Learning Task 5: Stress Management Techniques

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Stress is the emotional or physical reaction to pressure, demands, or change. It is an everyday part of both work and home life. Working in skilled trades can be stressful because of the long work hours, exposure to new job sites, dealing with new co-workers and clients, working in confined spaces that may be noisy and physically demanding, responding to challenging assignments, and meeting tight deadlines. Being able to manage your stress level is integral to your growth as a human being and as a skilled and competent employee and co-worker.

Managing Stress

Here are some tips to help you manage your stress levels at work:

  • Remember that stress is a part of normal life, provided it is managed.
  • Everyone handles stress differently and has a different threshold of stress that they can tolerate. Just because a colleague doesn’t handle stress in the same way as you does not mean that they are not under stress.
  • Being prepared can help reduce your level of stress. Plan your day; show up at the job site early and ready to perform. Make sure that you complete any pre-work or reading that is required before starting a job.
  • Ask any questions you may have about a specific task before starting on a job or assignment.
  • When on the job, focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, make sure your job site is clean and organized so you’ll be ready for the next day. If you work in multiple locations, make sure that you know your schedule for the next day so that you can plan your travel time accordingly.
  • Know where the stress is coming from. If your personal life is causing additional stress in the workplace, acknowledge and address the issue. As much as possible, personal life should remain out of the workplace; however, this isn’t always possible. Being preoccupied or acting out on the job site can increase the risk of workplace accidents and be hazardous to both you and your colleagues. If you are unable to manage your personal stress, seek the necessary help (for example, visit your doctor).
  • If the stress is related to working conditions, be assertive and discuss the issues with the appropriate individual, be it a colleague, your team, or your supervisor. Once the issue is out in the open and discussed and reconciled in a respectful manner, it should help to reduce the stress level of all individuals involved.
  • If you cannot reduce your stress, it is important to recognize when it reaches an unhealthy level and take the necessary steps to get the assistance you need. Don’t wait until an incident occurs before addressing this issue.
  • Many unions, schools and other organizations have specific supports in place for employees struggling with stress, anxiety, addictions, or mental health issues. Don’t be ashamed to seek help, these supports are often free to employees and are confidential in nature.  Many employers understand that the wellness of their employers directly correlates to their ability to perform in their job.

Signs of unhealthy stress levels

Too much stress is damaging to your health and well-being. It can also increase the stress levels of your co-workers, family, or friends. Very high levels of stress can affect you physically, mentally, or emotionally and have devastating consequences. Learning to identify the signs of unhealthy levels of stress in yourself or your colleagues is important. Some of these signs include:

  • significant changes in personality noticed by co-workers, family, or friends
  • emotional changes such as feeling sad, guilty, depressed, anxious, afraid, or tense, or displaying frequent mood swings
  • behaviour changes such as crying often, withdrawing from others, becoming angry or aggressive, losing your temper easily
  • fatigue, insomnia, or restlessness
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • misusing alcohol, drugs (including prescription drugs), or food
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • digestive problems such as ulcers, stomach cramps, heartburn, diarrhea
  • headaches
  • nervous habits such as nail biting or teeth grinding
  • loss of hair
  • skin rashes
  • increased perspiration and dizziness, or cold hands and feet

If you are experiencing a number of these issues, make an appointment with a trained professional who can help you deal with the issue.

Reducing stress

To reduce your stress, you first need to know the acceptable level under which you can personally function. Some people thrive in high-pressure situations and may perform at their best under these conditions. Others require minimal stress and consistency to perform effectively.

Once you have determined the level acceptable for you, look at ways to reduce stress both at home and in the workplace. It is inevitable that unhealthy levels of stress will be carried from home to and from work if you don’t look for holistic solutions. For example, if you are fatigued on the job site, it’s important to reduce activities outside of work and try to rest more and catch up on missed sleep.

The following are some tips on how you can reduce stress in your life:

  • Set aside time each day to relax and enjoy leisure activities.
  • Take care of your body by exercising at least three times a week and eating right. Keep junk food to a minimum and try to keep body weight in line with Health Canada’s recommendations for a healthy weight.
  • Do not abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Visit your doctor and dentist regularly and address any issues promptly as they arise.
  • Visit a qualified counsellor or other mental health practitioner to help you navigate your stress and anxiety in a healthy way.
  • Get adequate sleep each day.
  • Continue to do activities that you enjoy.
  • Try to find some down time each day when you can be alone and away from the demands of work and others.
  • Make decisions promptly and then own them. Don’t worry about second guessing yourself.
  • Take responsibility for making your job and workplace enjoyable. Keep a positive attitude and bring humour into your life.
  • Share your feelings rather than bottling them up.
  • Get involved in community activities.
  • Learn how to use relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to reduce stress.

Dealing with Overwork

If you find yourself constantly working beyond your capacity, it is time to take a look at how you work to see if there is any room for improvement. Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them truthfully:

  • Am I making the best use of my time while at work? Are there areas in which I can improve; for example, making sure to stay within the approved lunch and break periods and spending less time talking to friends while on the job site?
  • Are there areas where training would help me improve my performance and work more efficiently? If so, what are they? Can my supervisor/journeyperson help me to acquire these skills, or do I need to get formal training or practice on my own time?
  • Are there workplace solutions that can help me improve my performance? For example, could I reorganize my tools and supplies at the job site to make them more readily accessible and easier to locate?

If you’ve examined your own working style, made improvements, and still cannot complete all of the work required within a workday, it may be time to discuss this issue further with your supervisor, as additional staff may be needed at critical points in the project.

Another area of overwork is working overtime. Most jobs have specific deadlines by which a task has to be completed, be it an office building under construction or the retrofit of a ship. Depending on the size and availability of the skilled workforce, working overtime may be an expectation of the employer on some job sites or projects. The issue will usually be brought up at the time of employment or at the start of a new project. If you are a unionized employee, there will be specific regulations covering overtime in your collective agreement. Individuals who are not unionized may also have company guidelines that explain overtime conditions and benefits that adhere to labour laws. In the absence of documents, the existing labour laws always take precedence. Working overtime on a regular basis can be very stressful, so it is important to factor this in when taking steps to reduce your stress level. For example, you may need to engage in fewer external activities, and be sure to get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise.

Self-test icon.Now complete the Learning Task Self-Test.


Self-Test 5

  1. Stress is not a part of normal life and should be addressed immediately.
    1. True
    2. False
  2. Stress is emotional or physical tension resulting from difficult circumstances.
    1. True
    2. False
  3. Which of the following can cause stress?
    1. Working in confined spaces or noisy and physically demanding situations
    2. Working on new job sites with new clients and co-workers, or working overtime
    3. All of the above
    4. None of the above
  4. Being prepared can help you reduce your level of stress.
    1. True
    2. False
  5. The job site, co-workers, and clients are always the source of your stress.
    1. True
    2. False
  6. Being preoccupied or acting out on the job site can increase the risk of workplace accidents and be hazardous to you and your colleagues.
    1. True
    2. False
  7. How can you reduce stress related to your working conditions?
    1. Visit your doctor and ask for a medical leave of absence.
    2. Try to resolve it on your own without impacting your co-workers.
    3. Be assertive and discuss the issues with the appropriate individual(s).
    4. Keep a list of all of the things that occur on the job site that cause you and your colleagues stress.
  8. Too much stress is damaging to your health and well-being.
    1. True
    2. False
  9. What are some of the signs that a person has an unhealthy stress level?
    1. Fatigue, insomnia, or restlessness, and misusing alcohol, drugs, or food
    2. Significant changes in personality, inability to concentrate and make decisions, behavioural changes, or frequent mood swings
    3. All of the above
    4. None of the above
  10. What should you do if you have an unhealthy stress level?
    1. Discuss it with your supervisor.
    2. Discuss it with your friends and colleagues.
    3. Keep it a secret from your colleagues and supervisor.
    4. Seek help from a trained professional and get the help you need.
  11. The level of stress that can be handled by an individual differs from person to person.
    1. True
    2. False
  12. It is important to think about the level of stress you can handle when choosing a career.
    1. True
    2. False
  13. Which of the following is not an effective way to reduce stress?
    1. Exercise and eat right.
    2. Go to the bar and drink.
    3. Make sure you sleep an adequate amount of time each day.
    4. Be assertive and deal with issues as they arise rather keeping them inside.
  14. What should you do first if you are unable to keep up with your daily workload?
    1. Advise your supervisor that the workload is excessive.
    2. Discuss it with your friends and see if they have the same complaints.
    3. Gauge your performance on what other people are able to accomplish.
    4. Look at how you work and determine if there is room for improvement or increased efficiency.
  15.  Depending on your trade, employer, and job site, working overtime may be expected of employees.
    1. True
    2. False
  16. The issue of overtime is rarely addressed by a prospective employer in interviews.
    1. True
    2. False
  17. Both labour laws and collective agreements for unionized employees address overtime.
    1. True
    2. False
  18. A(n)  or mental health practitioner to help you navigate your stress and anxiety in a healthy way.
    1. Qualified counselor
    2. Close friend
    3. Instructor
    4. Online blog
  19. Many unions, schools and other organizations have specific supports in place for employees struggling with stress, anxiety, addictions, or mental health issues.
    1. True
    2. False
  20. Reorganizing tools and supplies at the job site to make things more readily available and easier to access is an example of a workplace solution to help improve performance.
    1. True
    2. False

See the Answer Key in the back matter of the textbook for self-test answers.

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