Mental Health in Tech: New Age Demands on Our Animal Brains

Back Mental Health in Tech: New Age Demands on Our Animal Brains

The technology industry is incredible. Multiple fields of innovation with boundless impact. Staffed by countless people who are brilliant, hardworking, and forward thinking.

The cost?

An expectation to be constantly connected and to keep churning on high with rare breaks. Now, is the above always the case? No, of course not.

There are many, many tech companies that acknowledge that the employee wellbeing is more important than gaming tables and free snacks and work to maintain core values of normalising mental health conversations and realising that work doesn’t always come first. But, expectation of constant connectivity does appear to be the norm in many companies, and as tech evolves faster, so do the expectations.

Always be first. Always be constantly accessible. Keep working harder.

While humans have amazingly adapted to doing this, it doesn’t mean it’s natural for us. Our brains are not meant to be engaged with information 24/7, work for 10-12 hours a day, constantly stare at screens, and be under persistent pressure to succeed and #win (apologies for the cliché).

We don’t realise it, but when we endure these conditions consistently, our brains go into survival mode and release an abundance of ‘not-so-fun’ chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline. Unconsciously, these chemicals make us psychologically and physiologically feel like we are under imminent threat (e.g. that beast over there is coming to eat you). Even though we consciously know that’s not true, our brains don’t, so we endure these conditions because the job, the company, and the industry require it.

Unfortunately, while the body and mind are forgiving, it’s only to a point. If we look at the Yerkes-Dodson law, there is only a certain amount of stress one can take before going ‘pop.’

So, what do we do with this information? You want to stay in tech, you recognise the potential mental health and wellbeing challenges of the field, and know it’s not changing anytime soon.

I’ve done loads of work with the tech industry around mental wellbeing, and here is what I’ve found to be most helpful for them: it’s about being realistic and having tools that can work on the go and in the moment. If an industry is not likely to change, you must adapt to be able to survive within it.

Here are two realistic things to try:

• Find the minutes where you can to practice stress management:
o Be consistent! Abs aren’t built in a day, and emotional self-management techniques aren’t either.
o Find minutes every day where you can practice a technique of your choice (e.g. guided imagery, deep belly breathing, a body scan, meditation, etc.).

• There’s a constant pressure to fix, but remember what is and isn’t in your control at that moment:
o If there is a non-blocker product bug that needs to be fixed, do you really need give it a go at 2AM?
o As problems come up, ask yourself and acknowledge if it’s really within your control of influence, and if not, give yourself permission to let it go for that moment. [Stephen Covey’s Circles of Control and Influence Model]

I know the above doesn’t solve the problem, but it can help to take the edge off. Take a deep breath when you can, try to keep things in perspective, and remember – if something costs you your mental health – it’s too expensive.