its many different aspects. We discuss people's own tools ​​or methods of coping with anxiety - we offer suggestions, but also listen - intivers often have cool ideas.

Are there any tricks you can think of that might help during an especially stressful day? Any simple exercises that can help to relieve stress or fatigue?

A.S.: The simplest technique for self-regulation in stress is to find a breathing rhythm that will have a soothing, calming effect on us. To find the right bluntness and depth of breathing we need to practice conscious breathing regularly, not only in stressful situations. 5 minutes every day is enough. Through this practice, we will acquire the natural ability to breathe in a way that calms us down.

Sometimes imagining ourselves in a pleasant environment can also help to cope with stress. For example, I often picture myself sitting by the fireplace in a cozy room full of warm light.

A.C.: Apart from breathing techniques (which are extremely important!) I can recommend a short meditation session, herbal tea, a short walk – these things can help relieve tension at any time during the day. After work, I suggest yoga, massage or a few minutes on an acupressure mat. Physical activity also works well to improve your well-being and calm down negative emotions.

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