Almost everyone today can relate to stress. Coping with the demands of everyday life is sometimes overwhelming and most of us don’t even realize how stressed we are. In simple terms, stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Our body releases stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which make our hearts beat faster and muscles tighten. Blood pressure rises, breath quickens and our senses become sharper. The nervous system rouses for emergency action, preparing you to either fight or flee from what is perceived as a threat. When stress becomes unmanageable, it can lead to serious mental and physical health problems. Effects of chronic stress can lead to problems such as depression and anxiety, auto immune diseases, pain, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems and cognitive and memory problems.
Work related stress is often brought on by fear of being laid off, more overtime due to cutbacks, pressure to perform or pressure to work at optimum levels. Construction workers are vulnerable to work-related injuries and pain and often put themselves at risk for more injuries and mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. The industry has one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and also has a high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain among its workers. A 2012 study found that 40% of workers over age 50 had chronic back pain and 45% were more likely to be diagnosed with depression than non-injured workers.
In addition to physical stress, construction workers often feel pressure when projects fall behind. Delays and tight deadlines increase the amount of stress on workers and working overtime hours is often necessary to meet demands. Working long hours sometimes involves shift work which creates another set of stressors. Job security, worry about finances and physically demanding work all contribute to cumulative stress which is often overlooked or ignored.
Identifying factors that create stress is the first step in initiating change. We may not be able to control the circumstances of our life but we can be proactive in how we manage stress. Here are some simple suggestions for coping with stress that can make a world of difference:
Exercise: activities such as walking, running, swimming and other aerobic exercises are good choices to shift the feeling of immobilization that a stress response creates
Engage socially: interaction with other people who listen and relate can quickly put the breaks on the stress response
Set aside time for relaxation: take up meditation, yoga or deep breathing to help your body initiate a relaxation response
Eat a healthy diet: minimize sugar and refined carbs, eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost (i.e. salmon, herring, sardines, flaxseed, and walnuts)
Get plenty of sleep: feeling tired can increase stress by causing irrational thinking...avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime and aim for at least 6 hours of sleep per night
Keeping a balanced life can all contribute to effectively dealing with stress. At work, try to break projects into small steps and take scheduled breaks. If you can, delegate responsibility and resist the urge to set unrealistic goals. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable and keep your sense of humor -- lightening the mood has a positive impact on most workplace environments.