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I'm a year into my first career step, working as a software -developer/-architect/-programmer/etc for a company of less than 20 people.

During the past year, I've developed anxiety, depression, rage issues, control issues, and numerous other mental health problems. I'm currently on two antidepressants that seem to have no effect.

I can say with certainty that my mental issues come from lack of body movement. Not lack of exercise per ce, as I have no desire to work out. Rather, my issues stem from being confined to a chair in a windowless, fluorescent-let room for 8 hours a day.

I am a visual-kinesthetic learner. I can look at someone's movement and copy it exactly. When I'm working on a problem, the best way is for me to process it half-consciously while I engage other sensory systems as a distraction. My best work and brightest ideas are generated in this manner. When confined my behavior strongly resembles that of an ADD person - I'm fidgety, distractable, and irritated (I have been evaluated and I do not have ADD). Also, my productivity tanks. On bad days I'm working about 3-5 hours out of 8. Not intentionally, but because my mind literally cannot focus for long enough on actual work).

Unfortunately, my workplace is a relic from the 80s: the software, hardware, AND the people (I'm the youngest by 15-20 years, I'm 21). When I asked my boss about being able to get up and move around during the day, the answer I received was, "Sure, walk around the block a couple times. But then I need you back here working." The possibility of working from home was also shot down because, "then everyone would want to, and then I can't keep tabs on them." Not a direct quote, but very close.

How should I address this? Doing nothing means my mental problems will continue to escalate. I've seen (and still see) a couple of therapists (and psychiatrists), but none have been any help (most seem eager to help me cope, but coping hasn't worked for the past year so far). The occasional ten minute walk doesn't work, as usually I need more time than that to mull over problems and really understand them (but when I do, I can sit and code for 10+ hours straight). Stretching doesn't work either, since that simply serves to remind me that I am confined. Stretching is a relief, but as soon as I quit the anxiety, depression and, (most scary to me) aggression/rage all come roaring back.

Despite being a new hire, I seem to be rather important at my workplace. I've been tasked with bringing a company from dumb-terminal/green-screen applications to a distributed client-server architecture (for now ignoring the anxiety from inexperience issues, haha). My work (literally mine, I'm the only one on this project) will be used across three different states. However, I don't believe I'm important enough to leverage that in order to change a workplace that hasn't changed in 5+ years (the timestamp on the last edit in the employee handbook is from the early 00s...) Furthermore, I'm in a rural Midwest US town, so employment opportunities in my field are VERY limited.

So, Workplace.SE, what can I do? Do I bring this to my boss (again)? If so, what would be the best way to bring this up (given the completely different perspectives on workplace, etc)? Should I continue with the therapy and such, hoping for a relief? Or is computer stuff simply not the career for me (it's my passion and I've been coding since I was 13/14) and I should just cut and run, find a new job/career/degree/etc? Or something else?

Please help! (I am seeing a therapist, so please don't recommend that) (also, if this is too specific, tell me and I will try and make it more general - this is not meant to be a medical question - it is definitely a workplace/career question in my mind)

[EDIT] A number of answers seem to address a lack of exercise component. While this is certainly a factor, it's unfortunately already one I've addressed (I exercise every other day in the mornings and I practice martial arts three days a week). The problem here is that I seem to literally need to do something else while I process the problem I'm currently working on, until a breakthrough in conception is achieved - this seems to be a concept unheard of in the global workplace, which creates more discomfort and unease, as I wonder if that means I have underlying neurological issues...

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I found that going out for a brisk walk actually did help me, though it sounds like you're suffering the symptoms more severly. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 11 '12 at 15:48
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"I am in a rural Midwest town" Do you have to stay there? –  kevin cline Jun 11 '12 at 17:22
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@Burninator, just how long are we talking about as the limit on your ability to sit at a desk? If (using restroom hourly) + (daily? twice-daily?) brisk walk + stretching isn't doing it for you, then you might be in the wrong field even with accommodations. Also, make sure you have a diagnosis and prescription before you play the ADA card, because there is a world of difference between needs and wants and your employer does not need to cater to the latter. (And this place doesn't sound like one that sees the wisdom of doing so.) –  Monica Cellio Jun 11 '12 at 19:21
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Agreed. Part of the problem is I don't want to approach my boss without a concrete pathway to the solution. To be honest, I don't know. I'm good for probably around half an hour, but then I start getting into thorny work and want to go dance/run/practice martial arts/etc while I process the answer and think of the solution (at which point I can go back and code for a good 3-10 hours, depending on the problem). If not...I'll be bouncing my legs and shifting in my chair nearly nonstop for most of the day (if not coding). –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 19:34
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Do you also have trouble sitting for, say, 90 minutes while watching a (to you) extremely enjoyable movie or doing any other really enjoyable seated task (games, reading, etc.)? –  Chelonian Jun 14 '12 at 22:39
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15 Answers

What I read from your question is that this is mostly a matter of you needing to be in complete control of how you work and your problem-solving process than need for physical stimulation or exercise (which you claim to be getting a lot of anyway).

This is a very tricky domain. Many employers will accommodate their employees to a fairly wide degree, as long as they perceive that it doesn't affect their output. Broaching this subject is always hard, especially in a workplace where accommodations may not be the norm. What you are essentially saying is "let me do things my way and I promise I will still perform according to expectations". There is a lot of trust involved in that and you need to be comfortable that your relationship with your employer is such.

With that in mind, any and all workplaces will require the individual to adapt, conform and compromise to at least some degree. That is perhaps something you should try to figure out, and to work with your therapist with: how can you work to adapt yourself and let go of some control and to what extent are you able to do this? When you know the boundaries of your own flexibility, than it may be easier to discuss your situation with your employer.

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+1, excellent answer. –  Monica Cellio Jun 13 '12 at 15:03
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Having worked in offices for over 30 years, never once have I considered myself to be confined. So perhaps I'm not really understanding your problem, but if you truly feel this way, perhaps a profession that doesn't involve sitting at a desk for 8 or more hours a day would be a better choice for you.

One thing I can think of to do in your office is to get an under the desk bicycle: http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=under+desk+bicycle&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=8121855939&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=92633285016793401&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_2jycia7oph_b

At least it would give your restless legs something to do and the cost is not terribly high.

And if that doesn't do, the exercise desk @weronika talked about could be a good choice. In the US, employers are required to make accomodations for disabilities, so if you had your psychiatrist prescibe such a thing as medically necessary, they would have to buy it. At least talk it over with your health care professionals and see if they think it would help.

Now this sounds silly, but if you drink a lot, you have to get up and go to the men's room a lot. If you increase your intake, perhaps that will give you more time awy from the desk. Also volunteer to help when various tasks such as moving sodas to the refrigerator or moving furniture etc, come up. Be the guy who walks new folks around the office, etc. Those are not necessarily daily tasks, but they can help when they come up.

Do you have smokers in your office, how often do they take breaks to go outside to smoke? If you can make a case that you need breaks as frequently as they take them, you might be able to get more move around time. But don't take up smoking to get more breaks, I've watched too many people I loved die from smoking to ever recommend it.

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This is the predominate perspective of most people I talk to, and a source of great frustration. I've never been able to sit still in a chair, and I have a hard time understanding how people can do it. I have a very physical reaction of discomfort and agitation after a while. –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 18:18
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If your health care professional agree (and a psychiatrist is a medical docotor who can prescribe), then I think invoking ADA and getting a prescription for amn exercise desk is your best bet. In a small company, they may be exempt, but should allow you to purchase and use the desk yourself if you can prove a medical need. Your health insurance might even pay for it. –  HLGEM Jun 11 '12 at 18:23
    
I'll definitely be bringing this up with my psych next time I see her. Please see my edit in the mean-time. :) –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 18:24
    
Sadly I'm the newest person in the office (again, by about 20 yrs). Also the only smoker (which I'm currently quitting). Also, I have irritable bowel syndrome, so I already go to the bathroom about once an hour, depending on how much water I've had (I actually used this tactic at a previous job as tech support for the only place that still served dial up...mostly to old people, lol). –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 18:44
    
Be careful about making assumptions about what an employer has to do about disabilities. Some things are too disabling and needed accommodations might not be deemed reasonable. Other things aren't disabling enough to be disabling (this may be such an instance). So don't make assumptions and then do things that get you into trouble. –  psr Aug 7 '12 at 22:30
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First, I'd recommend finding other medical treatment options if your current meds aren't helping. It sucks to be on meds that screw with you in other ways while not helping you with the problem you're having. They can even make the problem worse.

Another option might be yoga or qidong / tai chi. I use this a lot myself to ease pain and stress. This can help you relax and calm yourself down. Here's a video that describes some yoga relaxation techniques and one featuring tai chi. You'll get better results if you have an instructor rather than just following videos, but videos are better than nothing.

Also, you may need to make your employer aware of the mental health implications of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While I'm not a big fan of using this legal bludgeon against a company, sometimes it can be used to have draconian, outdated, work rules modified or even in getting a more comfy chair.

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Overall, I don't think there's any reason for you to give up a computer career - being able to move around at your desk or just work from home is definitely not impossible, but your current workplace sounds particularly resistant to those ideas. Definitely put your health first - if it turns out they won't accomodate you, I'd start looking for a new job, and ask for a nice desk setup up front (you don't need to mention mental health issues, simply say you want a sit/stand desk or whatever you decide will work for you. It's not that unusual a request, I need one for lower back problems).

I second the sit/stand desk idea. It may not require replacing the desk - you could also just install a monitor arm and a sit-stand keyboard tray on your current desk, if you pick ones that will work for your height etc. (I did that for my desk this year for about $500, and it could have been a lot cheaper if the desk wasn't shaped funny - let me know if you want details on what I used). Being able to change position during the day is even better than a standing-only desk, I think.

The perfect option might be one of those sit/stand/treadmill desk things, but given what you said about your current desk setup, that seems unlikely to be possible. Still, something to keep in mind for the future?

Another possibility that would allow you a bit more movement would be an exercise ball instead of a chair - those can feel pretty nice and let you move without getting away from your desk. Or if a ball would be too odd-looking, maybe something in between a chair and a ball, like this, might work? Or another type of chair that allows more than the usual movement range - this or this might be worth a look, and I'm sure there are plenty more I don't know about.

You might want to talk to an ergonomics specialist about your equipment needs and finding something that will work for you while not disrupting the current setup of your workplace more than they're willing to allow.

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The chair/ball thing is really cool! :D I'm going to look into getting one of those, if just for posture control, etc. We'll see how well it helps me think...(I do tend to bounce a lot as is!) –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 18:46
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@Burninator - They do look cool! Let us know how well they work if you do get one, I'm curious about them too. –  weronika Jun 11 '12 at 20:13
    
@Burninator - I just edited my answer to add two more interesting chair-type things, they might be worth a look as well. –  weronika Jun 11 '12 at 21:58
    
Perfect answer. @Burninator consider this answer. The best part of this answer is Definitely put your health first , –  Sahil Mahajan Mj Oct 4 '12 at 11:47
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Your question focuses on movement so I'm ignoring the "windowless" and lighting portions of your question here.

Have you considered asking for a standing desk? They've been growing in popularity in the last few years. Instead of sitting in a chair all day you stand; it's sold as very mild exercise but it sounds like it might help you too. (If standing alone doesn't help, at least you're in position to walk in place and move just a bit all the time rather than a lot for 10 minutes at a time.)

Failing that, is there room to configure your workplace for a stationary bike?

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Haha, no. I'm in a 10ft by 25ft room with three other people (who have both been with the company for 10+ years). My desk is an interconnected part of a set of cubicle walls/things. Revamping my setup would require a complete restructuring of the office. I haven't asked (and perhaps I should) simply because I very strongly doubt the possibility would even be considered seriously. –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 16:35
    
If a whole new desk isn't an option you can always macgyver a desk (artofmanliness.com/2011/07/05/…) like those shown in this post. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 4 '12 at 16:58
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I don't have a complete solution -- it is a matter of negotiation between you and your employer, and it seems like your current employer is not willing to negotiate much about it -- but I wanted to assure you that what you want and need makes sense; even if most companies ignore it.

It is generally a good thing to think about a problem first, and only then start coding. Some people forget it, because as they sit in front of the computer, their instinct is to start typing. (On the other hand, no analysis is perfect, so you should always expect that some code you are writing now will have to be changed later.)

For many people, "sitting and staring at the monitor" is not the optimal setup for thinking. Many people think better when they walk and/or talk with someone. Certainly I do. Your case seems to me like an extreme version of something that many people have in milder versions. -- However, people who sit on their chairs all day long appear more busy and productive; and in absence of a clear metric, appearing productive often beats being productive.

Spending a day in a windowless room certainly does contribute to a depression. Sunlight has an impact on human hormonal balance and mood; this is why we are more happy and "alive" in summer than in winter; and spending days in a windowless room is like living behind a polar circle. Sitting motionless for hours is also bad for health. -- However, most people are healthy enough that their bodies can handle these conditions, at least partially, for a few decades.

So my advice would be:

  • if possible, try to get a room with a window, and a chair next to window; preferably on a southern side of the building. If you have depressions, you could frame it as a health issue.

  • during weekends, try to spend the middle of the day outside, for example walking.

  • take as many breaks as you need, but don't walk in places where too many people see you (sometimes what matters is not how much you walk, but how much you are seen walking).

  • before coding, do some analysis on paper (maybe moving the pen will help your kinesthetic needs). Maybe you could do some analysis while being outside (or at least visibly bring the paper and pen with you), so your walks seem less like taking a break.

Also, you can apply for a jobs that require "3-5 years of experience" even if you don't have them. Sometimes they don't find the exact person they want. And the experience is not just a matter of time; if coding is your passion, you could know more than a person who spent those years doing their work mindlessly.

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Does your office have a whiteboard? If not, can you ask for one, or bring one of your own and install it yourself?

Once you have a whiteboard two or three steps from your desk, you can get up, write and draw on it (I find many times my designs are improved by engaging large muscles in drawing them), step back from it and look at it, erase it and draw again, and so on. These things have value in two ways:

  • you may actually be solving your problem, outlining the paper you're writing, or summarizing a plan to yourself - more efficiently and pleasantly than you would with keyboard and screeen
  • even if what you're doing is relatively pointless it will look like work to others in a way that walking around outside does not

If you also take pictures of the whiteboard work (with your own camera or phone) and add them to the design archive, others may come to appreciate what you're doing as well. I understand it's not as good as going and working in the vegetable garden, which I like to do when stumped on something, but it does involve movement and should get you essentially no pushback from coworkers or management.

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This bit interests me:

I need more time than that to mull over problems and really understand them (but when I do, I can sit and code for 10+ hours straight)

This suggests that sitting at a desk is not really your problem. Is it more the discomfort of sitting still in an office, appearing to work, when actually you're giving a great deal of thought to a problem before attempting to solve it?

If so, have you considered TDD/BDD techniques, which allow you to dive straight into coding while focussing your mind on the solution to the problem before you write any actual application code?

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Hmm, interesting! I've never heard of BDD, and my thoughts on TDD are basically the same as the author of the BDD article (it's like wading through mud to get to a place directly, instead of taking a really roundabout yet paved route). I'll have to give this a try (though I'm sad to say there are as-of-yet no tests in the rather large [28,000 LOC - a terrible metric, but workable for now] project I'm currently working on). –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 20:16
    
Also, I'll point out that the biggest problem here is that I have trouble thinking at my desk - doing things like problem analysis, software design, architecture design, concurrency analysis, etc. Extended thought while sitting still doesn't work for me... –  Burninator Jun 11 '12 at 20:18
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@Burninator: Yeah, I really think you have to work out, with your therapist, WHY you can't think and sit at the same time. When you've got that, the solution will become clear, or you can come back to us with more information. Until then, you're going to be guessing. It will help to be clear that it's not JUST sitting still that you struggle with; when you're creating code, you're fine. –  pdr Jun 12 '12 at 8:51
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I think I can relate myself to your situation.I was having the same problem with the last software job for the same reasons like not enough exercise,not liking the environment.What I did was to take a break from the job and joined a postgraduate course for 1.5 years which gave me time to think about myself and involve myself in various other activities like yoga,swimming,badminton,etc.I am now feeling more healthy, rejuvenated and ready for any job.Infact,currently I am doing the same software programming job but in a different technology and I am okay with it. I feel all it needed was a change of perception and clear mind. what I did may not be the perfect thing to do but it worked for me and that is what it matters.

Since,I feel the problem here is not with the job or the company,it is with you.I feel you need to take a break from your work and join a yoga or some other form of career coaching class or go out for trekking or a holiday close to nature.

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+1 Good answer. @Downvoter, please mention a reason for downvoting. I havnt found anything rubbish in this answer. –  Sahil Mahajan Mj Oct 4 '12 at 12:12
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You are not the only one out there my friend!

Look at our society, there is definitely a price to pay for sitting all day in an artificially light room (especially from the 80's).

I truly believe this is going to be come a much larger issue once companies are shown that it hits them in the pocket book. (Medical coverage for Rx's, turn over, etc.)

There is a spectrum of personalities and while you may have a good personality for software, maybe not so good for sitting all day indoors.

What do you think about if your desk accommodated standing while working on the computer, etc? Do you think that might alleviate some?

There is a guy here in another building that has a desk that moves up and down - so he can stand when needed, for a back issue.

I was thinking about asking for it for lack of movement. However, I am really self-conscious about being the only person in my building with that set-up...

May want to look into that .

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Hi Greg, this is a really great suggestion. I use the Fredrik from Ikea, pictured here. There are other options as well for easy and affordable conversions to standing up, like the Speedy Stand up desk and the Anderlyn Desk. At my work, I sometimes go to the break room, where we have a small stand up desk. It helps a lot. –  jmort253 Jan 6 '13 at 23:21
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In one of your comments, you list having problems "thinking" at your desk. Sometimes when I have a difficult problem, I'll look for an unused meeting room. Being able to walk around, use a dry erase board, spread notes out over a larger table seems to help. Most places I've worked have meeting rooms with plenty of windows and really cut out the office noise.

Grab a notebook and go sit outside to work out some problems with pencil and paper. If you ultimatle get things done, very few people are going to accuse you of slacking off.

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  1. If you are allowed to, carry an ipod or other device and listen to music while you work

  2. Take frequent breaks - get up and walk around the building twice a day

  3. Re-schedule one of your exercise programs so that it is in the middle of the day. Work with your management to adjust your office hours accordingly

  4. Do you have lunch buddies at work? If not, form a lunch group and do something interesting as a group a couple of times a week

  5. Champion the forming of a "Fun Committee" at work. Let the fun committee come up with interesting ideas to intersperse your work with. Make sure these activities are short and provide instant gratification so that they have both management's and co-workers' buy-in. I am a big advocate of this because I got to see the very positive improvements in teams' outlook and morale where this was implemented.

  6. Supplement work projects with other interesting projects that may or may not be in the field of your work.

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I've had issues my entire life with concentration. I cannot sleep in a silent room, I cannot sleep without a fan. I require a steady amount of sensory distraction for me to think and if I can keep the distraction up, my mind won't slow down.

In addition to programming I work in a helpdesk environment so fortunately in my case there is usually something to do.

Whenever that is not the case, here is what I've done:

a. Nothing but water. No soda. Soda jacks my mind up. b. Launch Spotify or YouTube. Find trance or metal music, something that would keep a steady pace (heck, even the 24hr long Star Trek Enterprise warp engine sounds do). c. Learn to play the drums. Tapping my feet on the floor does wonders, I do it for most of the day.

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Here my experience with this, at least.

I must admit I struggle to relate to your specific issues exactly, but when I got my first job out of uni I remember asking one colleague what he did to stave off going mad sitting down all day ? His answer was simply: 'fidget'.

It sounded a little nuts at the time, but since I play drums myself i've formed a habit of constantly tapping my feet when sitting down (which once got a complaint from a coworker, but i've managed to quieten it down a lot at work). It really seems to help. I tried to stop doing it once and had to get up and walk about almost immediately.

One other thing that seems to help is going for walks around the building. I do it daily, via the most convoluted route I can find, and usually mix it up a bit to keep it interesting / stop people spotting the routine. I make a point of doing it even if I don't crave it, just to get into the habit. Often on returning i'm glad i did even if i wasn't sure at the time.

Other than that, a bit like you describe I often find the answers to work issues come at the weirdest moments - usually when not at my desk. To help this, i find i multi-task more these days, keeping a decent sized backlog of things to do. Most nights at home after work i'll realise a solution to an issue i wasn't even directly thinking about. You'll need to ensure tasks don't sit on the list for ever, but mostly it helps.

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You are into first year of your IT career and you are facing such kind of problems. This is really a big matter of concern.

Now you first need to find out that whether this problem is just due to over stress work or if there are some other issues. here with some other issues, i mean some family problems or some physical problems. Take some time with yourself and see what happens.

I have seen persons, who are just facing these problems due to their over possessive behaviour. they took each and every task so seriously, such that they keep discussing those taks every time.

So if you find your problems are just because of your job, then you might think of switching the job. but remember that switching the job does not guarantee a solution so think about it.

and a little suggestion for you. dont mention your mental health problem to your colleagues and other persons in your work place

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