Feel Stressed? Maybe the Problem Is You, Not the Job

Don Tennant

If you're a software engineer or a computer programmer, you have one of the least stressful jobs you could possibly get. If that statement gets you all wound up, you're not alone. But if you're one of those people who allows a statement like that to stress you out, maybe you need to think about what you can do to prevent yourself from getting so worked up.


Earlier this year, the website CareerCast.com released its "2011 Jobs Rated Report," which included a list of the 10 least stressful jobs. According to the findings of a survey of 200 jobs on which the report was based, the only jobs you could possibly get that are less stressful than software engineer or computer programmer are ... wait for it ... audiologist or dietitian.


As you might expect, that finding didn't sit well with some IT professionals who posted comments in response on CareerCast's website. Take this one, for example:

As an IT worker, I take offense to this inane garbage that passes for an article. I will assume this is a bad joke by some intern who is bored with his or her duties. Otherwise, clearly you have no clue as to what it takes to be either a software engineer or computer programmer. I guess these could be considered low stress jobs if the engineer/programmer is clairvoyant. Otherwise, you are communicating from the wrong orifice. Is it safe to assume that blogger/columnist should also make this list considering apparently no research went into the writing of this article? As a software engineer, if I could get away with turning in the type of crap this article represents to my boss and still get paid, I would totally agree with you. Until then, stay off of the boss' computer, you could get yourself in trouble putting out this type of crap.

Now, a more level-headed response would have recognized that the writer was simply a messenger who was conveying the results of a survey, the methodology of which was thoroughly explained as part of the report. Certainly, one might well find reason to question the methodology, but getting so stressed out as to be unable to identify where the tongue-lashing should be directed, when that direction was so easily identifiable, begs an obvious question: What causes us to get so stressed out?


Joe Robinson, a stress management trainer and author of the book, "Don't Miss Your Life: Find More Joy and Fulfillment Now," might have at least part of the answer. In a HuffingtonPost.com blog post on Tuesday, Robinson explained that most of us are clueless about stress, and that we actually bring it upon ourselves:

Yes, there are plenty of stressors coming at us in a warp factor 9 workplace, but it's not the deadline, what a customer says, or the conflict with a colleague that's causing your stress. The reality is you are. It's the story you tell yourself about the negative event or the stressor that's causing the stress. We all have the ability to change the stories that create our stress, if we know how the dynamic works.


The problem is a design flaw in our brains that leaves us prone to false emergencies. We were designed for life-and-death struggles on African savannas, not overflowing in-boxes or sales quotas. That's especially true for the part of your brain that sets off the stress response, the amygdala, a hub of the emotional brain, the ancient limbic system, which ran operations before we evolved the higher brain organs that can make decisions based on reason and analysis, not raw emotion.


In times of perceived danger the amygdala hijacks the 21st century brain and takes the helm again. This ancient alarm system is as good at measuring threats in the workplace as a yardstick is at calculating the distance to the sun. A hundred and fifty emails a day is a hassle, but it's not life-or-death. But if an overloaded inbox makes you feel you can't cope, off goes the signal that sets off the stress response, which floods your body with hormones that suppress your immune system to help you fight or run ... away from your computer?

Robinson goes on in the blog post to explain some things you can do to exit the stress trap, and I would imagine he covers it all a lot more thoroughly in his book. I'll leave it to you to explore all that if you're interested. What I want to get across here is that if you're a software engineer or a computer programmer and you're feeling a lot of stress, maybe the problem isn't the job. Maybe it's the way you handle it.


So try to lighten up. After all, things could be worse. You could be a philosopher. That only made it as low as No. 7 on the list of least stressful jobs.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 24, 2011 4:33 AM R.Lawson R.Lawson  says:

Whoever wrote that list hasn't been a consultant developing software on a death-march because some guy who learned a new methodology at some bootcamp says the chart says it can be done.

This is a pretty easy job for some software developers.  The ones that the rest of us are carrying their weight for.

People really have no clue as to what we do.  An audiologist learns their job once... it's not going to change any time soon.  The human ear isn't getting an upgrade every 2 years. 

I'm not offended by the article or the study.  If I were the one who created the study, I may be feeling foolish regarding the result - or at least that person should be if not.  Their methodology clearly isn't fully baked or they have a dramatically different definition of "stress".

Audiologists probably go home at 5pm.  I was up until 1am last night - coding.  Nuff said.

May 24, 2011 5:22 AM Jim Jim  says: in response to R.Lawson

I dislike these "studies" because they are inaccurate, misleading and impossible to validate. How could anyone accurately determine the collective stress level of a community of professionals and compare them? What's most problematic is that journalists love this garbage (note - garbage in, garbage out). They're a great vehicle to produce articles on the cheap while still being able to reference a "published" report.

I suspect not many have commented on this post simply because there isn't much to say. When confronted with unsubstantiated evidence the best thing to do is ignore it. This article would have been better if the report had not been referenced.

May 27, 2011 11:46 AM G Wehrman G Wehrman  says:

I have to agree, most of the stress for software engineers and programmers is self-induced.  We spend too much time complaining about deadlines, lack of resources, etc., when we would be better off just working through the problems.

Looks at the comments to the original article makes me wonder, who doesn't think they have a stressful job?

May 15, 2013 3:32 PM corey corey  says:
I love that everyone completely missed the point. To me it makes the point even more important. Programmers are probably as far removed from our natural state (hunter gatherers) as possible, making the point of this article that much harder for them to grasp. The point is, that deadline is not going to kill you, RELAX. Reply
May 23, 2013 2:16 PM Boris Boris  says:
Is this article trolling? Quite seriously, if a dodgy "Top 10" list is going to be used to make your assertions, despite the supposed methodology which makes NO MENTION of social situation stress and places too much focus on physical stress with, mind you, no references to actual research, one could argue the opposite with another just-as-valid source! http://allyouneedislists.com/world-business/online-business/top-10-causes-of-stress-in-the-workplace/ I hope nobody in a real-world stressful situation reads your article and proceeds to blame themselves. Would you like the possibility of somebody's suicide after reaching this conclusion on your conscience? Or are you simply a sociopath who enjoys blaming the victim for the sport of it? Reply
Dec 23, 2015 4:58 PM Dan Dan  says:
Obviously everyone should relax, and the modern world isn't really built around the animal parts of our brains. Still, programming is constant solving of incredibly complex problems that never end. What's worse, as R. Lawson pointed out: if you don't keep up with the industry (And since it's based entirely on technology it changes at an incredible pace), you'll find yourself out of work. What this translates into is that programmers who often feel pressure to keep up end up devoting their nights and weekends to developing outside of work. This is a profession that is extremely hard, if not impossible, to walk away from after 5 o'clock. Any job that overflows into your life will increase stress levels. Add to that co-workers or managers while on the job who have no idea what you do and expect your to be able to accurately estimate the time it will take to track down a bug, or build in a language / platform you aren't familiar with, and you've got a career I'd rate about a 6/10 on the stress scale. It's certainly not a job where your life is on the line (only reason I wouldn't rate it 8, 9, or 10/10), but the pressures of one of the fastest moving industries really do induce stress. Reply

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