Most people feel the burden of everyday stress, but not everyone handles that stress in the same way. This is particularly true when it comes to those brave individuals who carry such burdens of having other people’s lives in their hands, such as doctors, police, firefighters/paramedics, and military personnel. There are also those who make indirect decisions that can impact safety, such as engineers, construction workers, managers/supervisors, safety officers, or medical testers, jobs where quality decision making is vital for the safety of others. Just how do you handle such stress that comes from having such incredible responsibility? What can you do to cope and manage such stress? Unfortunately, it’s not possible to avoid or remove stress, but this article will share simple steps that can help improve your ability to lower stress, making it manageable.
- Get involved with professional consultation/support groups. As situations and people change it may be necessary to seek support from trained professionals that can help you manage your stress in the environment you are exposed to.
- Find out what debriefings are offered at your workplace. In some case, they will be mandatory (such as after an incident), in other cases, by choice (such as general coping strategies). Even where they are voluntary, consider using them to help you unwind and deal with challenges you have faced.
- Make use of work sponsored psychologists, counselors and the like. They are available for good reason.
- Make and take opportunities to socialize with workmates. Anything that lets you connect socially with those who deal with the same work conditions as you do can help relieve some of the resulting stress.
- Keep your training up-to-date. Keeping your skills sharp will make you feel more confident and prepared for the situations you face every day. Whatever your field of expertise and skill, things keep changing. Stay abreast of changes through training, development opportunities and continued learning. If your workplace is slow to initiate such learning, suggest courses and online training that you are aware of and ask that they let you undertake the learning.
- Use your vacation leave. Time spent completely away from a stressful environment rejuvenates you and gives you renewed energy to return in a focused way. Sometimes a vacation can provide you with new insights and perspective, allowing you to see the bigger picture and not get so caught up in stressful minutiae.
- Make time to meditate. In an Australian study of 178 full-time workers, it was found that meditation reduced work stress and depressive feelings, compared to people who made time to relax (sitting still without meditating) and people who did not meditate or relax at all. Participants used mindfulness meditation, in which they were encouraged to focus on the moment. See How to Do Mindful Meditation and practice twice daily for 10-20 minutes at a time.
- Get enough rest. Having enough balanced and routine sleep is of the utmost importance. Getting adequate sleep levels may have an effect on your social life, but remember the objective. This does not imply that you should not have social events, it only means that social events should not interfere with your well-needed rest. Remember, little rest equals little concentration.
- Lack of sleep can compound stress through reduced energy, impaired cognitive functions, mood changes and much lowered concentration ability.
- Any worry about interrupted sleep can increase your stress levels. Sleeping well when it is possible to do so will help you cope better with unavoidable periods of interrupted sleep (such as for emergency call-outs, a sudden need to do shift work, etc.).
- Take care of yourself and stay in good health. People with high stress levels are more vulnerable to illnesses such as colds and flu. It is important to keep your immune system as strong as possible. Bad health could really impact you when you need to be at your best.
- Vitamins and the occasional flu shot will help minimize the risk of becoming ill.
- Visit a doctor regularly for check-ups to ensure that you’re in good health. Things like high or low blood pressure and/or sugar levels impact the ability of your body to cope with stressful job situations.
- Have a healthy diet. Eating the right foods and drinking enough water will not only boost your health, immune system and help you feel great, but will also help you manage fatigue allowing you to concentrate better and for longer on the important things at hand. Substances like drugs, alcohol and even strong medication could affect your decision making ability, both short- and long-term.
- Keep a water bottle with you at all times. Drink water regularly through each work session to improve concentration and to relieve minor fatigue.
- Get adequate exercise. Regular exercise is great as it improves overall health, but equally importantly it reduces stress. If you feel that you do not have the energy for exercise because of the high stress levels that drain you or that you do not have the time, think again! If you follow the steps outlined above, then you will have more energy––and if you are serious about controlling your stress levels––you will have to make time. The benefits of being moderately to highly active (outside of work) will become apparent to you after a couple of weeks. This is a very important step and will improve all the benefits listed above. (It is also recommended that you consult a doctor for a check-up before starting an exercise program.
- Pick exercise that you enjoy and that works for your body type. This may take trial and error but don’t assume that because you hate one type, that all exercise won’t work. While some love the gym, others love the outdoor run, the cycle, the ice rink or the spin class.
- Physical work isn’t just about regulated exercise forms. Doing up your garden, house or some other physically involved activities can help to reduce stress in between work.
- Don’t forget about your friends and families. Family, friends, pets and the environment (nature) are sacred and valuable contributions to your overall health and well-being. People tend to get trapped in the stress that they’re exposed to at work and, as a result, tend to forget the fun and relaxation of spending time with others. Time spent with friends, family, a friendly house pet or even just spending time with all the wonderful things that nature provides, will rejuvenate you and help you to realize that there is a positive balance to the hard and less positive things that you’re dealing with each day.
- Changing negative behaviour and/or feelings for positive can be as simple as changing the usual environment that you are in.
- Equally, never be afraid to ask. What you don’t know may well be what others are wondering too and clearing the air can be vital for safe decisions.
- Don’t be discouraged if you do not see results immediately. It takes time to manage stress effectively but you need to begin somewhere.
- If you feel that you’re not in the right frame of mind to make an important decision, then don’t. It is better to declare yourself temporarily unfit than it is to make a fatal mistake.
- Stay positive. It is easy to fall into the blues but strive to avoid this. Learn to recognize the symptoms of anxiety and depression and seek talking, medical and other healthy outlets before it takes too much of a hold on your life.
- Strong medication, alcohol and/or drugs should be avoided in times where stressful situations could cost lives.
- Compassion burnout is a common sign of stress among care and safety workers who have experienced a lot of stressors. Seeking help for this is vital, through counseling, time off and medical assistance where relevant.
- ↑ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3118731/?tool=pubmed
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Harvard Medical Center, http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-performance-and-public-safety, retrieved Jan 2, 2013
- ↑ University of Georgia Health Center, http://www.uhs.uga.edu/stress/nutrition.html, retrieved Jan 2, 2013
- ↑ Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036, retrieved Jan 2, 2012
- ↑ Harvard School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/staying-active/, retrieved Jan 2, 2013
- ↑ Kari Henley, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kari-henley/why-gathering-with-friend_b_157525.html, retrieved Jan 2, 2013