Remote Wellbeing

What Agile Developers Know Might Just Save Someone’s Life

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit
March 8, 2021
6 min read

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Work-life balance as we knew it no longer exists. Our brains have had to process and manage threats to our livelihood, threats to our health and threats to our loved ones. Right now, many of us don’t have access to the things that we counted on to keep us well.

For many of us, we stayed balanced by going to the gym, hanging out with friends or visiting extended family, going to live events or maybe attending kids’ extracurricular activities. Individually and collectively, our mental health and wellbeing are at risk. We have a problem – and it occurred to me this weekend that Agile developers are experts in solving problems. So…what if we looked to Agile to help us find solutions?

What is Agile?

Agile is the ability to adapt and respond to change in an uncertain environment. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development applies the Agile approach driving us to think about and understand what’s going on in our current environment, identify the uncertainty that we’re facing, and figure out how to adapt to change. For further reading on Agile practices, check out our previous blog post.

What exactly is the problem we need to address?

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. With an estimated economic burden of $51 billion per year as a result of factors including health care costs and lost productivity, the business case for investment in employee wellbeing is clear. So, why are we still struggling so much and, more importantly, what can we do about it?

Staying mentally healthy in a pandemic requires an Agile approach and The Manifesto for Agile Software Development might provide a great place to start. Below are five Agile Manifesto approaches and how they might be applied to mental health.

1. Agile Manifesto: “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”

Applied to Mental Health: “We are uncovering better ways to cultivate mental health by doing it and helping others do it.”

Data shows the impact of daily, repeated activities that promote mental health and mitigate the negative impact of mental illness. Below are three evidence-based strategies to try:

  • A daily ‘What Went Well (WWW)’ practice.
    Research by Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, shows that this practice results in improved mental health after three weeks. Just take 10 mins at the end of each day and write down three things that went well and why. Commit to practicing this daily for three weeks to see improvements in mental health.
  • Walk a minimum of 5-16 minutes per day.
    This will help you experience a boost in mood, creativity, memory, and overall neurological function. In David DiSalvo’s article in Forbes, Six Reasons Why Walking Is The Daily Brain Medicine We Really Need, he highlights just a few of the many sources of evidence to back the power of walking. Consider calling someone when you are out for a walk to get some social interaction or grab your earbuds and choose a playlist that makes you smile.
  • Smile – as often as you can.
    British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars or as receiving 16,000 pounds of sterling in cash!


2. Agile Manifesto: "Through this work we have come to value…individuals and interactions over processes and tools."

Applied to Mental Health: "Through this work, we have come to value…individuals and interactions with processes and tools."

If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider increasing your access to all of these and watch for where your processes and tools are helping with your mental health and where they may be hindering.

Symptoms of many mental illnesses include fatigue, sleep difficulties and low energy, which often result in withdrawal from friends and family. This, of course, is exacerbated during lockdown! If there’s a virtual social hour, show up and challenge yourself to engage and have your camera on. Resist the urge to multitask so you can get the full benefits that come with human connection and interaction. Looking for some tools or processes to help improve your mental health and wellbeing? Here are some great free resources.

3. Agile Manifesto: "Through this work we have come to value…working software over comprehensive documentation."

Applied to Mental Health: "Through this work, we have come to value…what’s working for you over what others say should work."

It’s your brain, your body, your life, your relationships. None of us have experienced anything like this before, so my best suggestion is to become an astute observer of what’s working to promote your mental health and what isn’t. Consider testing some strategies and conducting retros to evaluate their effectiveness, then iterate and correct as needed.


4. Agile Manifesto: "Through this work we have come to value…customer collaboration over contract negotiation."

Applied to Mental Health: "Through this work we have come to value…synchronous and asynchronous connections with humans who know and care about us."

Which relationships do you feel the safest and most supported in? How and in what ways can you increase the frequency and quality of these connections? Is this missing in your life? You aren’t alone.

Many people are reporting loneliness during the pandemic, especially if they live alone and are physically isolated. If this is you, make sure to attend and participate in opportunities that *are* available to you such as virtual meetups, user group meetings and any virtual, work-related social hours.


5. Agile Manifesto: "Through this work we have come to value…responding to change over following a plan."

Applied to Mental Health: "Through this work we have come to value…responding to change and following a plan."

Adapting, testing, iterating, and evaluating are fantastic skills to promote mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to identify and stick to a plan for a period of time. In the case of mental health, it can take time to see results and feel the effects of strategies.

It’s common for people struggling with mental illness to stick with practicing strategies long enough to see their effects. As each person’s mental health is unique, if you’re struggling with your mental health and have been for a couple of weeks or more, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or speak to a professional. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of resources to get started.

I think it’s possible that taking an Agile approach to our mental health might make a difference. Let’s give it a try and see!

This post contains general information only and may or may not reflect the position of Teamit. Information provided is not a substitute for professional advice. If you feel that you may need medical advice, please consult a qualified health care professional. Teamit makes every reasonable effort to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of posting.

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About the author

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit

Candace’s passion for connecting people and building stronger teams and communities has been her “why” for over 20 years. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, with a social work, mental health and fintech background, she has a large and varied toolbox to draw on to serve clients and to support the pursuit of healthy workplaces and great candidate experiences. She is values-driven and a consummate professional unless you’re with her during an NBA playoff game. She lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband, son, motorbikes and two rescue dogs, Wylie and Lucy.