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Reducing Stress On and Off the Worksite – 5 Strategies for Cutting Worksite and At-Home Stress

By Safi Kpodi, FNP, CRNP, DOT Medical Examiner, Onsite Innovations

Originally published: Construction Executive

Stress is a completely natural human experience. It is the body’s way of responding to short-term challenges and threats in daily life. Millennia ago, it equipped humans to properly react to dangers such as predators, competitors and life-threatening situations. Without stress, it’s very possible our species would not have survived as long as it has.

And while stress is still a necessary part of survival today, most of us are (hopefully) not facing regular attacks from bears or wondering if there are enough provisions to survive the winter months. Those are short-term stresses—the difference between life and death. The problem comes when our minds today make us feel like we’re constantly facing life-threatening situations or are experiencing stress for long periods of time, leading to acute or chronic stress.

The stresses many of us experience today are vastly different from what our ancient ancestors were forced to deal with, but still our bodies react the same. On the construction site, there are certainly potentially hazardous situations, and stress helps workers in those situations stay safe. Seeing a colleague at risk for a slip-and-fall may cause stress and help others quicken their reactions to assist them. Experiencing stress when in a hazardous area ensures workers are alert and mindful of every step and maneuver.

However, too much stress or unnecessary stress can actually distract workers and put both their physical health and mental health at greater risk.

Stress Onsite

On a jobsite, the most common causes of stress are being overworked, having unrealistic deadlines, performing physically dangerous or demanding tasks, lack of communication, poor work culture or environment and improper training. Additionally, there are often other stressors that workers bring to the construction site from home or from their personal lives that seep into work life.

Dealing with chronic stress on the construction site is not only harmful to a worker’s mental health but it can be dangerous for both the individual experiencing the stress and those around them. If a worker is distracted and not performing their job at a satisfactory level, their mistake can quickly put their coworkers’ wellbeing at risk.

So, how can workers on construction sites reduce their stress? Here are five strategies to employ to help workers reduce chronic stress and improve their mental health as well as the overall safety of the worksite.

1. CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN

Chronic stress often comes as a result of stressing over situations one cannot control or manage. The first step in reducing pervasive stress is recognizing and understanding what in your life you have control over and what you do not. One sure thing you can take full control over is yourself—including how you receive and perceive factors outside your control.

You cannot dictate your environment, and you most often cannot regulate others’ actions, responses or feelings. However, you can control how you react to your environment, and you can choose the people you decide to spend your free time with. Know that when something negative happens to you or around you, only you have the power to choose to acknowledge it, accept it, reframe your thinking and manage how you will react or respond to it. If you find yourself surrounded by negativity, acknowledge that and take personal actions to manage how you will allow this situation to affect you.

Whenever possible, work toward and choose to be around positivity and people who bring you joy, peace and happiness. The mind is a powerful piece of biology. Being patient with yourself, getting to know yourself better and not allowing yourself to impulsively respond to negative situations and people can help you become a better problem solver, eventually leading to better self-management of your emotions and responses to stress.

2. BE VULNERABLE

Not everyone will be open to talking about what may be causing them stress. Some family, friends and colleagues may be more adept at listening than others. Yet, bottling up what’s causing stress is a surefire way to prevent you from solving it. It takes strength and courage to speak up when you don’t feel right, but it’s often the only way to get the help you need.

In most cases, nurses, physical trainers and/or other professionals can work to create open dialogues with workers that typically start with a physical ailment before some prodding reveals a more challenging stress or mental-health issue that needs attention. But having leadership on a jobsite who can build a professional and personal rapport with employees and is willing to have more difficult conversations before bringing in a professional goes a long way to creating a more open, more satisfied work environment.

3. RECOGNIZE STRESSORS

Sometimes when people find that they’re stressed, they may not know what the initial cause of it was. This causes a cycle where they find themselves becoming irritable, easily triggered and even more stressed by incidents and events that typically would not phase them. That mental/emotional stress can cause physical damage throughout the body. When it comes to your performance at work, stress can cause strain on muscles, making people unable to perform physical tasks as efficiently and as safely as they otherwise would have.

To prevent this, it’s important to recognize when you find yourself getting stressed and identify what the initial cause was. Being mindful of your own emotional and physical feelings may sound simple, but it’s the easiest way to head off stress before it may become debilitating.

4. SLOW DOWN

Workloads on construction sites these days are significant, with lingering supply-chain issues, dwindling backlogs and an ongoing worker shortage. But even during high-volume work, it is absolutely critical to take physical and mental breaks to prevent burnout and reduce the probability that mistakes will happen on the jobsite. In fact, improper hydration and poor diet—including consuming too much caffeine—is a common stress accelerator.

When you find yourself in a period of overload, slow down. Mistakes happen and injuries occur when people are working too quickly. Proper planning, pulling in management and focusing on the fundamentals leads to better safety outcomes, faster work output, cost savings and more effective time management.

5. LEAD WITH COMPASSION

Leaders on construction sites have challenging jobs, and it takes a lot of interpersonal skill to be a strong manager. Two leadership qualities that stand out and can make the biggest impact on worker wellbeing are compassion and empathy. Many leaders think that higher pay will solve a lot of workers’ stress, and in some instances that certainly helps. But creating a stronger workplace begins with understanding what’s the root cause of workers’ stress and what’s possible to address it—considering each workers’ individual circumstances.

Leaders have the ability to impact an employee’s life—whether positively or negatively. Those that use their authority to advocate for their team and empower their workers have the ability to lower stress levels and improve overall wellness for their workforce and their jobsite.

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