Software Development: Dealing with the Anxiety I Didn’t Know I Had
Doesn’t working on a month-long, group project building an app with a bunch of people you’ve never met before sound super fun?
Mmmm… Debatable. But, that’s how Labs, the last course at Lambda School, is structured.
Luckily, I had an awesome team. We worked on the Human Rights First app. The purpose of the app is to provide intel on judges to help Refugee Representatives prepare for their asylum cases.
The project seemed awesome. Given that the stakeholders were lawyers and I have a bunch of lawyers in my family, I was feeling pretty confident going into Labs.
Then, we were given access to the code, and my confidence started to deflate as my fears and insecurities started to settle in. Things were no longer awesome. The code seemed insurmountable. I was beyond overwhelmed, not sure where to begin.
A teammate submitted a pull request the second day of Labs, which meant that he had already figured things out, while I was nowhere near that point. Any remaining confidence that I had was fully deflated.
A mixture of panic, worry, and adrenaline started coursing through my system, resulting in my hands physically shaking.
I asked myself: What’s wrong with me?
I had totally forgotten to eat. Maybe, food will fix it.
I’ve been coding, zooming, and doing homework on my computer for hours. Maybe, walking will fix it.
Later as I laid in bed, my mind wouldn’t stop racing, just looping through the day. The force quit button wasn’t working, and I couldn’t shut my system down.
Again, I asked myself: What’s wrong with me?
Anxiety. Anxiety’s been a new concept for me. It’s possible I’ve always had it, but software development has really brought it to the forefront. Throughout Lambda School, I’d more or less been able to manage it. However, Labs was a totally different story. My anxiety took center stage, and she’s not fun.
In fact, she’s so unfun that I’ve started taking some courses by Dr. Valerie Rein to help calm my nervous system. These are some of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned from Dr. Valerie’s work that have helped me:
How this works is:
- You start by taking some deep breaths
- Looking at your surroundings
- Listening to the sounds or lack of sounds
- Smelling and tasting
- Touching like touching your skin because that releases oxytocin, which will make you happy
How this works is:
- You start with taking a deep breath in and holding it
- Squeeze everything: face, arms, stomach, feet, all your body parts
- Hold it for a few seconds
- You exhale and release
- Shaking everything out
- Repeat until you feel calm
Finally, the biggest lesson I learned was that the stories I tell myself are NOT TRUE. For example, I repeatedly told myself that “I’m totally failing Labs. I’m falling so far behind. Maybe I should flex. I’m not ready to graduate. And on and on and on.”
By allowing self-doubt, insecurity, and imposter syndrome to take control, I started self-sabotaging myself because these untrue stories actually started becoming true. It wasn’t until I sat down with my anxiety and felt all the feelings, which is a super unfun process, that I could take back control of the narrative.
Although I have not overcome my anxiety during Labs, I have learned to not fight it. Instead, I am going to acknowledge my shaking hands, squirming stomach, and racing heart and give my feelings as much space as they need. Then, I’m going to repower and shake.
While dealing with anxiety is less awesome, knowing how to manage it is awesome because developing software is hard, and we’re going to be asked to solve problems that initially may seem insurmountable. So, it’s important to have some tools in our toolbox that help us regain our confidence and step up to the challenge.