Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

Summary: Let's face it, the last few years have been a challenge for just about anyone's tolerance of stress and has made even the most "stable" of us question our own emotional and mental health.



I've discovered that IT workers in particular, or anyone who is tightly tied to the use of technology is now on the border of becoming a quivering pile of jelly.

I'm no mental health expert, but I've been around the block a few times, so I thought that given everyone's mood these days I would divert from our usual discussion of computers and technology and center around the most overlooked mission-critical systems component: Our own grey matter.

IT workers, particularly those that are in IT service delivery or are in operational/support roles are constantly trying to meet employer and customer demands. We're tied to email and instant messaging, and not just on our computers.

We're now permanently attached to our smartphones and other smart devices. We're expected to be available at all times, and to be responsive, no matter where we are or what time of day it is.

We live in productivity applications like Microsoft Project or support systems like Remedy and our job performance is defined by chargeability/utilization and deadlines and customer satisfaction. And because we have to be so connected and so well informed to do our jobs, we've now extended our personal lives and non-work time into the realm of electronic news sources, blogging, Twitter, and Social Networking.

The amount of information that we now have to process on a daily basis has now become overwhelming. Our collective synapses are firing like the spark plugs on a V-12 Ferrari.


Yes, really. I mean it. Come home from work, have a pleasing beverage (perhaps a nice glass of red wine) and decompress for a few hours, especially before turning on your home computer or turning on the TV. Learn to have some "me" time disconnected from news and the Internet.

Your Facebook profile and Twitter updates and your blog will still be there later, trust me. Converse with your spouse or partner and talk about the day, eat a real meal at your kitchen table like a human being, and for the rest of the evening, stop doing stuff that involves technology. Seriously.

That includes playing violent video games or anything that would otherwise over-stimulate you. Read a book for a change, or lie down and listen to some relaxing music.

At the very least, by 9PM, put all the damn devices in their chargers, set the IM client to "away", shut your screen off, and if you have to watch TV, for Pete's sake, stop watching the damn news and pick something completely stupid and escapist from your TiVo programs list.

I realize that it's hard, but when you get home, disconnect from the depressing news and the political garbage least a few days a week.

(Edit: After reading this post, a colleague pointed me to this informative piece that was recently published in Conputerworld that many of you should read.)

Many of my colleagues tell me that they are irritable and don't get enough sleep. Hmmm. Let's see.... They're having cups of coffee every 75 minutes, are making twice daily visits to Starbucks and are having triple and quad-shot espresso drinks, and are chain-drinking Diet Cokes, Mountain Dew and Red Bulls.

Wanna hint? Ratchet down the caffeine. Guess what Gen-Xers, you're not 25 anymore. At 6PM, switch to decaf and caffeine-free beverages. And try to avoid eating a heavy meal after 9PM.

Lack of sleep is no joke. It will have a major impact on your personality and job performance.

If you find you're nodding off in the middle of the afternoon, or are chronically fatigued and people are saying that you are irritable, you might want to have yourself checked out by a health professional such as an Ear/Nose/Throat specialist (ENT) or a doctor that specializes in Pulmonary medicine and get a Sleep Study done.

Has your partner or spouse ever told you that you snore or do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night gasping for breath? Do you go to the bathroom several times a night? Is your sleep restless? Do you wake up in the morning feeling extremely tired and find it difficult to get up?

Although some anxiety problems and some sleep issues and can be resolved with prescription drugs such as Xanax and Ambien, you could have something much more serious -- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

Whazzat? It's estimated that up to 1/5th of all adult Americans may have the disorder, which tends to affect people that are overweight (although anyone can get it). And I know a lot of us who work in desk-bound IT jobs don't live super-active lifestyles and could probably shed a few pounds.

I was diagnosed with OSA last year, and since I started using a CPAP machine (a small computerized device which sends regulated pressurized air flow down your windpipe down a hose through a face mask or nosepeice that you sleep with at night) I've been getting at least six hours of uninterrupted deep sleep at night and my mood has improved considerably as well as my overall energy.

I now can get up at 6AM no problem and I no longer feel fatigued in the middle of the day. The downside is you'll look and sound like Darth Vader when you sleep, and the device makes a small amount of noise and takes several weeks to get used to, but it's a small price to pay for increased health (avoiding very serious problems such as Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease, high blood pressure, cardiac issues and heart attacks and stroke down the road) and greatly reduced anxiety and depression.

If OSA sounds like a rare condition, it isn't. It's extremely common, and most people that have it go undiagnosed with it for their entire lives. The technology to effectively treat it has only existed for about 20 years, and CPAPs are now smaller and quieter than ever.

To put this in perspective, since telling some of my colleagues about the condition, several of them have gone on to have sleep studies done (something that your insurance plan will pay for) and were diagnosed with OSA and were given CPAP/BiPAP machines.

A very close friend and two family members on my wife's side also now been diagnosed have OSA, and all three of these people aren't "obese" either. And now they're finally sleeping properly.

Has your job, your enabling technology and the events of the day turned you into a sleep deprived head case? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Health, CXO, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Software, IT Employment


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Busy IT Lifestyle

    It's true - the IT world is very hectic and requires lots of work as well as time to research and respond to messages in many forms. That said it is more interesting and challenging than many. It is great advice though to stop and smell the roses along the way...
  • RE: Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

    Now, where did you get this idea?
  • To answer your question, yes.

    I'd write more, but I'm too busy.

  • Where did you get that picture of me? Take it down now!

    Seriously, you are giving out some VERY good advice.

    I would add:

    Use of sleep aids such as Ambien are effective but should be considered as temporary relief as they can be addictive.

    Determining why you aren't sleeping can correcting 'bad habits' include, not watching TV in bed, using your computer late, eating a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise.

    I recommend brisk walking. It's not stressful and oxygenates your blood and gets air deep into your lungs.

    Sleep apnea is dangerous as it interrupts sleep and your normal breathing patterns can be stopped for as much as a minute which puts stress on the heart.

    Eating well includes no sugar, no highly refined carbohydrates, no red meat, lots of fruit, green vegetables, whole grain breads, soy-based food products and fish. Drink plenty of water during the day and reduce caffeine intake.

    Your diet and exercise regimen combined will result in weight loss which in turn will reduce the fleshy palate at the back of the throat responsible for the apnea.

    Thanks Jason.
    • exercise and caffeine

      I used to live close enough to my job to be able to ride a bike to work. That was great! I did not need coffee, as I arrive awake, alert and refreshed.
    • diet

      Diet is particular to body type and blood type. I know some people who do poorly with grains and no meat and do much better with red meat and no grains. For myself, whole grains are better than baked products, and red meat is not good. Each of us needs to pay attention to the effects of the food we eat and choose foods for the effect we want.
  • RE: Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

    Yes, yes and yes again. If I'm honest, I've *just* woken up from having my first early-bedtime in 4 years. Last night I went to bed at 6pm but that's only because I was so exhausted.
  • RE: Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

    Funny... this is pretty much what I have been saying for how many years now? Thanks for putting in a blog though... ]:)
    Linux User 147560
  • If you're good at what you do...

    You can slack off and still seem like you're working hard, and when crunch time comes you're not stressed because you have room to tighten up the slack.

    ...I never said this...

    Honestly though, why burn yourself out doing IT? Are you getting overtime? Is the pay *that* good?

    I can't see it, unless you have stake in the company and it had good prospects.
    • If you're good at what you do...

      > You can slack off and still seem like you're working hard,
      > and when crunch time comes you're not stressed because you
      > have room to tighten up the slack.
      > ...I never said this...

      Why not? It's *excellent* advice!

      I was close to the "quivering jelly" state, dealing with responsibilities and the perennial cash shortage. :) Then my son gave me advice just like yours - "dad, you don't have to reply *right-away", instead draw it out so it seems like it's really tough and you had to go thru hell to get the solution, else the clueless masses will think it's 'no sweat' for you."

      And no, i don't have OSA, i'm often just plain dead-tired. OTOH, i do experience some nights when i can't get to sleep because i worry too much about a particular pending issue. My solution - don't worry about insomnia. Rather, when you can't get to sleep anyway, get up out of bed and go to the computer and do even *more* useful work. Yeah, i know ... great for productivity, but hell on your nerves, physical well-being and psyche. :)


      Winthrop Yu
    • or ...

      ... you'd like to stay employed in a recession.
  • There is also the autopap

    I've been hooked up to a mask for OSA for
    10 years now and am one of those that try
    to tell people about it.

    The best pap I found is the autopap,
    which adjusts pressure throughout the
    night because your pressure changes
    during the night. The brand I use
    (ResMed) compares each breath with your
    average of the last 100 seconds of
    breathing and adjusts up or down, based
    on what is needed (increasing pressure),
    or what is possible (decreasing pressure).
    Other brands may use different
    approaches, but all basically do the same
    function of delivering various pressure

    How important is it? With OSA you
    basically stop breathing during the night.
    In my sleep study I stopped breathing 55
    times an hour on average and the longest
    period of not breathing was 45 seconds.
    Try breathing out and then not breathing
    in for 45 seconds.

    Pap treatment is basically an air stint that
    keeps your airway open so you can
    breathe. Non bi-pap devices normally
    range in pressure from 4 to 20 and the
    average person would want a pressure of
    at least 5 when they first put the mask on.

    My original pressure was 8 and my
    autopap now has me in the 10 - 11 range.
    When I had surgery for prostate cancer my
    pressure averaged 16 on the day of
    surgery (I even used it in the recovery
    room), dropped to 13 the next day and
    then went back to normal.

    This past February my sister had a cervical
    discectomy (not a surgery needing heavy
    anesthetics) and the nurse on the floor
    refused to let her husband put her cpap
    mask on her and she died. The cause of
    her death was lack of oxygen to the brain.

    If you snore and are halfway tired in the
    morning then you need to get checked.
    Acid reflux during the night? Get

    Not all people who snore have OSA. If you
    have a bed partner then you can talk to
    your doctor about an autopap simply to
    stop the snoring. the snoring might not
    impact your health, but it is impacting the
    health of whoever is sharing your bed.

    You can do a lot of research at
    talkaboutsleep.org - it covers everything
    from the basics to the more complicated.
    There are also links to various brands and
    some of them have significant information
    at the patient and clinical levels. It also
    has links on the message board for the
    heating hose from Australia.

    If anyone has any questions at the patient
    level they can email me a oldhh@mac.com
    • Not just techies

      I have been on a CPAP for six years or so. Many of my fellow sufferers are not geeks. Many (most?) enjoy food possibly a little too much.

      The first few nights, I used mine, my wife was checking me all night long to see if I was still warm as a sign of life since the snore was gone.

  • Stress? What's Stress?

    Sorry, I gave up corporate work and commuting for working online at home.

    Cargo shorts and t-shirts while on a teleconference with your legs up on the desk and taking your lunch break to play Halo 3 rocks.
    • LOL - that answers a lot... thanks nt

      • Yep...I'm Smart Enough To Work Online At Home

        And you're dumb enough to be stuck in morning traffic while I'm still asleep.

        End of story.
  • NO WE'RE NOT, DAMN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • French Foreign Legion

    The French Foreign Legion is a high-stress lifestyle. IT work is nothing. All depends on how you look at it. Do the FFL's jungle course in Fr. Guiana if you want stress.
  • Get another career !!!

    Dude, I've been doing this for over 40 yrs and don't understand this at all. If it's so stressful, find a different career path cause obviously, you can't handle stress. Sure there's stress but what job doesn't have it ?

    Want free time at night ? Get an hourly job.
    Don't want phone calls ? Turn off the phone.

  • RE: Have we all become a bunch of anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived irritable stress-heads?

    Ill admit im a tech fanatic, but it's not my fault! Ill also admit that I dont sleep much, probably due to my constant want (need) to keep updated on all current events, mostly pertaining to new gadgets etc. It's a love hate relationship.