We’ve discussed burnout previously on the blog, but mental health remains an important topic due to the high-pressure nature of working within WordPress. Given that a half day was dedicated to this exact subject at the latest WordCamp Europe, it’s clearly an ongoing concern for many developers.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of information available on this topic from outside of the WordPress bubble. The advice you’ll find is often solid and actionable, both as a developer and in other areas. Classic guidance such as “work out, say your prayers, and eat your vitamins” isn’t just a lazy cliche – it’s fuel for living a mentally healthy life.
This post will go into more detail about mental health. We’ll talk about how to keep everything intact when the pressure rises, and how to achieve a strong balance in your day-to-day life. Let’s jump right in!
The Causes of Poor Mental Health for WordPress Professionals
Before we begin, it’s worth clarifying that WordPress itself does not cause mental health issues (not that we know of, anyway). In fact, the issues you’ll encounter while working within the field are no different than what you’ll find in similar niches. We’d bet that if you searched long enough, you’d find the same patterns of behavior throughout most high-pressure industries.
In some ways, this is good news. Knowing that others experience the same stresses and strains that you do can be reassuring. Plus, it means there’s already a lot of solid advice out there that you can rely on.
Ultimately, poor mental health is usually caused by any one (or a mixture of) the following elements:
- Poor fortunes affecting your outlook
- A preexisting mental health condition (whether you’re aware of it or not)
You may look at these causes and think that they’re pretty vague, or that the list is incomplete. You’d be right on both counts. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to ascertain exactly why mental health can dip. Otherwise, we’d be able to easily fix these issues as soon as they arise. Each case will be unique, even if there are some common factors.
However, we’d also argue that any community that invests so much of itself into a project (as in the WordPress community) is ripe for messing with your mental health. Feeling so strongly about aspects of the platform, and having to deal with that intensity day-to-day, can take its toll over time. What’s more, if things don’t go the way you’re hoping, a poor mood can turn into something more malicious.
The (Non-Obvious) Benefits of Good Mental Health
We can talk until the cows come home about how good mental health makes you happier, improves your relationships with others, and so on. However, there are plenty of other benefits that aren’t so clear.
- Strong mental heath promotes (and can result in) calmness, something we’ll talk more about later.
- A calm outlook can have a positive effect on the quality of both your decision-making and general thought processes.
- Your physical health will likely improve, for all manner of reasons.
To go a little deeper into that last point, imagine that you’re currently receiving treatment for a mental health issue. Many such conditions also create phantom illnesses that can debilitate you further. By removing the underlying mental health problem, you’re also helping to rid yourself of those ‘satellite’ issues.
How Success Can Bring Negatives Along With the Positives
It’s a worn-out fallacy that success is a completely positive thing. In fact, you’ll often find that the trappings of success can grind you down if you’re not ready for them, or you don’t have a handle on how to cope with them effectively. This can manifest itself in a number of ways.
For example, you may have grand designs about making a certain amount of plugin sales, and work incredibly hard to get there. The resulting stress can cause problems in itself, as we touched on earlier. However, what you may not have considered are all the associated tasks that go along with it.
For example, consider the additional marketing, accountancy, and support requests that arise from doing more business. Not only that, a greater workload will eventually require additional team members in order to support it. If you’re not equipped to deal with managing employees (and not everyone is), this can cause untold stressors, which will eventually take their toll.
In a nutshell, we’re not suggesting that you should set your standards low, or forgo pursuing your goals. What we’re saying is that the grass isn’t 100% greener on the successful side – in fact, there’s arguably more in the way of highs and lows there. You’ll often find that maintaining success is more difficult than obtaining it in the first place.
How to Balance Your Mental Health and Success in WordPress
At this point, let’s take a deeper dive into mental balance, and talk about what you can do to maintain it. Earlier, we talked about how mental health begets calmness. To illustrate this, we need to talk about a process called the ‘amygdala hijack’.
This is a process where the brain becomes so overwhelmed with stimuli that it essentially can’t cope. Much like a piece of complex machinery that falters, the results are usually catastrophic. In other words, if your brain can’t process everything it’s being presented with, that can cause you to become emotionally unstable and impact your mental health.
In contrast, if you can keep from becoming emotionally overwhelmed, you can remain calmer and less stressed. As we explained earlier, a stable and balanced mindset also increases the ability to perform rational decision-making.
Therefore, the overall goal is to maintain a solid and balanced mind, which doesn’t go off the rails when hit with an overstimulating decision or workload. The question is: How can you achieve this? Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple to understand and implement.
Keep Your Body Well Rested, Fed, and Fit
First, you need to make sure your basic physiological functions are taken care of. This essentially means that you’re eating well, such as by prioritizing lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and staying away from processed and poor-quality foods. Also, restricting your alcohol intake, cigarette consumption, and of course drug use should be a high priority.
What’s more, getting out into the fresh air on a daily basis offers proven health benefits, both physical and mental. Exercise is generally a mood-booster, so you should aim to get out of breath for 30 minutes three times a week at a minimum. Many also turn to practices such as yoga or mindfulness in order to balance their moods. For those looking for a strenuous workout as well as the benefits of yoga, a program such as DDPYoga may be of some benefit.
Reconnect With the ‘Real World’
Sometimes, success can take you away from reality, which is understandable. You may be so consumed with results that you get ‘tunnel vision’. That can lead you to isolate yourself from the real world. In this scenario, having a solid support network that has nothing to do with WordPress is going to help you out immensely.
Having a group of friends who don’t care about hooks and coding standards, or any of the other minutiae of the platform, gives you an outlet to escape for as long as you need. Speaking of outlets, having a hobby or pastime that isn’t related to WordPress also serves as a needed break during mentally tough times, for the same reasons.
All in all, the classic advice of exercising, eating your greens, and getting away from the grind once in a while is what helps keep your mind in a good place. There’s a reason these are oft-quoted solutions – it’s because they work!
It’s very tempting to ignore the warning signs of poor mental health. However, if your brain isn’t functioning at top capacity, you’ll have trouble making good decisions. Poor choices often lead to sub-optimal outcomes, which can have negative effects on your work prospects, your colleague relationships, and ultimately your income.
In this post, we’ve looked at why mental health can deteriorate. It’s also important to realize that increasing success can bring along its own mental health problems, which underlies the need to keep yourself grounded at all times. Taking the time to eat and sleep well, exercise regularly, and get away from it all is fundamental to living a happy and rewarding life – and to being an effective and successful WordPress developer.
Have you ever suffered from mental health issues as a developer, and if so, how did you cope? Share your experiences in the comments section below!
Featured image: karelinlestrange.