April marks Stress Awareness Month and in the current climate, as we all adapt to significant changes in our working and personal lives, there's perhaps not better time to discuss this increasingly important topic.
Stress Awareness Month is an annual initiative that's been in place since 1992. It sees healthcare professionals join forces to increase understanding of this important subject.
Stress awareness is now a key focus for the majority of organisations across the globe, because the likelihood is that some element of pressure from time to time is inevitable within any role.
At Carbon60, we believe that the health and wellbeing of our contractors, candidates, customers and employees is paramount. So, whilst it would be impossible to eliminate all elements of pressure at work, we wanted to share our top tips on managing workplace stress.
A 2019 report published by the Health and Safety Exective (HSE) revealed that an estimated 12.8 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. It further showed that in 2018/2019 stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill-health cases.
It also uncovered that employees working at larger organisations were more likely to experience stress and whilst females had a greater likelihood of encountering workplace stress, figures for men weren't that far behind.
It's clear that in today's fast-paced world of work, stress is a very real issue.
Stress in engineering
Whilst the HSE's report cited the highest volume of cases of stress within occupations such as public administration, sales and health & social care, the figures spanned just about every industry. Technical and skilled trades were certainly not exempt and showed that significant numbers of professionals within these areas were also missing time from work due to stress.
Looking specifically at engineering, it's a career offering excellent prospects and is often described as one of the most exciting, innovative and rewarding jobs. But it's also sometimes one of the most challenging - and this is where stress can creep in.
Factors such as tight project deadlines and long working hours are frequent concerns for engineers, along with technical challenges and the need to regularly multitask. Long commutes can be an issue - engineers often have to travel to where their large-scale project is based. Lots of responsibility can occasionally feel overwhelming and the intellectual brainpower needed to be an engineer can sometimes lead to burnout.
Whilst it would be unrealistic to suggest that we can remove all elements of stress from your role, the good news is that there are lots of ways of managing your stress. Here are just a few:
1. Identify what's causing your stress
It may seem obvious, but the first step of managing your stress or anxiety is to understand where it's coming from. As we identified earlier, there are a number of reasons why engineers can feel workplace pressure, so take some time to think about what could be causing yours. Is it a lack of support? Is it unrealistic deadlines? Or are you experiencing burnout because of long hours?
There are no 'silly' reasons for feeling stressed, so understand the root of yours to ensure you can take the necessary steps to eliminate it.
2. Speak out
Many people, and particularly men, have historically felt some stigma attached to stress. But as the stats showed us earlier, workplace stress is extremely common and it's important that you talk openly about your feelings. Be open with your colleagues, management and/or HR department. Be armed with facts about what's causing you to feel stressed. Often being frank about things such as unrealistic deadlines or a lack of support, can lead to practical solutions being put in place that will improve the situation, whereas keeping problems bottled up will only heighten your stress levels.
3. Get organised
Engineering projects can be vast. Divide your tasks into smaller bite-sized steps, create a to-do list and tick things off once they're complete. Enormous assignments can come with a lot of responsibility and feel overwhelming, but by breaking them down into lots of smaller projects, you'll be less likely to miss something crucial. You'll also see progress being made and recognise your achievements every day.
4. Focus on your health
'Healthy body, healthy mind': it really is more than just a cliche. Whilst at work remember to drink plenty of water - good hydration is key for physical and mental health. And remember to take a lunch break, even on the busiest of days. A physical break away from your working environment means you're more likely to return to your tasks refreshed, relieving feelings of stress and improving productivity for the remainder of the day.
Outside of work, aim to exercise a few times a week. Not only is this great for your physical and mental wellbeing, it'll improve your sleep too. Health professionals recommend getting seven to eight hours' sleep each night. If you struggle with sleep, try going to bed an hour before you plan on actually sleeping, switch off all electronic devices and instead read a book or listen to some calming music to help you wind down.
5. Challenge negative thoughts
Well all get them. It's human nature. But trying to make a conscious effort to turn negative thoughts into positive, really does help with our mental health. Whatever the cause of your stress, take a deep breath and try to find some perspective. Take your role one day at a time, instead of looking too far ahead. Often, we unrealistically build things up to feel much worse in our own minds than they actually are in reality.
6. Create some 'you' time
We all get busy, inside and outside of work, but one of the best stress-busters is to simply set some time aside for you. Make sure you switch off from work once you get home. Don't be tempted to constantly check work emails or make unnecessary calls outside of hours. Try relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or yoga, but if they aren't for you just allow yourself some time out to listen to music, read a book or go for a run. It's amazing what a difference some 'you' time can make, even after the most hectic of days at work.
7. Remember why you love engineering
You chose your career for a reason, and whilst it can come with challenges, don't forget the positives. Engineering careers give people a sense of purpose and allow you to make a real difference in the world. Reminding yourself of that regularly will help when things get tough.
Why not take some time to re-energise and refocus by assessing your own stress levels? Remember, if you're feeling particularly stressed, to take advantage of the whole host of help that's now available. Carbon60 proudly supports the mental health charity Mind whose website is a fantastic source of information on this topic.
From online resources, to professional counselling services and simply chatting to a loved one, it's important to reach out to others. No-one needs to face stress alone.