What makes you stressed?

According to recent figures, techies are officially the most stressed professionals out there — but what exactly are we stressed about?

Stress — the word alone is enough to get some people hot and bothered. According to the TUC, work-related stress costs the UK economy £7bn a year in lost productivity. And if figures from a recent survey are accurate, then melting techies are most likely to suffer from stress.

A shocking 97 percent of people working in IT claim to suffer from symptoms of stress on a daily basis. IT professionals as a group are more stressed than public servants on the front line.

Why should working in IT prove so stressful? A culture of long hours doesn't help, even when it is augmented, as it famously is on some tech firm campuses, with laundrettes and dry cleaners. Nor does the fact that many IT roles get noticed mainly when something goes wrong.

Vendors have been promising that the next product will make the life of the IT department easier since the days of dumb terminals. It hasn't happened. And although systems can always be fixed, the pressure to fix them yesterday increases exponentially with the importance of a company's online uptime.

All this is compounded by periodic cases of deep vein thrombosis. Witness the recent case of freelance programmer Chris Simmons, who collapsed with DVT after an eight-hour coding session.

Interruptions may help avoid DVT if they mean you have to get out of your chair, but they can also be an extra cause of stress. In their book Peopleware, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister claim that constant interruptions prevent workers from being able to get deeply involved with solving a problem — a state they called flow. Constant distractions are stressful and counter-productive, but our workplaces throw an increasing number of distractions at us. Ironically, many of these are enabled by technology: email, instant messaging, meeting requests, diary reminders, texts, voice messages and so on.

We should be able to control this stuff. Some professionals, such as doctors, are often in stressful jobs that they really cannot control. If a doctor does not act now, someone may die. Downed IT systems may erode shareholder value, but they rarely cost lives. If a situation in IT really is that pressurised, it's likely that you've done something wrong in the first place. After all, IT systems should be a whole lot more predictable than medical emergencies (certainly, it would help if we didn't have users messing things up).

One answer lies in being proactive rather than reactive — you might even find you have time to stretch your legs. We're no doctors however, So we'd like you to use the Talkback feature below to tell us what has worked in your workplace.

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