Managing a stress work environment can feel impossible when you are right in it, but there are so many things you can do.
It feels like another lifetime, another person even, since I worked in the construction industry. It is hard to believe that I spent 10 years working in project coordination/management. Construction can feel like a constant reactionary industry. It is a masculine, fast paced, intense, sometimes conflictual, high energy, high stress, and also exciting and rewarding industry.
I have so much respect for everyone involved. From the architects, engineers, project managers, coordinators, supervisors..the teams are often massive and include different personality, skills, strengths and brilliant minds. But I was, and still am, in total awe of the trades. Watching a high rise building go up, with what looks like effortless skills from the trades is truly amazing. One thing can’t be done until another ends. The trades work in tight spaces, under tight timelines, building something from paper and making it appear right in front of our eyes. I remember often looking out of my site office window and thinking, “how do they know how to do this?”
Unfortunately, that magic can get lost when we get buried under the stress of it all. And that is what this weeks share is about. In any industry, there is stress. I only share the story of construction because is was such a big part of my life. What I learned while working in that industry, especially as a woman in her twenties, was and still is priceless.
When the pandemic hit, and the stressors mounted, and I had to shift my business, I knew that everything in my life, from my past career, to the work I have done in personal and professional development, right to this moment, had prepared me for this.
If you are working in a stressful work environment, I want to share a few things that were really effective for me when I was in the construction industry, and that I took into my current career.
1. GET PREPARED
Construction taught me the importance of being proactive instead of reactive. It isn’t fun spending the day putting out fires that could have been avoided, or at the very least, not spread. I learned this the hard way, but thank goodness I finally learned it, which is all that really matters.
Many of our days can be spent in a reactionary state if we are not prepared, so the more proactive you can be, the less stressful it will feel when you do need to react. You could spend an entire day putting out fires, and that to-do list still needs to be completed.
When getting prepared, asked yourself: What absolutely has to get done today?
What will keep you up at night if you don’t get it done today? Who is going to call you constantly, or bring the rain of fire down on you because they have been waiting for something you keep promising to send?
Whether it be for the week or even month ahead, anything on this list are going to be the tasks that you tackle first thing in the morning before the interruptions begin. Put together a list of MUST GET DONE with dates and make those your priority.
You will feel so incredible when you take that pen and scratch it off your list.
Additional Resource: A great book for getting prepared is Getting Things Done, by David Allen.
2. CALM YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
It is hard on your body to be in a constant state of stress. Even the good adrenaline kind. Your body doesn’t know the difference, it just knows stress. Your cortisol levels rise, your heart is pumping, your mind is running a hundred miles per hour, and you might even feel the jitters, like you’ve had too much coffee.
You may be thinking, “but I thrive in high stress situations.” Be that as it may, eventually this takes its toll on you, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, making it harder to react or respond to stressors in a positive way. This makes the problems you are reacting to seem like mountains to overcome and you begin to experience the feeling of burn out from the overwhelm and frustration.
A simple, yet effective practice is to take moments throughout the day to calm your nervous system.
Throughout the day, take little mini breaks. Find a quiet spot to spend 2 to 5 minutes to just breathe. Begin by taking a count of 5 breaths in, hold for a moment, and breath out for a count of 5.
Set a timer and repeat this for 2 to 5 minutes, or until you can feel your body relax.
When I was working on a construction site, I would go to the service elevator and ride it 10 floors up and 10 floors down, while doing this breathing exercise. I would step off the elevator and be ready for the next task ahead.
It is also a great way to take a moment before reacting or responding in a way that may compound the problem, or add fuel to an already burning fire.
I still do this breathing exercise today. I do this after every client call, or when I’m feeling the stress rise up over a problem I’m struggling to solve.
This is great for problem solving because stepping away from the stressor can help you gain more clarity. That’s difficult to do when all you are focused on is the problem and your mind is so overwhelmed that a solution can’t come through. Anytime you feel worked up, go take that 5 minute breather. But remember, it is better to be proactive, not reactive, so schedule some of these mini breaks into your day.
Additional Resource: My online workshop, Emotional Management, is 3 hours of practices and exercises to not just help you manage the internal stress caused by external stressors, but also calm your nervous system so it doesn’t negativity impact your physical, emotional and mental health.
3. KNOW YOUR (and teams) STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
When you are triggered by an external stressor, or you can’t seem to solve a problem, or the tasks you do regularly seem to just drain you, explore why. Often you may see that either you, or a team member who may be causing you stress, is not working from their strengths.
Everyone has strengths, and weaknesses, based on their unique personality. I see this in work environments so often. Someone being put into a role where they spend the majority of their efforts, time and energy from their weaknesses and don’t get to showcase their true strengths – their unique gifts and magic.
It’s so stressful and incredibly draining, on you and your team, to spend 8+ hours a day working from your weaknesses. It will feel like a constant uphill battle that takes all your mental and emotional energy. Again, this can lead to burn out.
Make a list of everything that you are simply just a rock star at doing. What comes easily to you? What do you love doing that makes you feel so energized when you get to do it? This is a a strength?
What takes all your effort, energy and mental bandwidth? These are weak points. They can be strengthened, but do you really want to? Someone else may be better fitted for these tasks.
Your weakness is someone else’s strength. And vice versa.
Additional Resource: Myers Briggs is absolute pure magic for this. Jolene Watson of Clarity Coaching & Development is one of the most brilliant practitioners I know. In fact, she just spent 3 hours with me, reevaluating my profile. Knowing where my strengths lie is incredible, but having an understanding of where my weaknesses are has been a game changer because it helps me to avoid, manage or minimize stressors. This is one thing I didn’t have when I was in the construction industry and it would have been so helpful. I wish I had known then what I know now.
4. END OF DAY RELEASE
There are so many more things that I could and want to share with you, but I’m going to end with one more practice, or this will become a novel.
At the end of each day, prepare for the next day. This releases your day and shuts down the tabs in your brain.
First, clean up your desk, and get organized so it is ready for the next day. Then, send any messages that may only take a couple of minutes. Get some of those micro tasks off your to-do list. Next, make your MUST DO LIST that you need to do first thing the next day. If you have questions that need clarification before you start a task, make a list of these and include a name beside each one of who you need to contact.
Shutting down open tabs in your brain helps you prepare to leave work at work and calms your nervous system. You are also setting yourself up for a good start the next morning.
I also recommend, just before you leave your office, to take that 2 to 5 minute breathing exercise to calm your nervous system. You are probably leaving work to go home, and now have a personal to do list to tackle, so why not start off as calm and centred as you possible can.
JOURNAL PROMPTS FOR MORE CLARITY
As you know, if you have been a part of this community for a while, I give journal prompts to help deepen each share and to help you go within so that you can gain more clarity.
I highly recommend this, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, that is more than okay.
Continuing on from the share above, let’s take it to our journals.
What are my top stressors at work?
What are practices I can put into place to help me minimize these stressors?