Words: Vanessa Salvia
There are few conversations that take place more often than the one about stress management. Most people have no choice but to get a job and then continue showing up for that job day after day. There are 168 hours in a week. If you take away 8 hours a night that would typically be reserved for sleep, that leaves 112 hours a week. If you take away the 40 hours a week we spend (at a minimum) with our coworkers, that leaves only 72 hours a week left for our non-work lives. It’s no wonder then that work becomes such a huge part of our lives that it can start to seem like nothing else matters.
Construction workers have a different set of problems that other industries don’t have. The typical office worker, for instance, doesn’t have to deal with the physical stress, wear and tear on our bodies that construction workers have as a daily challenge. Even for the construction workers and managers who do an excellent job of project planning, mapping, and management, there are always going to be things that don’t go as planned — materials are delivered late or arrive damaged and have to be sent back. Projects may be delayed due to bad weather. The client may insist on a change order. Any sort of delay, even one caused by a tool failure at no fault of the employee, costs money and time, which leads to unrealistic expectations of the worker. All of those things lead to the stress and strain falling on the supervisors, and then the workers.
Working overtime is one way to make up for the lost time in a schedule, but that puts even more strain on the workers as they are away from their families even more. Additionally, longer hours bring on more physical strain. So what can you do?
1. Stop Stress Before It Starts
If you’re a supervisor, build time for unexpected issues into your timeline. Give your employees ample time to make mistakes, have tool problems, take time off for personal or family illness, or any other unexpected thing. Yes, you can’t plan time for any possibility, but if you set reasonable expectations and build in a cushion of time you’ll be in a better overall shape if (not when) something unexpected does occur. In today’s age of COVID, planning for unexpected illnesses makes even more sense than ever.
2. Tell Someone
There’s a saying that a burden shared is a burden that is lightened in half. When you talk about stress, it’s true. Talking about a problem with an understanding friend is the first form of “talk therapy.” A 1988 study shows that talking about problems reduces stress, strengthens our immune system, and reduces physical and emotional distress.
Even writing about a problem helps. Let’s say you’re not comfortable telling someone about your stress. Tell your phone instead. To be more clear, get an app like Daybook. Daybook is free and is available for both Android and Apple phones. Through a password-protected account, you can write in or speak in journal entries that record your thoughts. You can use it as a task manager, listmaker, and many other types of things in addition to a journaling app.
3. Seek Out Help
There is no shame in seeking help for mental stress. It’s understood that people go to the doctor when they physically aren’t feeling well. It’s understood that people do things like visiting the gym when they know their bodies need some help. It is just as common to visit a doctor for mental health. Australia has a group of mental health experts that work specifically with construction workers, called MATES in Construction. If your country or state doesn’t have anything like that (and sadly, it probably doesn’t), let your doctor, your church clergy, or your best friend know that you are feeling stressed and you want to find someone to talk to about it.
4. Learn How to Sleep Better
One problem with accumulating stress from work is that it affects sleep, which is something that you need to be able to recharge. Not being able to recharge equals less sleeping, which is a vicious circle. There are many things you can do here. Put away the electronic devices (TVs included!) an hour before bed and do something unplugged like read or listen to music. Go for a walk an hour before bed. Do some gentle stretching or yoga on the floor (there are numerous apps for this). Spend 10 minutes sitting on the bed and doing nothing but closing your eyes and breathing. Use a calming meditation (again, apps) to clear your mind. Write down anything that’s bothering you before you go to bed in a little notebook on your bedstand, and then clear your mind of it.
5. Talk To Your Boss
Your boss has no doubt heard of the link between workplace health and stress. Employee mental and physical health is clearly linked to workplace productivity, so your boss will not be surprised to hear that stress may be affecting your job performance. The purpose of approaching your boss isn’t to tell them what a terrible job they are doing, but instead to come up with a plan that gets the work done with less stress for you and anyone you’re working with. Your boss may have access to some stress or time management resources that you didn’t know about. Your employer may offer some employer-sponsored wellness resources (gym memberships, health care options, etc) that you can tap into.
Stress will never go away. But everyone understands stress well enough these days to know that stress harms the body emotionally and physically. Even the most hard-hearted boss can be led to understand that stress can cost him money and lead to serious accidents, which will cost him even more. Together, you and the other employees you work with who are also experiencing stress — because they are experiencing stress, even if they don’t tell you — can solve the problems together by taking steps to make stress a little more manageable, each and every day.