Acknowledgements: I want to thank Jeremy Sinclair for breaking the ice on this difficult topic for me.
I'm ready for a better 2022.
It wouldn't take much. 2021 pretty much sucked, right? Even for introverts like me, who were gifted the best excuse ever to just stay home and code.
I mean, it's possible 2021 rocked for one or two people (per billion). Like remember that time your tech startup went public, you effectively won the lottery, and you bought a Maserati? You then quit your job only to find that true happiness was inside you all along and so you went back to work part time for the pure pleasure of it? Doesn't ring a bell? Oh yea, that was actually my roommate from college whom I recently met up with. I appreciate and am genuinely happy for him, but I suspect even he's had a tough year.
The point is 2022 is ripe for improvement. And tops on my areas for improvement: mental health. Here are some areas in which I hope to improve.
1. Be More Compassionate
When Jeremy Sinclair spent a sizable segment of his Keynote at NoVA Code Camp last year on mental health, I was amazed at his bravery. I've been struggling with why that is. I suppose as an industry, and maybe as a culture generally, we tuck this topic away and don't discuss it because it's hard and it's personal. But when we remain silent, we lose the opportunity to learn from each other.
Following Jeremy's lead, I'm going to try to be brave, too. Hopefully you can find something useful here. Please stop skimming and either compassionately read or skip this paragraph. You see, this has been the hardest year I've had in a long time. My younger brother died this year. Please know that I share this out of love for his memory and my sincere hope that my honesty will help others. Sharing will at least help me. See, my brother struggled with Schizophrenia. He was the kindest, sweetest, quirkiest, most honest, trusting, most genuine, most loving person. But he struggled with these inner demons that no one should ever have to face. Once he discovered the right medication, and the right professional help, and after a lot of hard work, he was virtually indistinguishable from any other quirky person you've ever known. With the help of family and friends he lifted himself out of a mental health facility. By 2021 he had accomplished his three main life goals: he had a driver's license and a car, a condo where he lived on his own, and a job delivering food. I was so proud of him. Long story short COVID disrupted the medication he needed, and things went south.
My brother's situation may seem foreign, but I bet you know folks that are a little different like he was. There were many people that picked on or took advantage of my brother, especially in the work world, because he didn't fit the mold. That sucks. I can't change others but going into 2022 I'm going to try harder to be compassionate to those around me.
Schizophrenia is one thing, but mental health challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and many aren't so visible. Jeremy described his challenges with ADHD. I know several folks that struggle with depression, some with addiction, and others that struggle with Asperger's.
Personally, I struggle with anxiety. I've had two anxiety attacks in my life. I'm also currently struggling with mourning. I haven't blogged or done a video in 6 months. I'll get back to blogging regularly when I'm ready. But I'm striving to be more compassionate to myself, too, in the coming year.
2. Improve Physical Health
I firmly believe that there is a strong correlation between physical and mental health. For me there is anyway.
For instance, today crowds don't bother me at all, but when I was younger, I couldn't stand them. Large groups of people caused such anxiety that I routinely had to literally run away. When someone asked recently, I estimated it improved about 10 years ago.
I don't believe it's a coincidence that almost exactly 10 years ago in August of 2012 I got a Garmin Watch, and it changed my life. I started running daily in order to get 10,000 steps. My physical health improved, and my mental health along with it. My doctor confirmed that running helps with anxiety and indeed my overall anxiety decreased. I feel that this one daily habit has additionally improved my mental acuity, reduced stress, improved my sleep, and allowed me to manage my mental health challenges without medication.
So, in 2022 I will continue to prioritize physical health because it improves my mental health. If that sounds good to you, I highly recommend a step counter. I particularly love my Apple Watch because it tracks calories not steps, and thus accounts for swimming and biking activities, and the achievements make it fun.
3. Track Mental Health
Ask any software developer and the first step of improving performance is collecting data. There are many folks I work with and respect that might collect mental health data with pen and paper. However, for the last month I've been using the daylio app. It's produced a number of personalized insights for both preventative and reactive triggers for anxiety and mental wellbeing generally. For instance, I've started my day with meditation (with the Insight Timer app) for the last two weeks and I've discovered it improves my mood and reduces anxiety. Also music, comedy, hobbies, me time, cleaning (seriously), and getting to sleep early seem to make a big difference. I will continue tracking my moods in 2022 to gain additional insights to improve my mental health.
4. Manage Psychic Weight
I receive an enormous amount of anxiety from unfinished, and especially unenumerated tasks. I believe Scott Hanselman refers to this as psychic weight.
I was really stressed out ten years ago. I felt that familiar pressure between my eyes and felt like all the things that remained undone were pressing on me. I called it "psychic weight." I have since then collected my Productivity Tips and written extensively on the topic of productivity and getting things done. I'm going to continue to remind YOU that Self-Care Matters in between my technical and coding topics.
I'll never be as productive as Scott, but I recently discovered Microsoft ToDo. I feel like I've tried just about all the other task management systems but solving daily task enumeration has helped me reduce stress immensely. The one feature I love most about it is the "My Day" list. This feature is a list that clears out every single day to help force you to reconstruct what's important to you on any given day. It forces good daily habits and doesn't hit you over the head with uncompleted tasks. Using this software I start each day with a fresh perspective and less psychic weight. I will keep this up daily in 2022, and that will make it a much better year for me.
5. Consume Carefully
Thanks to daylio I've discovered that the content I consume affects my mental health: comedy makes me happier, music inspires me, news results in fear and sadness, and politics make me angry. I don't want to be angry. So for 2022 I've removed political podcasts from my feed and reduced news consumption.
I'm also trying to alternate reading inspiring non-fiction books that can improve my mental health with pleasurable fiction just for fun. If this sounds like something that might appeal to you, I would like to suggest some of the following books in which I have found inspiration:
- Speaker for the Dead (Orsen Scott Card)
- So You Want to Talk About Race (Ijeoma Oluo)
- Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
- How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
- Habits of Highly Effective People (Sean Covey)
- 10% Happier (Dan Harris)
- Altered Traits Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson)
- The Power of Positive Thinking (Dr. Norman Vincent Peale)
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Scott Adams)
- The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck M.D.)
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M Pirsig)
- The Paradox of Choice (Barry Schwartz)
- The 4 Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferriss)
Please post additional inspirational reading suggestions for me and readers in the comments or message me on Twitter with them and I'll RT.
6. Value Creativity
Consuming (e.g. books, video games, podcasts, movies) can be helpful or a nice distraction, but for me they rarely bring joy the way creating does. I find my life is happier when I spend time creating things or solving problems. For me that includes coding, natural language writing (e.g. this post), woodworking, 3D Printing, electronics, cooking, playing guitar, and smoking meats. I don't know if it's technically creativity but also on that list is spending time in nature and quality time with family and close friends. These are the types of creative, non-consumption activities that produce joy for me that I will do more of in the coming year.
2021 was hard, but 2022 will be better. What activities will you do more of to improve mental health? Is compassion a part of your New Year's resolutions? What will you do more of in 2022 to reduce stress and feel more balanced? Please share.
If this post was helpful in any way, please say so on Twitter or in the comments. I've branched out by doing a personal, non-tech post and would be happy to do more if it struck a chord.