Hackathons typically take place over the weekend, where the participants are hard at work and fueled by energy drinks, pizza, and a quickly approaching deadline to submit a winning project to take home the prize. It doesn’t come as a surprise to say that this can lead to high levels of stress throughout the duration of the hackathon. With elevated stress levels, it’s important to find ways to incorporate healthier alternatives to improve mental health during the hack.
Schedule a Healthy Agenda
Although many hackathons are open throughout the night, it is not realistic to expect every participant to power through 48 hours nonstop. However, it is realistic to recognize that people work best at different hours of the day. Some people may reach peak productivity in the evening, whereas others may feel most productive in the middle of the day. The beauty of a hackathon is that you get to choose when you want to be hard at work. When hosting an overnight hackathon, know that some participants are going to need to rest at some point, so having spaces dedicated to resting or napping are recommended.
Offer Healthy Food Choices
The easiest option for an event is usually to just order some pizzas and sodas, but junk food is not the best option for your physical or mental health. People have a variety of dietary needs, so it is important to provide snacks that can cater towards different diets and no one is left feeling like they have to make unhealthy choices, like skipping eating altogether.
Do your best to offer healthy snacks, like whole fruit, but still try to provide a variety of options. When there are multiple options, you can cater to those who prefer the healthier choices without forgetting about those with a sweet tooth or who prefer salty snacks.
Having water available is a number one priority, but try to be conscious of the waste and reduce the use of single-use plastics. It is highly encouraged that participants bring a reusable water bottle or mug for water and/or coffee. There should be water filling stations available throughout the duration of the hackathon.
Include Self-Care Activites
Hackathons can result in a lot of stress for participants and it’s important to stay mindful of everyone’s mental health during the event. Try to incorporate some self-care options into the agenda as much as possible. Self-care comes in many forms, but some of the ways you may include self-care into hackathons is by providing on-site massages, yoga or stretching, or meditation. Even something as simple as encouraging participants to take a break and get outside can be beneficial for their mental health.
Check-in with Participants
Whether the hackathon is on-site or virtual, do your best to check in with the participants frequently and have open communication available. This helps to identify if any participants are struggling and to determine the stress levels of teams and/or individuals.
At an in-person hackathon, you may head over to a team’s table to see how they’re doing and answer any questions they might have or help guide them in the right direction. During a virtual hackathon, it may be helpful to have a webinar dedicated to practicing their pitch, participants can schedule 1:1 meetings with mentors, or you can have a Slack channel available for participants to reach out to mentors and organizers at any time.
Nearing the Deadline
When the end of the hackathon is approaching, it isn’t surprising that it can be a stressful time for the participants. It’s important to give plenty of reminders of how much time is left so that teams are not caught off guard by the final deadline. Whenever you are giving a presentation, it is crucial that you practice before you have to present in front of a live audience. Make sure to encourage teams to account for enough time to practice presenting their project so they are well prepared on who is doing what and when. Practicing before the deadline is important so if you find any last minute tweaks that you need to fix, you have the time to do so and if there are any technical difficulties, you have the time to resolve them. When practicing your pitch, there should be plenty of mentors and organizers on-site and online to help guide you through the process.
Making Your Pitch
Making your pitch can definitely be stressful, but proper preparation and self-care is helpful to minimize the stress as much as possible. Don’t forget, hackathons are supposed to be fun and enjoyable! If you find participants are having a difficult time trying to de-stress, sometimes you may allow participants to pre-record their demo to eliminate worries about running out of time or technical difficulties.
Hackathons can present stressful situations, but while incorporating healthy foods, activities, and using stress management techniques, we can all have an enjoyable and healthy hack. If you have any tips, tricks, or tools to make healthier environments at our hackathons, we would love to hear from you! Or if you’re interested in finding out more about how to host your own hackathon, check us out.