Jeffrey liebert

Jeffrey Liebert

M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Self Employed

Jeffery Liebert works with people in the technology industry struggling with issues related to anxiety, depression, and motivation in the workplace. He helps clients increase productivity, while decreasing anxiety and feelings of burnout. www.jeffreyliebert.com

Description

It's been an open secret in the tech world for a long time that workplace burnout is a real issue. One of the reasons why it persists is the general stigma around mental health and not having open discussions about it. And only just this year, in May 2019, the World Health Organization finally made it an official medical diagnosis. We chat with Jeffery Liebert, a psychologist who specializes in workplace burnout in Silicon Valley, to give us some resources and tools to help with workplace burnout.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] SY: Last year, more than a hundred thousand developers participated in Call for Code 2018, a virtual hackathon with the goal of finding ways to reduce the impact of natural disasters through technology. Submit your idea by midnight Pacific Time, July 29 for your chance to win $200,000 and support from IBM and other partners. Last year’s winner was Project OWL, a deployable mesh network that brings connectivity to survivors of natural disasters which you can learn more about in Episode 1 of this season. Start building your life-saving app today. Just a heads up that after this episode’s end credits, we’ll be playing a trailer of Command Line Heroes, the other podcast I host that’s all about open source and produced by Red Hat. So stay tuned.

[00:00:50] (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about workplace burnout with Silicon Valley psychologist Jeffrey Liebert.

[00:01:04] JL: Just this awareness that I’m not feeling how I should be feeling and I know something is wrong. Anxiety kicks, you start to imagine, “How many more days like this am I going to have?”

[00:01:12] SY: Jeffrey talks about identifying burnout, common triggers, and strategies to mitigate burnout after this.

[00:01:25] You might have already heard us talking about bootcamps on this show and how important they’ve been to changing people’s careers and their lives. Well, Flatiron School is one of the best. The education you receive and the skills you gain and the community you’ll have will prepare you for the rapidly growing tech field. Go to flatironschool.com/codenewbie to learn more. That’s flatironschool.com/codenewbie.

[00:01:47] Actualize Online Live is an online bootcamp created and taught by expert educators. It’s 100% live and can be taken from the comfort of your home. They use video conferencing, so you get to actually see and talk to your instructors and classmates in real time. That means you have live interaction and feedback, not just during instruction but during all your exercises and projects as well. Learn more at actualize.co/codenewbie. That’s actualize.co/codenewbie.

[00:02:17] If you’re designing a website or building a mobile app, you’re probably going to want to take payments at some point. Square APIs allow you to easily implement their payment form on your website. And with their In-App Payments SDK, you can add it to your mobile app. You don’t have to worry about dealing with PCI compliance because they’ll take care of that for you. Don’t let anything come between you and your money. Start building with Square over at squareup.com/go/codenewbie.

[00:02:50] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:51] JL: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

[00:02:52] SY: I’m so excited to have you on the show because burnout is a very, very popular topic as you probably know, specifically in the tech industry and in the coding community. I feel like we talked about burnout constantly and I think we have a general idea of what burnout is, but I want to hear the official definition. What is burnout?

[00:03:10] JL: For me, what I consider the standard definition of burnout, there’s really three really common factors or symptoms. The first would be a physical or emotional exhaustion, really just depleted in a lot of different aspects throughout your day. Another one that often comes with this is detachment or cynicism around your work. And so often that’s kind of pulling back from the day-to-day work, starting to reflect differently on the processes that are involved, maybe being a little bit more critical of managers or even co-workers who aren’t be pulling the weight as you would like them to do. And then the last one that often accompanies this is a feeling that you’re just not reaching your goals. What I hear most often now is either you’re not reaching your goals or maybe you’re just not even aware of what your goal should be.

[00:03:52] SY: So what isn’t burnout? Because a lot of the things you mentioned can be kind of just a regular bad day, right? Like maybe today I feel detached and tomorrow I’ll be fine. So what are some things that we might think are burnout but are just something a lot more innocuous?

[00:04:06] JL: A lot of people would consider burnout to be kind of this any day that’s rough or any day that’s a struggle. Anxiety kicks, you start to imagine, “How many more days like this am I going to have?” And I think that anxiety is appropriate, but I think once that anxiety starts to come to fruition and you start to have maybe two or three weeks on end of this feeling burnout or sometimes it goes even longer than that, but really around that two to three-week mark should be a time to start focusing on yourself and figuring out, “What can I do differently in this situation?”

[00:04:35] SY: Yeah. Okay. So thinking about the timeline and how long you’ve been dealing with those feelings is important. Okay. That makes sense. So I want to hear a little bit more about you and your practice. How many of your clients, generally speaking, suffer from some kind of burnout?

[00:04:50] JL: I would say probably a hundred percent.

[00:04:52] SY: Wow. Okay.

[00:04:54] JL: Yeah. Every person that I work with is dealing with burnout in some factor of their life and all of it is often tied to the workplace. And so whether you’re burned out at your actual job or you’re burned out in your social life, you’re burned out in your romantic or dating life. Usually some part of your life is just overwhelmed and just overworked and often that ties back to just your day-to-day life at work. And if you can manage that, then there’s alleviation in these other areas.

[00:05:20] SY: So how many of your clients are working in the tech industry specifically?

[00:05:24] JL: So I typically have a caseload of around 20 to 25 clients and I would say probably around 20 of them are working in the tech industry. I also work with a lot of veterans who are struggling with a number of other mental health issues. And so that kind of makes up the other half of my practice, but a lot of the people that I work with are in tech and just struggling with anxiety, burnout, depression, like I was mentioning earlier.

[00:05:46] SY: What got you interested in burnout? Is it something that you always wanted to focus on or did it kind of happen organically?

[00:05:52] JL: I’ve always been interested in people who are struggling at work, primarily because I recognize all of the potential that they have and just being burned out at work means that a lot of that potential is just wasted or unused.

[00:06:04] SY: I’m wondering how self-aware people are. When you think about your clients and they come to you, do they know that they’re suffering from burnout?

[00:06:12] JL: Ironically, a lot of people are unaware and I think part of that just becomes a lack of, like we talked about at the beginning, there’s just not this clear definition of burnout and same with a lot of mental health diagnoses that sometimes people will come to me and say, “You know, I’ve had racing heart rate, rapid thoughts. I’m sweating a lot. It’s hard to focus and it’s been going on for months.” And I’ll verbalize, “That sounds like anxiety. It sounds like you might be struggling with some burnout issues,” and it’s kind of this aha moment that there’s finally a label for this feeling.

[00:06:40] SY: Interesting. There must be a huge relief for folks.

[00:06:42] JL: Absolutely. And to recognize that, one, it’s burnout and then all the context that comes with burnout of other people are also experiencing this. There’s a whole kind of lay of the land in terms of skills or strategies that I can do. It takes away from some of the ambiguity of that.

[00:06:57] SY: So if they don’t know they have burnout, what do they usually come to you for?

[00:07:01] JL: Feeling like garbage, for lack of better words. It was just this awareness that I’m not feeling how I should be feeling and I know something is wrong.

[00:07:10] SY: What can they do or how can they recognize that they are headed towards burnout before things get really bad?

[00:07:17] JL: I think that is one of the best questions and something that I work with people all the time. I’m going to segue into give you an analogy here that I often share with people that I work with that if you consider your life and your emotions and all of these things whether it’s burnout or anxiety as a thermometer, there’s this incremental increases on one side of the thermometer that as you get to the top you burn and burst and everyone around you kind of gets hurt, for lack of better words. And if you can attend to your thermometer and recognize what causes you to increase each little tick, you can then maybe find a skill or a strategy to down-regulate such that you don’t get to that burst. So it’s really about increasing awareness of what are those little steps that get you to the point of bursting so that we can backtrack and find skills to help you stay in the low level ones.

[00:08:02] SY: What counts as an increment? Because, again, I’m thinking about all the days I’ve had that are just rough days. You know, I just stressed out because there’s something happened and I know it’s going to pass, maybe I don’t know if it's going to pass. But when we’re talking about regulating that, how do I know it is an actual full increment?

[00:08:19] JL: Part of that comes with just practicing awareness that the first day that I was taught about this is something that I tried to do was to increase my own awareness and I got to my work site and was like, “I’m probably about a 1 out of 10.” Throughout the day, I realized, “Oh, maybe I got to a 3.” As I’ve gotten better at this and increased my awareness, I realized there are a lot more things throughout the day that can cause someone to jump up or down an increment.

[00:08:42] SY: Yeah.

[00:08:42] JL: And so a great example would be, you know, if I wake up in the morning and it’s raining, and let’s say I’m not a raining person, maybe I’m at a 1 out of 10 just because the rain is not my way.

[00:08:51] SY: Yeah.

[00:08:52] JL: And then I get my car and some random person is really frustrated with me on the road and honks at me. Now I’m at a 2. And all of these things can slowly increase to where I get to work and I’m at a 5 and I’m very volatile to maybe do or say something I don’t want to do. And so if I can attend to these things and right when I get to work before I walk in, I can do a skill to bring me down to a 1 and give me all that bandwidth back.

[00:09:16] SY: Is there a system that you use to do that when you think about going from that 1 to 2 to a 5? Is there, I don’t know, like an app or a journal or some type of tool that you use?

[00:09:27] JL: I often actually advocate for people to take notes into document kind of data about themselves. And so if you have the data and the data is in front of you, then we can at least attend to what is based in reality. So I often advocate for people throughout their day to mark down what causes them to feel anything at all, from there together we can work to parse them out and put them in their appropriate place on their thermometer and then alternatively talk about skills to help regulate down on the other side.

[00:09:53] SY: So it’s interesting the timing of this interview because at the time of this recording, the World Health Organization made burnout an official medical diagnosis, which is kind of awesome. It’s super validating to hear that this idea burnout, you know, it’s not in my head, it’s not this general thing, it’s real. It’s a real thing with medical diagnosis. And I’m wondering how that relates to the stigma around mental health in general and burnout being a mental health issue. How do you think about that? How do you feel about that stigma and how it relates to the work that you do?

[00:10:25] JL: Honestly, I think the official diagnosis of burnout is something that’s going to be relieving for a lot of people and just the sense of connecting with other people who also may have the same struggle. I found that whenever something gets a label, whether it’s anxiety or depression and especially when it comes with a formal diagnosis, there is this natural tendency for people to be more accepting of it. Typically, there’s kind of a little bit of a hesitancy at the onset, but then over time people become much more adapt and willing to acknowledge, that maybe what I’m struggling with myself and I think if anything that gives us more of a universal language that we can all speak.

[00:11:01] SY: So I’m wondering, what are the first steps that you take to help someone treat burnout?

[00:11:06] JL: So one of the first things I do is always ask, “What are you doing for yourself?” I find most often than not it’s, “I go to work, I come home, and I eat.” And I think that there’s just clearly not enough of a balance there of the things that you need to do for yourself to feel better and the beauty and that is that I’m not always even advocating for people to spend hours in their evening doing something. It might be as simple as a 10-minute walk during a lunch break. And so there’s a lot of these things that I start with to figure out what it is that you’re doing for yourself to feel better and then shifting into maybe some of the skills or strategies that I may know that might help you to feel better in some of the situations you’re struggling in.

[00:11:44] SY: And you also mentioned that data collection as well. When you talk about the data collection, how do you recommend people approach that? Is it at the end of the day I document things? Is it every time I feel a different feeling I document things? How do you recommend that?

[00:11:59] JL: There’s actually a dual approach that often suggest which is that in-the-moment suggestion where as you’re feeling something, maybe you pull out your phone and you take a note or you text yourself or send an email, but documenting things in the moment often has the greatest impact because it’s more real feeling in that situation. There’s really three main questions. What are you feeling? What happened? And what would you like to do differently next time you feel the same way?

[00:12:23] SY: Oh.

[00:12:24] JL: And if you can do this every time, you can recognize that some of the suggestions you come up with for next time may not work well, but at least they’re not going to repeat the same pattern that you know is going to end poorly.

[00:12:36] SY: It’s also very solutions-oriented.

[00:12:38] JL: very much so and that’s how I work. I often tell people the way that I work as a therapist is maybe a little bit more unique than some other therapists in the fact that I’m very solution-oriented, really direct, really how do we solve your problem in a way that works for you, and some other therapists take more soft approach, take a more self-guided approach and each person has their own way. I found that the way that I work often resonates well with some of the engineers that I work with.

[00:13:05] SY: Yeah, I believe that.

[00:13:18] Flatiron is a global school with immersive and online courses designed for passionate people who are ready to change their lives. Check out Flatiron School’s free 75-hour bootcamp prep where you can learn not just coding languages like JavaScript and Ruby, but also how to ace your job interview. By the way, did you know that they’re now part of WeWork? Which means they now offer classes at a growing number of WeWork locations around the world. A bold change begins with a single step. To take yours, go to flatironschool.com/codenewbie and learn more. That’s flatironschool.com/codenewbie.

[00:13:52] Actualize Online Live is not only a super convenient way to receive a top-notch bootcamp instruction from the comfort of your home, they also have nifty tools to help you learn everything from new coding concepts to syntax. They even produce a free weekly video called “Think Like A Software Engineer”, which teaches you things like how to debug code, how to research problems, and how to teach yourself new languages. Learning the mindset of a software engineer is the key to getting past the hurdles that can bog you down as you code. Check out the series at actualize.co/codenewbie. That’s actualize.co/codenewbie.

[00:14:31] SY: So you talked about this idea of tracking our thermometer and kind of seeing how things increment throughout the day and it sounds like we are looking for a correlation between, “Oh, I feel differently and something caused me to feel differently.” I’m wondering, are there common triggers for people from the people that you work with?

[00:14:51] JL: There are absolutely common triggers and I think it’s really important that we talk about these common triggers especially because a lot of people don’t talk about them. And I think if, one, if you’re aware of what they are, you can be more mindful to look for them in your life. And two, if you’re experiencing them, it might be kind of nice to know that you’re not alone in this. And so some of the really common triggers that I find are interactions with managers where managers are demanding either more work than what you feel is possible, more hours than you have in your day or maybe even in your life, interactions with managers where you’re trying to just simply advocate for change or advocate for something that is truly intended to benefit you and your team but managers for logistical or political reasons are inclined to say no. And really a lot of the burnout and a lot of the frustration from the people that I talked with comes from trying to benefit others and then being told no or kind of stay in your lane, for lack of better words.

[00:15:45] SY: So a lot of the triggers that you mentioned are frankly like outside of our control, which sucks, right? If I have a bad manager or I’m not able to implement my ideas at work for reasons that are outside my control, there’s almost not much I can really do about that. So for those types of triggers, the ones that really don’t have much to do with me, how does someone mitigate those?

[00:16:08] JL: It’s one of the best questions and one of the most common questions that I have when people come into therapy. And so a lot of the work that I do is focus on, if you can’t address and you can’t change a part of your life, what parts of your life can you change? And can those changes be enough to mitigate the distress in the other part? So if work is going so poorly or there so many problematic interactions with your manager, can you make that up by having fantastic interactions with your teammates, support from a partner at home who was willing to hear you and listen to you and validate your struggle? Can the self-care make up for the struggles at work? And if not, then it might be worth evaluating, “Do I change my work environment?”

[00:16:47] SY: I’ve heard of other things, like I’ve heard people say yoga, meditation, breathing. What is your take on those types of activities?

[00:16:54] JL: So I think they’re phenomenal. The things you’re talking about kind of lumped into this category of mindfulness meditation, which is somewhat kind of a buzzword now. And despite it being a buzzword, the strategies work. A lot of the people that I work with now actually teach some of those skills and I recognize that every kind of practitioner has their own tweaks to some of these skills. A lot of the skills that I do are based in data, based in research and science because it’s hard for me to say something works without that backing. A lot of the things that I advocate for people to do are meditation, yoga, or any form of exercise really. The beauty with exercise is that we all have this really pesky little hormone in our brain called cortisol and cortisol is what makes us feel stress and anxiety and the beautiful thing…

[00:17:38] SY: I’ve got a lot of that.

[00:17:39] JL: Yeah, right. The beauty is that as you exercise, your body naturally produces cortisol and uses it in your exercise. And so the research has proven that for at least 20 minutes to an hour after exercise you cannot feel the same level of anxiety because there’s not the same level of cortisol.

[00:17:58] SY: Okay, that’s an added motivation to exercising. I like that.

[00:18:01] JL: So exercise is one that is always advocated for in my practice. Other ones that I like to advocate for are things like you mentioned of breathing, but oftentimes people, when you say, “Go do deep breathing,” that’s kind of like I said this catch-all term and so I like to keep it a little bit more literal. And what I mean by that is there’s a really common pattern for breathing that I like to advocate for that has again research behind it. So the pattern that I advocate for is a really, really easy one to remember, which is three plus two equals five. Every one of us can remember that. The way that it works is you’re going to do… it’s kind of a fluid motion, but it’s going to be an inhale for three seconds, hold for two, and exhale for five. If you cycle through that pattern, I believe five to seven times, you should statistically be able to lower your heart rate. And so now you can also not only do something but you have a measure for success to say, “Well, is my heart rate actually lowering?”

[00:18:58] SY: Because that’s always been my issue with breathing. I’m like, “What is this actually doing for me? How does it actually work? What are the benefits?” But now I have a goal to lower my heart rate. Nice.

[00:19:08] JL: For me setting an intention is really incredibly valuable in all areas of life, even in terms of the skills that we’re doing to help us feel better. And so in addition to the meditation, in addition to the breathing techniques, there are a couple of other techniques that I typically advocate for. There’s one that I like to teach people which is kind of a really common grounding technique. The way that this one works is that the science shows that as you’re anxious or depressed or maybe even burned out, there’s parts of your brain that are lit up and activated on a brain scan. If you use this skill, what it does is it activates that same part of your brain and more such that you can’t have those same racing thoughts. All that you need to consider is counting one, two, three, four, five, and our senses: touch, taste, smell, hear, see. The way this one works is you would simply pick one of your senses. So touch, and you would start at one or start at five. And so if you pick touch and you start at five, wherever you are seated in your current position, you would touch five things, and either out loud or to yourself, give yourself a brief description of what it feels like. So you may touch your jeans and say, “It feels a little bit rough, but also maybe a little bit soft.” You might touch the couch and say, “You know, it’s a little bit squishy, a little bit smooth on the couch.” And after you do five, you would then just move to the next sensation of maybe I do smell. Can I smell four things? Can I hear three things? Can I taste two things? Can I see one thing? And what this does is it really brings all of your attention into the room where you are and stops you from having those really catastrophic thoughts that often come with anxiety and burnout.

[00:20:48] SY: That sounds like fun.

[00:20:50] JL: The beauty of that one is that it’s really flexible in the sense that you might even look around and say, “What are the five objects that look like a square? What are four objects that are pink?” It’s really about focusing on your surroundings and what is in the room with you.

[00:21:03] SY: Do you have a favorite technique of the ones you mentioned?

[00:21:05] JL: To be honest, that one is actually my favorite.

[00:21:06] SY: Yeah. That’s a good one.

[00:21:08] JL: It’s a really effective. You can do it in a short as 30 seconds or as long as 5 minutes if you really want to sit and feel and touch everything. What I like about that one especially is that if you imagine your hand is on your knee and you’re kind of feeling your pants and you bring your hand up to your face and you feel the side of your cheek, you’re getting this sensory input, but you look relatively normal. And so you could be in a business….

[00:21:30] SY: You could do it in public. Yeah.

[00:21:31] JL: Exactly. Exactly.

[00:21:33] SY: That’s a good point.

[00:21:34] JL: That’s often the biggest struggle is that people get these skills of, you know, “When you’re stressed, go take a shower.” I can’t do that in the middle of my workday.

[00:21:41] SY: Yeah.

[00:21:42] JL: And so some of these are really valuable. You can do them anywhere.

[00:21:44] SY: I love these techniques because they’re so actionable, like it feels like these are all things that I can try right away. For the last one that you mentioned, does it take any practice to actually feel the effects of it? If I do that for one round, will I start to see the change immediately?

[00:22:00] JL: Actually yes. I typically have found that a good measure to do is it kind of combines a couple of these skills is to start by saying, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how X feeling am I?” Whether that’s anxious, depressed, burned out, determine a number and then try one of these skills and see what happens to that number. Oftentimes, I find that if you’re at a 3 or lower, some of these skills might not have too much of an impact as we can all relatively manage a 3. It’s typically at the 5, 6, 7 that these start to have much more of an impact.

[00:22:32] SY: Yeah.

[00:22:32] JL: It’s worth recognizing too that none of these skills are intended to go from 10 to 0, but there’s supposed to be enough that they can take off the edge so you can think clearly, make a different decision, do something different.

[00:22:43] SY: So you mentioned earlier that a good chunk of your clients come from the tech industry and I feel like, again, we talk about burnout so much in tech and in coding. I’m wondering, do you think there’s anything inherent about engineering, about software, about coding that makes it more likely that will burnout?

[00:23:02] JL: Actually, I do. I found that there’s an interesting level of motivation in people who work in the technology industry, especially people who code. And what I mean by that is that they’re dedicated to a level that people in other industries seem to be missing. And if I’m fully transparent, I don’t always necessarily consider that a benefit. It seems as though often this dedication leads then to excessive work hours, trying to overdo things to the extent that other people are impressed at your own expense.

[00:23:34] SY: I think I agree with you. I think I see that a lot especially in our industry, you know, open source is something that’s heavily, heavily encouraged and a common piece of advice to say, “You know, if you want to get good at coding, if you want to show off your skills, get a job, contribute to open source,” which is basically saying do a lot of free work for the community’s benefit in your free time, which can be great, it can be a great way to learn, level up, contribute all that, but it can also take a toll if you’re not careful. So I definitely think we have this culture of sharing and building and doing things for other people that leads to a great ecosystem, but on an individual level can be to our own detriment.

[00:24:13] JL: I think that was incredibly well said. And as you’re mentioning some of these kinds of companies, they all have really great intentions, especially in terms of mental health and avoiding burnout. But on an individual level, that doesn’t always seem to follow through.

[00:24:34] SY: Coming up next, we chat with Jeffrey about how to approach a co-worker you might feel is suffering from burnout, whether we truly ever recover from burnout and whether burnout can all be solved through self-work after this.

[00:24:54] We’ve talked about open source a bunch of times on this podcast, but frankly, open source is so big and complex, and fascinating that it needs its own show, and it has one called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat and it’s hosted by me. That’s right. I’ve got another podcast talking to incredible people about all things open source. We talk about the history of open source, the introduction of DevOps and then DevSecOps, and we even do an interview with the CTO of NASA. And that’s just the beginning. We also dig into cloud and serverless and big data, and all those important tech terms you’ve heard of, and we get to explore. If you’re looking for more tech stories to listen to, check out redhat.com/commandlineheroes. That’s redhat.com/commandlineheroes.

[00:25:40] Square has APIs and SDKs to make taking payments easy whether you’re building a mobile app in iOS, Android, Flutter, or React Native. If you want to embed a checkout experience into your website, it’s super easy. Square has processed billions of transactions so you know it’s tried and true. Start building with Square over at squareup.com/go/codenewbie.

[00:26:07] SY: I want to talk a little bit about companies and their role in workplace burnout. What are some of the best ways that companies can mitigate workplace burnout?

[00:26:16] JL: A lot of the companies and some of the major tech companies actually are doing a really great job. I mentioned earlier that I work in private practice working with people in the technology industry. I also work part-time for a company that provides a number of services to a lot of these major tech companies. The company is called Crossover Health and they provide physical therapy, acupuncture, behavioral health, doctors, nurses, optometry, chiropractic, a little bit of everything, and more and more companies are buying into this model of more individualized care for their employees to help make sure that they can come back and do the work at the job site. One of the best examples that I’ve seen with some companies making changes to advocate for employee burnout is actually something recently that happened with Microsoft. For Mental Health Awareness Month, Microsoft actually approved I believe 10 to 15 additional mental health sessions for all of their employees across the company.

[00:27:12] SY: Oh, wow!

[00:27:13] JL: It’s phenomenal. There’s this growing awareness of the impact that mental health has on employees which then correlates back to impacting on the business. And so I think that the awareness of that is helping employers be more motivated to help their employees.

[00:27:28] SY: I’m also wondering what the role is of co-workers because a lot of times you look at your coworker, your peer, and you can kind of get a sense that maybe they’re a little anxious, they’re stressed out, and maybe you’re concerned, you’re worried that they might be headed towards burnout. How do you deal with that? If you’ve noticed that, someone you care about someone in your life, how do you have that conversation or should you have that conversation?

[00:27:53] JL: Well, I think especially part of the conversation we’re having today is about the stigma that surrounding these things in just the general lack of awareness. And so I think if you are someone who can recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout and you are caring for someone, I think it’s very appropriate to have a conversation about simply advocating for their health and for their benefit. And I think just promoting all sorts of avenues, whether you advocate for them to take care of themselves, you advocate for them to go get help from a professional, whether it’s a therapist or a doctor, I think it’s very reasonable in today’s world to expect that you might offer that suggestion to somebody.

[00:28:29] SY: How would you start that conversation? For example, if you saw me and I’m super stressed out, really anxious, I’ve had a couple, maybe a week or two now where I’ve been in this funk and you’re worried about me, what might you say?

[00:28:41] JL: I recognize that I’m a therapist, but my first go-to is often always a question and rather than saying, “Hey, you look really stressed,” I might start by saying, “Hey, how are you feeling?” And based on their answer, I might then push forward to say, “Well, it seems like you might be a little bit stressed, and if you need me to, I can give you the evidence of what I’ve seen that makes me feel like you’re stressed.” And then typically following that up with especially if it’s appropriate to say, “And here is something that I’ve done to help with my stress. I wonder what would be good for you.”

[00:29:12] SY: That is a great way to put that.

[00:29:14] JL: I think with that last part, that key phrasing at the end is, “And I wonder what would work well for you,” because often times people give suggestions of what works for them, not always aware that their suggestions might not work for somebody else.

[00:29:27] SY: I don’t get it as much anymore, but a few years ago back when I was first starting CodeNewbie, I got so much advice from people about burnout, so much advice from people who said like, “Hey, I think you should work less and I think you’re burning out.” And I was great, like I was having a blast, but there was this huge assumption that because I was working so much that obviously I was going to burnout. And while I know that people meant well, the approach really bothered me because it wasn’t a question of, you know, like you said, right, “How are you feeling? How are you doing?” It wasn’t that. It was more of, “You definitely are going to burnout. You should stop.”

[00:30:01] JL: Right.

[00:30:01] SY: And I was like, “You don’t really know me. We just know each other from Twitter.”

[00:30:04] JL: Exactly.

[00:30:05] SY: You know, so it was a very weird place to be in knowing that someone’s trying to be helpful, but also still being offended by it.

[00:30:12] JL: Right.

[00:30:12] SY: So I like your approach a lot better.

[00:30:14] JL: I think it works well to not assume.

[00:30:17] SY: So we talked a lot about the work that we can do with ourselves. We walk through some really helpful, actionable techniques. When do you know that, you know what, it’s time to just get a new job? When do we cross that line from I’m going to keep working on myself to I really need to change my situation?”

[00:30:35] JL: Part of that is hard to answer on because maybe it’s a little bit more individualized, but a good frame of reference would be that if you are four weeks into burnout, I would probably give yourself maybe about that same time to get out of burnout.

[00:30:48] SY: Okay.

[00:30:48] JL: And I would actively try and implement these skills and strategies of, one, attending to what is your emotional state, what have you learned that helps you to down-regulate when you do incrementally go up, how many of the days can you get exercise, self-care, time with friends. If you kind of hyper and front load these things for a month, if that doesn’t change your mood, it’s probably worth re-evaluating your position. And I recognize too that even asking some people to stay in that place for a month is hard to do. And if you’re at that point, maybe it’s even shorter than a month.

[00:31:23] SY: Do you ever truly recover from burnout? Even the term burnout kind of sounds like a very permanent thing, like you’ve done some pretty serious damage to yourself. So when you think about recovering and trying to bounce back, are you ever really recovered?

[00:31:37] JL: I would like to say yes and I land in the place of maybe burnout should be considered more situational that you were burned out with the pattern of how things were going. But if you can implement a new pattern, burnout may go away.

[00:31:48] SY: I like that. That is very optimistic.

[00:31:50] JL: It’s typically the place that I land.

[00:31:53] SY: So what are some other resources, maybe books or websites, anything else that you’d recommend for folks who are either concerned about burnout for themselves or for people they work with who might want to learn more about how to deal with it?

[00:32:05] JL: There are a number of fantastic resources out there. In terms of applications, there’s a bunch of iPhone apps. I know there’s things like headspace. There’s another one called Calm. And these are really effective at giving you really quick tools and strategies for how to be more mindful, how to meditate, how to kind of calm our anxieties in the moment, and a lot of people that I work with report that, one, it’s helpful for day-to-day anxiety, but also for anxiety when you’re trying to sleep, which is another factor that we haven’t even spend much time talking about.

[00:32:36] SY: Can we spend a little time talking about that? Because I have major anxiety. I can only fall asleep if I’m listening to an audio book or a TV show because I just can’t stop my mind from racing.

[00:32:47] JL: Fantastic. Not fantastic that I’m happy. I’m struggling with that. But talking about sleep issues is something that I end up talking about with nearly every person that comes into my office. And interestingly, that’s often not something that is considered. It’s more of, “Oh, yeah. I struggle with sleep or I only got six hours or four hours because of the workload,” but that’s not a factor here. And I think it’s really important that we do focus on sleep and getting enough sleep. And so if you’re having trouble sleeping, there are two questions that I often ask which is, “Are you having trouble with your body getting asleep or you’re having trouble with your mind getting asleep?” And they both come with very different strategies. So if your mind is having a hard time getting asleep, often times we’re doing this thing called ruminating where we’re just going in patterns of cycling through our thoughts over and over and over and over again.

[00:33:35] SY: Yup.

[00:33:35] JL: And so one really effective strategy is to do what I call “Stream of Consciousness Writing”. And so you would pull out a pen and paper or a pencil and paper, maybe even your iPhone if you prefer to type, and just stream of consciousness you may say things like, “Wow, I’m really stressed. My boss is really frustrating. I’m pretty hungry right now and my boss was really annoying today at work.” And truly, whichever way your mind takes you but the intention is to get all of those thoughts in your mind that you need to save on the paper knowing that it’s safe and saved on the paper. You can go look at that paper whenever you need to. We don’t need to keep them cycling in our mind. Another strategy for that is also list-making, which a lot of people report can be really helpful that if I make a list the night before, I can shift into sleep easier knowing that I could just look at my list the next morning. I don’t need to have it constantly cycling in my mind. So those are often for, if your mind is awake, some of the best ones to do are some of the writing type of exercises or even some of the ones that we mentioned earlier like the grounding technique or a deep breathing technique can be really helpful at kind of regulating your mind.

[00:34:40] SY: Yeah.

[00:34:41] JL: In terms of your body, when people say, “I just feel like I have a lot of energy. My body’s moving a lot.” There’s two suggestions that I often give. One is one of my favorite things to do, which is called “Progressive Muscle Relaxation”. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube, online. You can search anywhere for this, but the premise is, is it’s an incremental process of starting from your toes or your head and you flex a joint. So let’s say you started your toes, you would flex your toes as tight as you can for about five seconds and then release and you slowly incrementally work your way up your body. And whenever I do this and whenever I do it well, my whole body feels really heavy and really warm, almost to the point where I don’t want to move. So it’s just really easy to just shift into asleep.

[00:35:30] SY: Yeah.

[00:35:30] JL: And this is another one that takes literally maybe three to five minutes and can be really, really impactful. Another one that I often share with people which sometimes is counterintuitive is to actually get up. If you sit in your bed and you’re anxious in bed, your body will quickly correlate anxiety with bed and it can become really hard to break that pattern even if you don’t feel anxious anymore.

[00:35:52] SY: Oh, interesting.

[00:35:53] JL: And so if you get up, maybe do some exercise, maybe walk around a little bit, maybe that’s when you do some more writing, but staying in bed sometimes can be counterproductive.

[00:36:07] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of three very important questions Jeffrey, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:36:14] JL: I am ready.

[00:36:15] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:36:19] JL: Worst advice I’ve ever received is to stop. In a number of different areas, I think as much as I’m not in the actual world of coding myself, I can relate to that feeling of wanting to push forward, wanting to promote the benefit of a company, wanting to promote the benefit of employees, and more or less being told to stop. And I think one thing that I appreciate most is maybe it’s part of my stubbornness and personality, but it’s also some of the advice that I’ve gone from mentors of, “No. Maybe don’t stop. Maybe just stop in the way that you’re doing it.” And I thought that that was incredible counter advice.

[00:36:56] SY: Yeah.

[00:36:56] JL: So rather than beating your head against the wall, see if there’s another way to get the same thing done.

[00:37:01] SY: My first coding project was about?

[00:37:04] JL: When I was in graduate school, I had an idea to create an iPhone application that was based on simplifying the diagnostic manual for mental health disorders. And basically, what I want to do is take the diagnostic manual and turn it into a yes-no kind of flow chart. And I was able to do that work. That’s all work that I’m clearly capable of doing. But when it came time to code, I realized I have no skills in that area. And I actually went and tried to learn how to code and I think part of that process of learning how to code, you need an immense appreciation for people who actually code and who code well.

[00:37:39] SY: Number three, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:37:43] JL: I would say that with the limited experience I have, I realized just how much time and dedication it takes to even learn how to code, let alone code a full project because I quickly realized that it’s not something that I am talented in naturally and I don’t necessarily even have the bandwidth to learn given all the other things that I was taking on. And so I got an appreciation for coding, but I also got an appreciation for just what these people go through on a day-to-day basis whether it’s with their manager, with the literal work they’re doing.

[00:38:13] SY: Well, thank you so much Jeffrey for being on the show.

[00:38:15] JL: Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

[00:38:24] SY: This episode was edited and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

Command Line Heroes trailer:

[00:39:02] GC: At the end of the meeting, they were in agreement. They wanted one data-processing language. The language which came to be known as COBOL.

[00:39:08] SY: That’s programming pioneer, Grace Hopper. We told her story last season and there was so much love for the tale of Hopper and the early days of programming languages that we decided to follow up with a whole season of amazing language stories. This is Season 3 of Command Line Heroes, an original podcast from Red Hat. And I’m your host, Saron Yitbarek. In Season 1, we tracked the emergence of open source.

[00:39:36] MAN: I think a world without open source is almost bound to be evil.

[00:39:41] SY: In Season 2, we pushed the limit of what developers can shoot for.

[00:39:45] MAN: One day we’re going to put humans on Mars. We’re going to explore even further to find Earth 2.0.

[00:39:52] SY: But we cannot wait to share Season 3 stories with you. Each episode takes you further into the world of programming languages. We’ve been out on the road, listening to hundreds of developers and sysadmins, and your excitement for languages, your curiosity has inspired us to devote a whole season to exploring their secret histories and amazing potential.

[00:40:14] MAN: The language I love the most right now is Python.

[00:40:17] MAN: One language I love is JavaScript.

[00:40:20] WOMAN: Okay. I know this sounds weird, but a language that I love is VAX Assembler.

[00:40:29] SY: There’s no wrong answer. We’ve got COBOL. We’ve got JavaScript. We’ve got C and Perl and Go. We’re taking you to the college campus where basic was COBOL together. We’re diving deep into shell scripts so we can master the language of ops. Around the globe, heroes are using programming languages to develop a brighter, more open future. And we’re all along for the ride no matter where we’re coming from.

[00:40:54] WOMAN: We now see all of these collaborative projects that are interwoven. So it’s quite an evolution.

[00:41:01] WOMAN: Most programming languages, you can just learn a bit and you can really make it do whatever you want.

[00:41:07] SY: It’s a meeting of the minds between humans and our technologies, a journey that extends the possibilities of programming past anything that’s come before. Command Line Heroes Season 3 drops this summer. You can subscribe today wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss an episode. Check redhat.com/commandlineheroes for all the details.

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!