Americans are some of the most stressed-out workers in the world.
About 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers say they feel stressed on a daily basis, compared to 43% of the rest of the world, according to a recent Gallup poll.
We are only getting more stressed — and it’s affecting worker safety and health.
The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety found that stress leads to increased incidents of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological
disorders and impaired immune systems. A study in the BMC Public Health journal revealed a strong correlation between burnout and worker injury rates.
That’s where proven stress-reduction techniques can help. By undertaking these strategies, we can help reverse stress and increase mindfulness and safety, says Simone Olivier, executive director of Four Dragons Tai Chi in Houston.
“When we get to a burned-out state, we’ve gone too far in one direction,” Olivier says. “In order to get back in balance, we have to go in the other direction. Sometimes burnout shows up as sickness, and then we have to take sick
days. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves, but how can we prevent burnout from getting that far?”
Cory Worden, M.S., CSP, CSHM, CHSP, interviewed Olivier on our Healthcare Practice Specialty's Healthbeat podcast, where they discussed the foundations
of mindfulness and health, techniques to get you out of the stress zone and the benefits of an ongoing mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness and Safety: The Foundations
These seven elements should build the foundation of your mindfulness practice.
“If we focus on these things then a lot of the other work-related pieces will fall into place on their own when we’re taking care of ourselves,” Olivier says.
- Eat well and often enough: “Tempers can flare when you’re hungry,” Olivier says. “That in and of itself can lead to feelings of stress.”
- Hydrate: Even 2% dehydration can begin to affect your mood.
- Get a good night’s sleep: This isn’t just about putting in the hours; it’s about having restful sleep. Using mindfulness and meditation techniques can help you “turn off” your brain at night.
- Rest throughout the day: Incorporating downtime, breaks, walking, a trip out in nature or meditation can help.
- Relax: Minds are not made to concentrate for an hour, Olivier says. Spend time letting your mind go and thoughts flow without trying to focus.
- Play: Addressing workplace risks requires structure and planning, but it’s important to take some time away from that. Think outside the box, get creative and experience variety where you can.
- Engage in relationships/conversations: This may be the most important, Olivier says. “Healthy relationships with our co-workers, friends and family are a big component of longevity, but also a better quality of life. Safety
and life quality go hand in hand.”
How to Apply Mindfulness: What to Do When You Get Stuck
While working on the foundational aspects of mindfulness can be beneficial over the long term, sometimes you need help right
now. Olivier has some specific techniques to help.
- Doing different movements can change your perspective: How you use your body can change the language you use to describe your life experience and help you focus on different things, Olivier says. Think about whether you’re moving
your body too much or not enough and find balance between movement and stillness.
- If things aren’t working out, do something you feel confident about: Excelling at an activity can turn a downward spiral around. Try simple tasks that can be accomplished with ease. Once you’ve succeeded, you may have
a different perspective on the things that are giving you trouble.
- Honor your bandwidth: If the gap between your capacity and others’ expectations is too big, it will cause stress, Olivier says. In tai chi, she teaches beginners basic movements without adding mindfulness elements. Over time,
it comes together into a more advanced art. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus on the basic elements of
your task and build from there.
Benefits of Mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness aren’t just for the person practicing. They can impact your entire organization — including safety and health.
Some of the benefits include:
- Improved communication: Sometimes there isn’t a problem, just a miscommunication, Olivier says. When we’re taking care of our foundational needs, our brain works differently. “We’ll get that
reminder, that insight, that something small can change everything,” she says. Improving communication also helps reduce conflict and increases teamwork and helpfulness.
- Better emotional intelligence: “When you’re practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, you start to catch yourself. ‘Oh, OK, I’m having these emotional reactions,’” Olivier says. “It gives
you some time for self-evaluation.”
- Boosted productivity: Mindfulness reduces burnout and increases productivity. “That’s a win-win right there,” Olivier says. Workers are healthier, less distracted, more energetic and more productive.
Through mindfulness, you can gain a better understanding of your needs and the needs of others. You will see how you can serve the people around you, but also how others can support you in becoming a better safety leader.
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