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Stress and Safety

Under normal circumstances the average employee deals with a certain amount of stress.  Our current circumstances include the coronavirus and citywide shuts downs so it’s natural for our stress levels to be increased exponentially which could lead to workplace accidents. Dr. David Spiegel, medical director of the Stanford Center on Stress and health, said there is a direct correlation between an increase in worker stress and an increase in workplace accidents. “It’s very clear that a big proportion of safety problems are due to human error, and some of that is related to stress,” Spiegel said. Stressed out workers are prone to thinking more about the source of their stress and less about the task at hand. In a nutshell, poor attention can lead to accidents and injury.

How employers can identify and address workplace stress

There are many signs of stress some that can be identified by employers and some that only the employee is aware of.  The main things to look out for: Fatigue, Low morale, anxiety, irritability or short temper, change in appetite, frequent headaches, fighting in the workplace and difficulty concentrating.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers training resources for employers and they advise employers to review the design of tasks including heavy workload, infrequent breaks hectic routines or long hours. The NIOSH also recommends employers look at work roles including conflicting job expectations or responsibilities and interpersonal relationships. NIOSH found the long-term impacts of stress lead to increased incidents of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders and most importantly in today’s climate-impaired immune systems. Once the stress is identified there are some steps an employer can take:

Communication is key

Talk with your employees to help them feel understood and to learn what workplace issues may be contributing to their workplace stress.  Ask for input on work policies or other factors that impact their work environment. This will increase their sense of control over their situations.

Clarify roles and expectations

Create roles for workers that highlight the employee’s strengths and then be clear about the expectations for the role.  Make sure deadlines are reasonable. I.f there are times when the workload will be overwhelming, reduce the workload for the period after.

How employees can identify stress

We tend to believe in our ability to handle anything that comes our way.  That belief has its advantages but can prevent us from recognizing when we are having a harder time coping. There are some telltale signs that you may be more stressed out: feeling anxious, irritable or depressed, stomach issues, fatigue or trouble sleeping, headaches or muscle tension, lack of appetite, trouble focusing, lack of sex drive and a loss of interest in work.  Before the issues cause a safety issue there are steps you can take to deal with and reduce stress.

Seek support

Isolation is a factor in stress so seeking support is an essential step to combat it. Engage in conversation with coworkers when it’s appropriate, put your cell phone down during breaks or participate in outside of work functions. Reach out to your friends and family even if its been awhile.  Once the shutdown is over join a league or team to increase your socialization.

Start your day earlier

If you tend to get to work at the last minute you may be adding to your stress level.  Getting to work 10 minutes earlier will allow you to ease into your day.

Get plenty of rest

Sleep is a factor in every aspect of our daily life and directly impacts our productivity, ability to focus and our ability to cope with stress.  Simple steps like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, shutting off electronic devices an hour before you got to bed and avoiding other stimulating activities, and being smart about caffeine intake during the day will all add up to better sleep.

Nutrition and exercise

One of the quickest ways to boost your mood is to exercise.  30 minutes of any activity that raises your heart rate will provide stress relief and cause your brain to release endorphins that give us a positive feeling. What and how we eat can also affect mood.  Eating small healthy meals more often instead of heavy meals helps maintain an even level of blood sugar and creates more energy.  People tend to “stress eat” sugar and refined carbs, while this gives us a boost of energy it leads to a crash in mood and energy later. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that lead to higher stress levels.

Change your outlook

The way we view things can certainly impact our stress levels.  There are some legitimate fears and struggles right now, but there are still positives we can focus on.  Our media does not focus on the good, so we must seek it out our selves.  If we choose to focus on the positives instead of the negatives, we can help ourselves reduce stress. Find a neutral news source and avoid the sensationalism. Spend time each day reflecting on the things we can be grateful for. Avoid negative co-workers and pat yourself on the back when you do a good job.

Dealing with the workload

If you have a task that you dislike, do it first and get it out of the way. If you have a task that seems overwhelming break it up into steps and manage them one step at a time. Set realistic goals for yourself. Talk to your employer if there are issues that are contributing to your stress level but be willing to compromise on resolutions.

Dealing with stress is a part of everyone’s life during the best of times.  In more difficult days its even more important to take care of ourselves and to focus on what we are doing.  Let’s not add to overrun hospitals with workplace injuries that can be avoided. Stay safe by staying focused!

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