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Stress

By Phil Factor,

Developers and DBAs both tend to lead stressful lives. Occasionally, things don't go to plan, and this stress can then build to pretty intolerable levels. Without adaptive methods of dealing with stress, things can go very wrong, and they do in a variety of different, and occasionally alarming, ways depending on the individual. Over on Simple-Talk, we have just published a brave and frank account by a SysOp who was rushed to hospital with what seemed to be a heart attack. It turned out to Acute Adjustment Disorder due to the level of stress he was under, which he hadn't been able to deal with adaptively.

Often, the effects of unhandled stress are more subtle but just as dangerous to health and well-being, and include sleep disturbance, diminished concentration, and mood swings. There can be epidemics of particular symptoms such as 'Job burnout' and somatization, where the stress-sufferer becomes physically ill. If you can reduce the level of stress at work then, bless you, you've fixed the problem. Most of us can't. Instead, we try to find ways of dealing with it; sometimes by training, sometimes by happy accident.

I have a guilty secret; I love working in IT. I have several friends who, like me, have been in this sort of role for a long time, and the common "secret" to our longevity seems to be that we've learned to cope with stress adaptively. We each have our own "reasons to be cheerful", and can click into a state of happy relaxation just thinking about them, even when surrounded by mayhem.

By Reasons to be Cheerful, I mean things, like hobbies, music, mantras, that relieve stress. For me, it is Nashville Rock music, Phil Dick's novels, alpine plants, Vouvray wine, History books, Don Marquis's poems, medieval buildings, Ukuleles, sports/racing cars, hearing 'ghost Riders in the Sky', good beer, listening to the Crob Crob Crob of a Harley, watching 'Amazon Women on the Moon', listening to Jacobean music, talking to my cats and my pet sheep, or Mediterranean cooking.

If I feel the stress getting to me, all I have to do is to close my eyes and think of one or more of these reasons to be cheerful, and I'm back on-song in no time. Of course, everyone has their own meditative mantra. For a lot of DBAs, it seems to be live rock music or Chevvies with big cubes. Developers seem to go more for Video games. It is all cool.

A psychological study once investigated eccentrics in the workplace, the people who didn't quite conform. They went in with the assumption that these people were 'maladjusted'. To the researchers' surprise, they discovered that these "eccentrics" were actually happier, better adapted, more creative, and more productive than the straight-men in suits. They'd also developed the confidence to be themselves, even if that didn't fit the glossy stereotype. They'd learned how to harness the energy of stress and use it adaptively. Now isn't that a major skill for the exceptional DBA?

Phil Factor (Guest Editor)

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