This month our heath focus is stress and 8 ways you can manage it.
Director, Health & wellness
It's safe to say that all of us have dealt with an abundance of stress in the last year. From global health fears to economic crises to the disruption of our day-to-day routines, we all have extra worries weighing on our minds.
For engineering professionals, that's on top of a lot of other stress. Having worked directly with engineers as wellness director here at ACEC Life/Health Trust, I know that amid the complexities of budgets, timelines and safety, engineering is one of the most stressful industries.
Mental health is crucial to overall health – as well as to how happy we are in our work and lives. So this Stress Awareness Month, check out my top tips for reducing and overcoming stress.
- Take at least 10 minutes for yourself every day. Meditation doesn't have to mean sitting in a lotus position repeating a mantra. We all just need to give our brains time to rest and process, away from work, household chores and phones. You can use the time for journaling, breathing exercises, praying, focusing on life goals or just sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee.
- Focus on gratitude. While our lives are a mix of positive and negative, our survival-wired brains tend to focus on the negative, which can make our situations seem worse than they are. Taking just a few minutes each day to focus on the good in our lives can help rewire our brains and promote feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. Use the first few minutes of your meditation time to think about what you are grateful for.
- Take regular breaks from media. In addition to short periods of meditation, set aside longer periods away from the news and social media, where negative stories and conversations tend to be amplified. We have enough to deal with in our personal lives without worrying about the rest of the world every second of the day, too. Maybe you spend Sundays “off grid” or turn off your notifications after 7 p.m. every day.
- Stick to a routine. Every day, we make hundreds of decisions, which can be mentally exhausting. By developing routines for the little things (like when to get up, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast), we eliminate a lot of daily decisions and reserve that mental energy for the big stuff.
- Eat breakfast. Speaking of breakfast: Skipping breakfast after fasting all night results in low blood sugar. Your brain compensates by releasing cortisol, which converts protein into blood sugar. But cortisol is a stress hormone – part of your body's danger response. It can make you fatigued, anxious and irritable, especially if you are also spending energy on a stressful work project. A breakfast with protein and whole grains can help stabilize your blood sugar, your mood and your ability to concentrate. Just avoid refined sugars, which can give you a spike and then a sudden drop in blood sugar.
- Sweat it out. Sometimes it's hard to turn your brain off. A good workout can help you escape from stressful thoughts and access mood-boosting endorphins. Join one of our wellness challenges, or see what activities will earn you incentives via our Designed Wellness program. On days you don't feel like exercising, try to still exercise at least a little; you may feel so much better that you decided to work out after all.
- Connect with other people. Humans are social creatures – even those of us who are more introverted. We need people to vent to and celebrate with. Kick back at the end of the day or week with family or a friend, maybe over a glass of red wine, and hash out recent stresses and successes. Just make sure to establish whether each of you is trying to solve a problem or merely venting. Many of us (especially engineers) want to fix things, when sometimes the other person just wants us to listen.
- Talk to a professional. Sometimes it isn't enough to talk to the people in your personal circle – maybe they are overburdened with their own stresses, or maybe that relationship is a source of your stress and you need an outsider's perspective. That's why we offer confidential counseling to our members seven days a week via telehealth thanks to Designed Virtual Care.
Learn more in our upcoming webinars: “Breaking Through Burnout” in April and “Stress Management 101 – Work-Life Balance” in August. Multiple dates make them easier to fit into your schedule. Explore webinars.