Managing Stress

Originally published Oct. 5, 2016

Construction workers consistently deal with extreme temperatures, inclement weather, deadlines, long hours and safety hazards. While all jobs create stress, construction jobsite stress places workers at an increased risk of injury, accident and long-term health consequences. It can also put coworkers at risk. Stress affects people in a variety of ways, including:

  • Difficulty concentrating and low energy;
  • Low morale;
  • Irritability and hot tempers;
  • Headaches, stomach pains and muscle tension;
  • Sleep issues; and
  • Strain on family and social relationships.

All of these can contribute to significant safety risks while on the job. But there are things that you can do to help reduce and manage stress.

If you are a manager, you can help alleviate stress on your jobsite by planning ahead, communicating with your team and providing appropriate and timely feedback. Have weekly meetings where workers are given clear direction and permitted to ask questions, share their ideas and help resolve job issues.

There are many reliable methods for reducing personal stress. Some of them include:

  • Exercise – Exercise releases endorphins and reduces physical pain. It also increases mood and energy levels.
  • Sleep – When you’re deprived of sleep your brain can’t function properly, affecting your cognitive abilities and emotions. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with balance, coordination and decision-making – increasing safety risks on the job.
  • Breathe – When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. They will typically take small, shallow breaths. This type of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body and can prolong feelings of anxiety and increase stress symptoms. Deep breathing (or abdominal breathing) increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and promotes a state of calmness.
  • Eat well and stay hydrated – Food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel. Minimize sugar and refined carbs, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and eat more foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, herring, and sardines) and nuts. Reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, trans fats and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones. All of your organs, including the brain, are strongly dependent on water to function properly, so stay hydrated.
  • Communicate – Effective communication can help avoid potential confusion, mix-ups and unnecessary delays – all of which contribute to stress.
  • Create a work/life balance – Be present in the life you have outside of the work place. Whenever possible, leave work at work. Spend time with your family and friends. It’s difficult to nurture relationships if you’re always working or thinking about work.

It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all workplace stress. By deliberately adding some of these stress-reducing techniques to your daily routine, you’ll feel better and you can help avoid accidents, long-term health consequences and possibly temper flare ups while at work.

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Prevent Overexertion Injuries

Caring for our bodies is critical in creating and maintaining a successful construction career. This doesn’t mean you need to be a champion weight lifter or an Olympic athlete, but success involves taking care of your primary asset – your body.

According to the National Safety Council, physical overexertion is the most common cause of workers’ compensation claims. Repetitive motions such as typing, lifting heavy objects or working in awkward positions usually cause these injuries. The overexertion pain is often acute, but it will decrease after medical care and preventative measures to prevent further injury. Constant overexertion can result in chronic pain, leading to problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.

You can avoid physical overexertion by:

  • Using ergonomic workspaces. This will ensure that you use materials and tools in a way that minimizes stress on your body as you work.
  • Lifting lighter loads. Reduce the actual amount of weight you are lifting, or use a dolly or mechanical means of lifting.
  • Decreasing the distance you stretch to lift a heavy object. You may be tempted to overstretch when tools are just out of reach. This can also lead to falls.
  • Strength training and stretching. Many resist the idea of stretching before work, but statistics prove that this is an excellent way to avoid an overexertion injury.
  • Knowing and respecting your body’s limits. This is key to avoiding injuring yourself as you work.

Other important factors linked to overexertion include:


Burning the candle at both ends is an unsustainable and unhealthy way to live. Sleep is essential to your health; it allows the mind and body to heal and recharge after dealing with the previous day’s stress.

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and Dehydration

Did you ever have such a busy day that you forgot to eat or drink enough water? This can contribute to your health risk, particularly if you are overexerting yourself. Hypoglycemia and dehydration can have serious health implications.