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Stress Response and Anger as a Secondary Emotion

Published 2/27/2019

In today's episode, we're talking about response tactics to stressful situations as we experience them in our day-to-day work environment.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Imagine this scenario. You've got a very important meeting that starts this morning at work. For whatever reason, you forgot about that meeting when your alarm went off this morning and you pressed news once and then again. And then on the third time you remembered the meeting. You get up and you rush through your normal morning routine. Nothing exceptional happens but you're rushed. You're a little bit stressed out. You get in the car, you skip turning on the music, you remember as you're pulling out of your driveway and you forgot to lock the door so you run back up, lock your door, come back out to the car at this point, you're even later. Of course, you didn't have time to make your normal morning cup of coffee or grab any kind of basic food that you have in your pantry on your way out the door either. You start rushing in your car. You go a few miles an hour over the speed limit. You're rushing and you're also checking your slack messages, making sure that you didn't miss any last minute updates before the important meeting this morning. While you're checking your slack updates, you very narrowly miss clipping somebody in another lane. You manage to put your phone down and avoid distraction for the next couple of minutes. You pick it back up anytime you're at a red light and then you finally get to the parking deck. And of course, since you're a little bit late, all of the good spots are taken. So it takes you a little bit longer to park. You get out of your car, you lock the door, you start heading into your office and you can't remember if you locked the door. So you press the button again, it doesn't reach, you go back to the car. And then finally, finally, after all of these exceptionally normal experiences that happen to be exceptionally stressful, you walk in to the meeting. You're two minutes late and you sit down at your place at the table for the meeting. Interestingly, there are other people who walk in a little bit late as well. Some of them because they were getting coffee or because they knew that the client was going to be a few minutes late. That was a Slack message that you happen to miss when you were almost hitting somebody in another lane. So everyone is sitting at the table, but not everyone feels the same as you do. We're going to talk about this state of stress. And more importantly, we're going to talk about the next event that happens in our little story where you're late to this important meeting. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea and my go on the show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and help them do better work so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. And it's difficult to have a positive influence on the people around you when you're stressed. Stress can happen in a lot of different ways. We just described a very common, you know, everyday type of stress. The small, unexpected things that happen that we have to deal with that make logistics a little bit harder. And it may seem simple. You could wake up a little bit earlier. You could tell yourself, okay, this is all solvable by that simple shift. But then you have different types of stress that you may bring on. For example, if you wake up earlier, you may be sleeping a little bit less. Oh, let's try to solve that problem, if you go to bed a little bit earlier. Well, now you may be shortening your night. A new type of stress. So how can we escape stress or at least learn how to deal with it? Let's see what happens next. You're in this meeting, you're stressed out. Obviously, you arrived a little bit late, but more importantly, it seems like nothing is going your way today. And another coworker who walks in late as well, who's always late. By the way, you're never late. This coworker comes in and they make a sarcastic remark at you about you being late. Now in that moment, that remark is fairly small. The consequences of the remark are basically nothing. And yet it seems to push you over the edge like a pot that is finally at its boiling point. Your anger wells up. Now, this doesn't happen the same for everyone. Not everyone experiences anger about the same things. Not everyone processes their anger in the same way. But for pretty much everyone, anger happens to be a secondary emotion. We're going to talk about what that means and a little bit more about stress. Right after we talk about today's sponsor, Century. Speaking of stress and anger, one of the last things you want to do is stress your customers out or make them angry. And one of the easiest ways that you can stress the amount is to ask them to report errors to you. You don't want to treat your customers as an off-site QA team, especially since you're not paying them for that. You want them to have a good experience. You want to be able to deal with errors before your customers see your product. Now, ideally, we would do this beforehand. We'd have robust QA sessions and all of our tests would perfectly cover every scenario. Unfortunately, this is totally unrealistic. Humans are not very good at writing tests in the first place. Even the best test suite can't predict every way that other humans will interact with that product. Humans do pretty crazy stuff. So not only is it basically impossible to predict, but even if we could predict it, the number of tests that we would have to write for any kind of product that has sufficient complexity, it would be cost-prohibitive. So there's got to be a better way. A better way attacks this problem from multiple angles. It's not just about testing, and it's not just about QA, but it's also about reporting. And that's exactly what Century provides you. Century will tell you about errors in your code before customers have a chance to encounter them. Now, not only does Century report to you those errors, but they also give you the details that you would need to be able to dig a little bit deeper to solve those problems. You'll see exactly how many users have encountered that bug, but you'll also get the stack trace and even the commit that the error was released as a part of. So you can see the engineer who wrote the line of code and a lot more. Go and check it out, cintry.io. That's cintry.io. Thanks again to Cintry for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we mentioned this idea that anger is a secondary emotion. We talked about that before the break. But what exactly does that mean? An ordinary scenario of the person who's arriving late, who can't find a parking spot and everything seems to be going wrong. And finally, they hit their boiling point when somebody makes a sarcastic remark to them. Their anger is a secondary emotion. So what does that mean? What is the primary emotion? Well, anger is a way that we can deal with some other kind of threatening emotion. In this case, the anger may be feeling like you've made a lot of mistakes and that those mistakes make you vulnerable to failure. So that would be dealing with some kind of fear of failure. The anger is not masking, but responding to the primary emotion of fear. Now, I want to make that very clear because I think we get this wrong too often. We see anger as a bad coping mechanism, something that people kind of mask everything else with. They try to appear strong. But the reality is that anger isn't a mask. Rather, it's a way to cope. It is a response to a different emotion. And perhaps anger was evolved because when we take on an angry stance, it is somewhat directive where angered because we want something that is one way to be a different way. That is very different from expressing a vulnerability emotion like fear. Anger when it's received by another person may be a motivator. It may seem like a threat to that person. So when we think about anger as a secondary emotion, we can also imagine that anger is a response to, for example, sadness. Imagine that you had planned a special event for your team. And you're leading up to this event. You're putting a lot of work and energy into it and right at the last minute, the event gets canceled. In that moment, you may feel angry towards whatever caused the event to be canceled. But the truth is, you're probably at the core feeling sad that the thing that you would invest in, the thing that you were expecting to do, you no longer get to do. There may be a sense of loss that is driving your sadness. So anger is a secondary emotion. So what does this have to do with stress? Well, if you go back to our original example, you can see that we have kind of a time window where stress can accumulate. For example, we probably aren't thinking about our inability to find a parking spot two or three days later. But there is some kind of proximity effect for stressful events. And it seems like if we don't break the chain that that proximity effect continues to build that stress level. We've mentioned this on the show before, but this is what drives us to have the saying that somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. When you wake up on the wrong side of the proverbial bed like the hero in our story earlier, then it seems like all of the following events have a negative lens that we put on them. Now, there's not really a scientific answer as to how long we need to spread our events out before we kind of get a reset. Restress, like many of our emotions as humans, isn't some special thing. It's a very physical response. This means that we can kind of describe stress through what happens in our body. For example, cortisol is released when we're stressed. And so when we're not stressed, our cortisol levels should be normal. And we're not going to attempt to take the place of a doctor in this episode. Certainly, we aren't going to describe every single interaction that happens in your body when you're stressed. But there are some relatively proven methods to reduce your stress. One of them is fairly simple, getting adequate sleep. For the average person, that's going to be somewhere between six and nine hours with most people gathering around the eight-hour number. And that's an every night kind of thing. Another fairly well-studied way of relieving stress is exercise. Other simple things like breathing exercises, and any number of mindfulness techniques, like, for example, meditation. These are things that we've talked about on the show before, that you've probably heard of before, and they take discipline, and they take time. But they don't have to take all of your time. For example, with our hero earlier, we can change some of our simple habits that may be contributing to our stress levels. For our hero earlier, we could take ten seconds to breathe before walking into work. Ten seconds of deep breathing can have a profound effect on your stress levels. And the reason this is so important is that stress makes us more vulnerable to our other feelings, and to responding to those feelings in irrational or otherwise poor ways. Ways that if we were to not be as stressed out, we may be able to respond to those feelings in a better way. Rather than seeing all of those events on the way into work as being capped off by a sarcastic comment, we can imagine that sarcastic comment is humorous. But this relies on a context shift. It relies on getting out of that stress response and moving into a more balanced place. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. It's very easy to say to control your stress levels, but it's much harder to actually do this. Everyone does this differently for themselves, everyone responds to stress differently, and it's important that you experiment with this for yourself. I'd love to hear how you are dealing with your stress levels. King me on Twitter at at Developer Tea. You can also find my personal Twitter at jkattrall. You can also email me at Developer Tea at gmail.com. Thank you so much to today's sponsor, Century, with Century, you can start fixing your code so that your users don't have to report those errors to you. Go and check it out, century.io. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. If you got value out of today's episode and you haven't yet subscribed, encourage you to press that subscribe button before the episode ends. This is the best way to make sure that you don't miss out on future episodes of Developer Tea. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.