By Angie Willcocks, Mining Family Matters psychologist
Work-related stress is common. Too much work, too little work, long hours, tight deadlines and difficult co-workers can all make going to work less fun than we’d like it to be now and again.
Most of us can manage short bursts of work-related stress without too much difficulty. However, when stress is ongoing, for long periods of time, health and happiness can be affected.
One of the major sources of ongoing stress in mining and resources at the moment is job insecurity.
Job insecurity happens when a worker isn’t confident that his or her job is safe from day to day or week to week. It can be caused by a number of different factors which generally have nothing whatsoever to do with any individual worker’s skills or work ethic.
Restructuring of a work force, downsizing a company, falling investment and a reduced demand for a business’s product can all lead to job losses. Job losses, or the threat of them, leads to job insecurity.
At the moment, a lot is being said about the 'end of the boom' in the media, and just about everybody knows somebody who has lost their job. Job insecurity is high, and this means that levels of stress are high. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for this uncertainty, so workers need to find a way to manage the stress that is just part of the job for the time being.
Why is job insecurity so stressful?
One important thing to understand is just why job insecurity feels so very stressful. Basically, it’s because we humans just love to think that we know what is happening in our future. We love a sense of control, we look for security all the time and when control and security are threatened we worry. It’s a survival thing.
Most of the time our brains tell us we have more control than we actually do and this helps us feel safe and secure in our little lives. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for our brains to ignore the constant messages about falling commodity prices, company downsizing and reduced workforces.
The good thing for a human brain to do in a situation like this is to worry, because worry at its best is about imagining bad things happening, and then doing something about it. Worry that leads to problem solving is helpful. Worry that goes around and around with no solutions or positive actions is unhelpful and leads to problematic levels of stress.
It’s really important to realise that continual worrying and stressing will not make you any more or less likely to lose your job tomorrow. It will just make your life more miserable today.
Do what you can and work hard to let go of the worry. You might not secure your job, but you will cope better with the job insecurity. Turn your worry into planning and taking control of the parts you have some control over. Here are some tips:
Reducing the stress of job insecurity at work
- Keep your chin up and be as positive as possible. Accept the situation for what it is rather than keeping on wishing it was different. Don’t be a negative moaner while in the workplace. The situation is what it is, and bitching about it every day won’t help. I’m not saying that being positive and happy will secure your job. It won’t if cuts have to be made, but it will make your time at work more bearable for you and your colleagues.
- Keep working away at what needs to be done to the very best of your ability for the whole time you’re clocked on. Be very professional and positive, but don’t blow a valve working crazy overtime or trying to prove your worth as a worker. Working ridiculously long hours doesn’t guarantee your safety if the job has to go (downsizing is not personal) and it can result in blame and bitterness if your job does go.
- Don’t get too caught up in small talk, rumours and gossip about what might be happening with job losses in your company.
- Look for opportunities for training and skill development and don't be afraid to ask for these. If none are on offer, think about upskilling in your own time.
- Be willing to be flexible. If you have a chance, give other jobs or tasks in your company a go. Think outside the square about what sorts of jobs you’d be willing to try.
- Consider making a time to talk with your line manager, Human Resources, or someone from your company’s Employee Assistance Program. Having a chance to 'debrief' with an appropriate person can help. Knowing what’s going on (as much as is possible) from those in the know can be helpful, and knowing what your entitlements would be if you were to lose your job can help you plan ahead.
Reducing stress in your time off
- Don’t stick your head in the sand about what’s going on. Consult a financial advisor about your particular situation. Let he or she know that you’re facing possible job loss and ask their advice on how you can minimise the impact of job loss on your family and finances. This might involve changing your current spending, revising your insurances (for example, adding a redundancy insurance) and/or developing a financial contingency plan for if you do lose your job.
- Make sure your CV is up to date. Consult a professional CV writing service if you need help with this.
- Look for other jobs and opportunities before you lose your job.
- Don’t be afraid to let people know that you’re dealing with job uncertainty. I know that historically job loss has been seen as something to be ashamed of, but this isn’t the case nowadays and you’re likely to find support (and maybe even other opportunities) if you let people know what’s going on for you.
- Take time to relax and de-stress by doing things you love.
- Take on a new (or revisit an old) challenge, sport or hobby to engage your brain and make you feel energised.
- It’s normal to feel stressed and wound up about this at times so make time to get some support, either through friends and family or through a counsellor or psychologist. Obviously, talking to someone won’t 'fix' the problem, but it might just help you cope that little bit better.
General tips for managing stress
- Accept that you can’t change some things in life.
- Do what you can about the parts you do have control over.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh food and water and minimal alcohol and junk food.
- Don’t increase your alcohol intake as a means of 'coping' with stress.
- Get plenty of sleep when you can.
- Taking extra B vitamins can help at times of stress. See your pharmacist for more information on which one would suit you.
- Make time to see friends and family regularly.
- Get some physical activity daily. Go for a walk or run, grab a skipping rope and skip for 5-10 minutes, lift some weights.
- Give your mind a break from worrying by getting absorbed in something else that’s good for your brain, like crosswords, Suduko, playing a musical instrument or watching a funny movie.
- Breathing exercises will help enormously. Download an app on your smartphone to help you learn how to breathe in a way that reduces stress. Relax Stress and Anxiety Relief, by Saagara is one of my favourites, but take some time to browse your app store for one that you like.
- While you’re at it, you could search for some apps for relaxation or sleep help too.
When to seek help...
Finally, sometimes worry and stress do get the better of people, especially if the source of the stress is ongoing. Please see your GP if you are experiencing any of the following problems for more than a week or so at a time:
- Problems getting to sleep, staying asleep and/or waking up feeling like you’re not fully rested;
- Feeling tired every day;
- Muscle aches and pains;
- Tummy troubles- like diarrhoea or constipation;
- Feeling sad or ‘down’;
- Feeling on edge or agitated and unable to relax;
- A frequent sense of feeling overwhelmed or ‘out of control’;
- Feeling grumpy and very irritable;
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded;
- Eating more or less than usual and/or eating more unhealthy or ‘fast food’ than usual;
- Drinking more alcohol than usual, not for fun but as an attempt to help you ‘relax’ or ‘wind down’;
- Headaches, back, neck or shoulder troubles;
- Feeling quick or anger, or like you have a short fuse.
Mining Family Matters aims to break down the barriers of isolation and the stresses of living away from family and friends. Although this website provides general advice from a psychologist, the content should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. Always speak to your doctor or specialist provider for advice on a specific medical condition. If you are depressed and require urgent assistance, call 9-1-1 or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at www.cmha.ca.
Psychologist Angie Willcocks is an expert at helping families deal with the pressures of life in mining, oil and gas. To ask Angie a question, write via our 'contact us' page. It’s free! And to read other Angie articles, please click here.