Jobs. Bills. Relationships. Stressors appear everywhere, and juggling day-to-day activities can become overwhelming for some.
In order to call attention to the most stress-affected cities, researchers at WalletHub recently compared 150 of the most populated cities across 30 metrics including unemployment rate, divorce rate and suicide.
Researchers found common ground between populations regarding what individual things cause stress, such as family stress, job-related stress, financial stress and health and safety stress. For example, Detroit, Mich. ranked No. 1 for highest poverty rate, lowest credit score and lowest average weekly work hours. Cleveland, Ohio placed No. 1 for highest divorce rate and just behind Detroit for poverty rate.
These studies or lists are a great resource to see how populations across the country differ, but it all comes down to the well-being of Americans and our inability to cope with stress, as well as the lack of resources to be able to manage it. In fact, Gallup’s global index of personal well-being shows a continued downward trend in the United States when it comes to the population’s ability to thrive.
The American Psychological Association (APA) lists a number of factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress, among them: low salaries, excessive workloads, few opportunities for growth or advancement, work that isn’t engaging or challenging, lack of social support, not having enough control over job-related decisions and conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.
Work-related stress in particular can be managed in a number of ways, whether it’s company management making a conscious decision to improve the company’s culture or a worker’s own prerogative to take steps to reduce stress. Whatever it is, stress management might mean lifestyle changes, new routines or something as simple as taking a mental health day to regroup.
On a personal level, the APA says a person can use the following techniques to manage stress:
• Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them.
• Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster.
• Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner.
• Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work.
• Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress.
• Talk to your supervisor. Healthy employees typically are more productive, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job.
• Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer also may have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program (EAP), including online information, available counseling and referral to mental health professionals, if needed.
For me, managing stress means taking walk breaks during the work day, running or physical activity after work, communicating any issues I might have and making sure I find time to sit down and prioritize what I need to do. For others, it might not be as easy as that sounds.
For an EHS manager at a company level, if it’s not being done already, it might be time to take the personal well-being of employees and make efforts to reduce stress levels. If an employee is stressed, it could lead to a drop in productivity, shortcuts that contribute to injuries and high turnover. Sometimes, finding the root cause might mean getting down to the psychological level and personal well-being of workers to know how they tick and cope with things in order to improve overall company morale and performance. It could, in turn, make it less stressful for everyone in the long run.