How to Maintain Mental Health While Working on High-Pressure Projects as Developers

mental health

I can honestly say that I have had my fair share of projects that have given me life because of what I have accomplished and some that, when I think back on the horrible stress they created, have cost me life. I am aware that I am not the only one who feels this way; at times, my work makes me feel like a rock star, and at other times, I wonder if I should even be a developer. There are undertakings that truly put you to the test.

I was hired in the first week of December 2023 to completely rebuild a web application from scratch utilizing new technologies in preparation for the launch of a “new year, new system” campaign in 2024.

You are probably aware of where this is going. Before starting the any type of projects, I had a lot of confidence, but I quickly realized that I had taken on more than I could handle. The code I inherited was the definition of “legacy,” requiring multiple developers to decipher due to its complex structure. Even before I had written a single line of code, the projects were appeared hopeless!

I left the position. I was so sick of work after sleeping through weeks under stress. I truly detested going to work every day. Doubts regarding my career and whether I should start searching outside the sector also followed that fear.

Is this beginning to sound like you?

That job was a fight for my mental health, not just a project that presented a personal challenge. I had reached my burnout point. To my amazement, the client was strangely accommodating and offered to bring in another developer to help out, which thankfully relieved me of some burden. That was a huge assistance and provided me with the motivation I needed to pick up my work again.

Is This Success? 

The client was pleased with the project’s debut. However, the pain from that deal still occasionally resurfaces in me, reminding me of how terrible it was and how much it caused me to doubt my entire career.

Thus, even though the initiative was effective in the end, I would not characterize it as “successful.” I had to pay a genuine non-monetary price for accepting the job.

You must experience the same thing. Everybody has experienced demanding projects that nearly drive them to self-destruction. It is evident from the abundance of other blog entries and articles about it that provide sage personal recommendations for reducing stress, such as getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating right.

In fact, I recognized there had been previous tasks I would undertake that had probably added to the burnout when I thought back on the ones that came before this specific nightmare. Surprisingly, I discovered several similarities between them that I now consider to be “warning flags” before beginning any new job.

Since every person has different experiences, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for reducing stress and safeguarding mental health. Since this kind of advice is tailored to a particular person, it is best expressed as “your mileage may vary” at all times. It is true that experiences can guide someone through a difficult circumstance. The finest advice in self-help books, in my experience, is typically the same advice available elsewhere, just better expressed or expressed in a way that speaks to you.

Consider this post more of a personal narrative on how I have protected my mental health in extremely particular work environments.

The Quick Hotfix For Projects

Do you recall the any of those projects that had a “comfortable” deadline? Yes, I agree; neither did I. When you inquire about when the project needs to be finished, you frequently receive the cynical response, “last Tuesday.”

This time, it was just another typical Monday morning. I was there, contentedly tucked in bed following a productive weekend. Subsequently, Slack began inundating me with notifications, each like,

“Hey, it is urgent—users can not make payments on the app!”

I should be held accountable for leaving my Slack notifications on early on a Monday. Nevertheless, it crushed my happiness and all but destroyed the break I had enjoyed during the weekend. But as soon as the day had begun, I got up, went to the laptop, and started working.

This kind of adjustment is absolutely “due last Tuesday” in terms of timeliness. It must be given urgent attention, meaning everything else must be put on hold. Nothing about it is carefree. There is a lot of pressure. The customer care team increased the pressure on us all while we worked to fix the bug by regularly reporting the growing number of users experiencing issues with processing payments.

We examined this massive codebase and tried a variety of tests, but none of them were successful. About forty minutes prior to the deadline, I believe, a colleague discovered the solution on a Reddit post that was roughly six years old. That bug, I assure you, had no chance. At last, the payment system is operational. Though relieved, at what price?


Most developers that I know deal with urgent hotfixes on a daily basis. They are just a part of the landscape. However, it is far too simple to let them steal your hard-earned peace of mind. One Slack notification may turn a calm day into a terrifying one, and it can happen at any time—even first thing on a Monday morning.


It is amusing that Slack is called “Slack” because not checking in actually feels like “slacking off.” However, I can inform you that I have halted my Slack notifications until later in the day.

Granted, it was an actual and pressing matter, but it was not the best idea to let it take up all of my personal time. Since I am not the sole member of the team, the call can be answered by someone else who is already accessible.

The Abyss of Delayed Action

Once, I managed to land a contract for a project well beyond my area of expertise. However, what is the proverb that developers love to use, “Fake it ’til you make it,” or something similar? Saying “no” to something might be difficult, especially if your livelihood depends on winning project bids. Furthermore, there is a certain amount of pride in refusing to accept loss, I will not lie.

Upon accepting the position, I persuaded myself that all I would need to accomplish my goals was two full days of unwavering concentration and attention. But hey, what do you know? I put things off.

In actuality, it began rather casually. I would take a mental vacation and read for thirty minutes. Afterward, I might browse social media, then go to YouTube, and so on. You get the idea. When I finally realize what is occurred, I have been delayed for several hours and stress is beginning to build up inside of me.

I was able to work until the very last minute thanks to those little bursts of time.

Sadly, I was unable to meet my deadline and lost the contract. Naturally, I fully accept responsibility for that, but I also want to be transparent about the actual effects of stress and terror. I was fundamentally terrified of the project, so I allowed myself to become sidetracked and was not being honest with myself.


The philosophy of “fake it ’til you make it” is absurd. There are certain “safe” circumstances in which venturing into uncharted territory beyond your area of expertise will be safe. That is not, however, a new client with a new project paying fresh money for my skills.

Moreover, I no longer take chances with the projects that I represent.


Without a clear plan, learning on the job is not a good idea. I will graciously decline any assignment that clearly is “out of my league.” As a matter of fact, I have discovered that sending a customer to another developer with the appropriate skill set really works to their advantage because the client values the convenience and honesty of not having to track down another lead. When I turn down jobs for which I am not the best fit, I actually get more work.

The Impractical Request

This actually happened lately at a startup where I volunteered, and looking back, it is kind of humorous. Slack included a direct message from one of the team’s marketing leads:

“Hello, there is a current social media trend that requires us to introduce a feature immediately. Could you please put that into practice right now?

What a fantastic feature! I would even venture to say that I was excited to work on it since I recognized how it may draw new people to the site. One small issue: what does “ASAP” actually mean in this context?Yes, I am aware that the deadline is “as soon as feasible,” but what exactly is the deadline and what is its purpose? One day, will we be speaking? A week, perhaps? A month, perhaps? Once more, startups are notorious for needing everything finished in two weeks.

However, I did not pose those queries. In two weeks, I stopped doing everything I was doing and finished the feature. To be very honest, there was also a hidden anxiety of declining the request. I did not want to let anyone on my team down.

That is the amusing aspect. The real meaning of “ASAP” was “as soon as possible with your current workload.” Was that properly communicated? Without a doubt not. Slack is not precisely the ideal platform for in-depth planning. I was sucked into the moment even though I knew I had far more time than I realized. Yes, I did a great job with the new function, and it did draw in more users, but again, at what cost? I gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done, but as I turned my chair, I saw that I had accumulated a mountain of work in the meanwhile.

And so the familiar burden of tension started to take its usual toll.


Every task has a priority. Maybe there is a deadline that matters to someone else, but should it take precedence over your own?I was treating my priorities as optional tasks that I could start and stop at any time, but managing priorities is more like juggling.


There are two things I’d do differently next time an unrealistic request comes up:

  • Before granting the request, I will make sure to ascertain when it is truly necessary and weigh it against my current priorities.
  • Secondly, I intend to indicate “no” without uttering the word. If I had just said, “Yes, if,” as in, “Yes, if I can finish this thing I am working on first, then I would be happy to jump on that next,” how different would the situation have been. Instead of giving me complete control over the project, that places some project management responsibility on the requester.

The 48-Hour Workday FOR PROJECTS

How many times have you stayed up late to finish a task? It is fantastic if the response is zero. That has, however, come up more times than I can count on two hands in my experience. Sometimes it is all my fault; I will get caught into a side project for myself or an intriguing issue that makes the hours seem like minutes.

Many of my friends and acquaintances wear their restless nights like medals of accomplishment, as though amassing them is in some way desirable.

For me, creating a game was the most recent example. It was meant to be rather easy: the objective is to chase red balls that are flying across the screen as a white ball. That might not be the most thrilling thing ever, but it was teaching me some new ideas about coding, and I found myself riding a wave that I did not want to get off. I had a crazy thought that this small game would become the next Candy Crush, therefore I could not possibly risk losing my progress by giving up at two in the morning. Not in a manner.

The game remains incomplete and unreleased to this day, gathering virtual dust on a GitHub repository. The five-day marathon was not worth it, in my opinion. If anything, it felt like I had thrown all of my energy into the work at once, and when I burned out, I needed a long sleep to refocus.


It is not realistic to aspire to be the idealized portrayal of a fast-typing coder wearing a black hoodie in a dimly lit room filled with servers and screens—that is reserved for romance films. There is a reason why a day consists of 24 hours rather than 48: if nothing else, we require pauses and relaxation to improve our performance. It is not possible to become a skilled developer or create sustainable living conditions by copying a made-up stereotype.


I definitely keep the lines between myself and my work more closely guarded. Just as there are times for personal needs, relaxation, and even play, there are also times for work.

This indicates that I respect and have well-defined working hours. Of course, there are days when I have to be flexible, but with boundaries in place, they are the exception rather than the rule.

In my work, I also recognize benchmarks that act as organic breaks to divide tasks into smaller, more doable chunks. I am taking on too much, I am going outside of scope, or the scope has not been stated at all and has to be defined more if I find myself coding past my typical working hours, especially on consecutive days.

Trapped By An Error

No bugs are able to get away. We will inevitably make mistakes as developers and fix them along the way. While I will not claim to prefer creating new features over fixing bugs, I do have a small part of me that says, “Well, challenge accepted!” It is common to think of bugs as little puzzles, but that is not always a bad thing.

However, certain bugs never seem to go away. You know, the kind that just will not go? Even when you are positive you have followed all the instructions, the bug still exists. It almost reaches the point where you could be tempted to assign the bug to your browser or any other dependencies you are using, but you know that is not the case. When you go to bed at night, it stays with you.

Then it dawns on you—oh no, there is a missing X. Additionally, X typically represents a missing semicolon or anything else that would result from unplugging the device and then plugging it back in to discover everything is functioning flawlessly.

This is only one of many stories I have. But this time, it wins hands down. I was using Expo and React Native to develop this mobile application. I was in the zone and everything was going beautifully! Then, for no apparent reason, a rendering fault appeared. Despite my code compiling and passing all tests, the application will not render on my mobile device.

Like any rational developer, I so used CTRL + Z to go back in time until I was certain that the application functioned as intended. The same rendering error continued to appear.

I realized then that this bug was after my blood. I tried every method in the book I knew to get rid of that thing, but it would not go away. I was going through documentation, updating dependencies, restarting VS Code, uninstalling and reinstalling packages like a crazy person, and turning on and off my laptop. Nothing yet.

For background, when working with React Native with Expo, developers usually use Expo on their devices to render the apps in real-time. I wasn’t, and that is where the issue is. The same Wi-Fi network that my laptop was linked to has been abandoned by my phone.

My phone only needed to be reconnected to the network. Issue resolved. but suffering along the way.

What I Acquired Regarding BugFixes

Not all bugs in the code can be fixed with code. Despite having written absolutely good scripts, I was skeptical of my work and decided to solve the problem with coding of my projects, which comes naturally to me.

I could have avoided countless hours and headaches if I had taken even a brief break from my work to identify the problem in the projects. I allowed my aggravation to get the better of me to the point that the glitch became my worst enemy rather than a little challenge. It was incredibly important for me to be able to take my temperature and know when to stop.

Sometimes bugs make me question my competence as a developer for projects, especially when the fix is obvious and straightforward, like network connectivity.


An old Yiddish proverb states that “the world is horseradish to a worm in horseradish.”It might be known to you as Malcolm Gladwell’s opening line from What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. It has a lot in common with other proverbs that go something like, “To a hammer, everything is a nail.”

Apart from attempting to view bugs in a non-horseradish manner, I now know to be mindful of my level of frustration when things start to feel hopeless. Take pauses. Go for a stroll. Have lunch. Anything to end the self-deprecating loop. That epiphany is frequently when the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together.

The Work-Meeting Disproportion

Meetings are unpleasant, and I am sure a lot of devs would concur. They may even be considered a necessary evil. Weekly standups are a good way to monitor the team’s progress and ensure that everyone is aware of what has to be planned for the upcoming week.

If only I had to go to that one meeting every single day.

Allow me to recount a specific day that I believe embodies what I believe to be a regular tension between meeting time and working time for projects. I arrived at my desk and got ready for the weekly team check-in, which usually takes thirty minutes. It ran a little over, which was okay, but it meant that I did not have enough time to recover before the next meeting, so I had to get straight there. That was a typical meeting—the kind where everyone expects to have a developer present in case there is a technical issue, but which never does—which left me bored and distracted from my real work.

That day, we had five meetings. Except for a few lines I could fit in here and there, I was unable to write any code at all for any projects, thus in my opinion, it was a whole day wasted. Although it is not how things should function, this is sadly a typical pattern.

What I Acquired Regarding Meetings for Projects

It is necessary to hold meetings. I understand that. However, I have come to realize that I am not required to personally attend every meeting. Frequently, I can watch the meeting on tape or read the projects manager’s notes to obtain the main idea of what was discussed. I now understand that meetings can “happen” in a variety of ways, and that in many cases, the lessons learnt from them can still be learned asynchronously.


From now on, when certain meetings are scheduled, I will respectfully inquire as to whether or not I must go. In addition, I inquire as to whether I can either get caught up after the meeting or prepare something ahead of time for the group.


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And that is it! These are just a few of the circumstances in which I have found myself in recent years. It is interesting how seemingly unimportant things may add up to form patterns of behavior. They all share a stubborn streak that has made me more aware of how I operate and take care of my mental health.

You must experience the same thing. When did you feel overwhelmed by worry, anxiety, or frustration for any kind of projects? Can you record them in writing? Are you noticing a trend emerging? This kind of mental inventory, in my opinion, is beneficial since it helps you identify and steer clear of the specific things that make you feel a certain way in the future.

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