In our recent article entitled, “Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance,” we offered suggestions for those working in the construction industry – typically fraught with long, often irregular hours and a high level of stress – to establish a clear line between work and personal life.
Some of those suggestions apply to reducing stress in general. Prioritizing and organizing your tasks, for instance, and delegating responsibilities whenever appropriate, are tools for dealing with a high workload – which often translates to a high stress load. Here are ten additional strategies you can employ to reduce the size of that load.
- Exercise: Move your body regularly, in a variety of ways. This can take the form of a workout (running, lifting weights, spin class) before or after work for example. Some companies have on-site gyms, while others provide employees with gym memberships. Take advantage of these perks if they are offered to you. Otherwise (or in addition), take a walk during your lunch hour, or do 20 minutes of yoga first thing in the morning. Find little ways to add exercise into your day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator when given the choice, and getting up from your desk once or twice an hour and stretching. Pick a parking spot at the far end of the lot at work, especially if it’s above ground. A few minutes of exposure to natural light each day is something else we all need for both our physical and mental well-being.
- Eat Healthy Foods: According to the American Psychological Association, “Thirty-eight percent of adults say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress.” Some claim it helps to distract them from stress, while others claim it’s a way to manage their stress. Still others describe it as a habit. While there is a lot of conflicting information on the internet and indeed in society at large these days as to what diet to follow for optimal health (low carb/high fat, vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean and so forth), there is clear consensus that processed foods and especially junk foods are unhealthy. These foods may give us temporary energy and satisfaction but soon leave us feeling lethargic and tired, and often carry with them negative long term consequences as well. Keep your immune system strong and your energy/mood stable by eating whole foods as often as possible, particularly vegetables. Avoid sugar, and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Bring healthy snacks to work from home, such as carrot and celery sticks, apple slices, hard boiled egg and mixed nuts, that you can munch on at your desk or grab on your way out so you won’t be tempted to raid the vending machine or stop for fast food on your way back from a job site.
- Sleep: Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and a big part of getting enough sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene. This prepares us for falling asleep quickly and staying asleep through the night, and begins two to three hours before going to bed. It includes turning off gadgets and electronic devices (or wearing amber-tinted glasses to reduce the effects of blue light if you have to be looking at a screen); stopping eating and drinking alcohol; and doing something relaxing (taking a gentle stroll, having a hot bath, reading a book).
- Do something you enjoy for 20-30 minutes daily: Listen to music or a podcast, play a musical instrument, put together a puzzle, read a book, practice a foreign language, play fetch with Fido, collect stamps, trace your family tree… You get the point. Find something that brings you pleasure and do it.
- Take five to ten minutes a day to reflect or meditate. There’s no need to chant, or even to follow a formal meditation practice, though these apps (including free ones) abound if you want them. The idea is to clear your mind of worries and responsibilities for just a few minutes. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a peaceful setting (by the ocean, on top of a mountain, in an art gallery, your backyard, etc.) Alternatively, keep a journal that you write in during this time. Release your deepest fears and worries into it, and reflect upon how they change from day to day. Jot down ideas for an evening out with your partner or a friend, a long weekend coming up, or a trip you’ve been wanting to take – anything pleasurable you can look forward to. Say anything you want, knowing nobody else will read it. Just putting our thoughts down on paper, whether they be fears and burdens or happy secrets, lessens their power over us, as we are no longer keeping everything inside.
- Take the breaks and lunches to which you are entitled: Eating lunch at your desk (or skipping lunch altogether) is an easy habit to fall in to, especially when there are deadlines to be met. However, stepping away, even for a 15-minute break, is helpful. Re-fuel yourself with nourishing food and a couple of brief reprieves from your tasks each workday. You’ll have fresh energy and be more effective when you return. If possible, leave your desk and computer and take a short walk, around the block, the job site, or even the office floor. Resist the temptation to check your social media and email during breaks, instead engage with your co-workers.
- Add plants to your desk and work area: if space and light allow, surround yourself with greenery. Plants provide us with a connection to nature, not to mention oxygen. If your office has primarily low or artificial light, look for varieties of plants that grow well in these conditions; spider plants, peace lilies and snake plants are some examples.
- Stay hydrated: this is perhaps as important as eating healthy meals/snacks while at work. Dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue, both of which are big detractors from productivity. Keep a water bottle on your desk within easy reach, and make a point to walk down the hall to fill it up once or twice an hour. This small action is multi-purpose in nature, keeping you hydrated, giving you exercise, breaking up difficult tasks, and perhaps even offering a few minutes of social interaction.
- Work on developing your problem-solving skills: Problem solving is an active coping strategy during times of stress according to Harvard Medical School. Steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution. Practice this on small problems so that it becomes a matter of habit, learning as you go, then try it out on a larger problem.
- Last but not least, ask for help: We are all familiar with the line of thinking that says we can’t take care of those around us if we don’t take care of ourselves. This applies to our professional as well personal lives. If you find yourself overloaded with work or challenged by a particular project and you have access to a mentor, seek that person out. Get them to share ways they tackled similar problems in the past. Ask other members of your team for support, and if facing a big decision that you’re unsure about, consult your personal board of directors for encouragement and guidance. If neither of these options exist for you, seek out a close colleague or even a personal friend with whom you can share what’s bothering you, perhaps bouncing ideas off them and getting a fresh perspective. If you continue to struggle and/or find yourself overwhelmed by stress, make a visit with a mental health therapist. Almost all insurance plans will cover this and your workplace may even have an onsite counselor you can see, as part of your benefits plan.
There is no way to avoid job stress altogether in the field of construction, but practicing self-care can go a long way toward minimizing its bite and enhancing the likelihood you will cope effectively with it when it comes along. Try putting into practice some of the above suggestions and see if they help. Don’t just accept being “stressed out” all the time as your professional lot in life. This doesn’t have to be the case.