It is essential, perhaps more now than ever, to strive for a career-and-life balance, to know where and why to place boundaries, and to know when one side of this sensitive equilibrium requires maintenance or correction. How one handles job stress is one of the key factors in determining the success and long-term satisfaction of workers. Take time for self-care and you may actually improve your workplace situation. In this activity, students investigate stress and coping mechanisms by developing a public service announcement and/or a fun stress-reliever exercise.
- identify elements of stress
- practice techniques of mindfulness stress management
- identify the importance of establishing personal boundaries in a career
- determine work expectations, based on career choice
- establish personal health and wellness goals
- follow emergency protocols.
This activity was created to be used primarily with:
- WRS: 22. Workplace Safety
- CCRA: 6. Practice personal health and understand financial literacy
Secondary WRS skills include
- 1. Creativity and Innovation
- 2. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- 3. Initiative and Self-Direction
- 5. Work Ethic
- 6. Conflict Resolution
- 10. Teamwork
- 11. Big-Picture Thinking
- 12. Career and Life Management
- 13. Continuous Learning and Adaptability
- 14. Efficiency and Productivity
- 15. Information Literacy
- 20. Professionalism
- 21. Reading and Writing
Discussion: What are three things you do to relieve stress (that are good for you).
Or use the following Pre-Activity Process Questions to create a quiz or start a new discussion.
Pre-Activity Process Questions
- What is self-care and what does it have to do with workplace safety?
- What is stress management, and what are some techniques for managing stress?
- What are some consequences and symptoms of having a poor work-life balance?
- How do you assess your ability to handle stress?
- What are your personal health and wellness goals?
(what the instructor does)
Deliver instruction on the following topics:
Causes and Consequences of Stress
Stress is caused by anything perceived to be a threat or danger (or more broadly: a situation or conflict in which we might lose something, such as status, employment, or stability). A pair of identical twins can walk into the ocean waves that knock them down, and one will be left exhilarated from the experience, while the other will be upset and fearful. It’s all about how we feel going into a situation and how we deal with the aftermath. But much of what we experience as stress can be managed by applying various techniques. However, there are always experiences that we cannot predict or plan for. Stress can impact our bodies (e.g., headache, fatigue, sleep problems), our moods (e.g., lack of motivation or focus, irritability, depression), and our behaviors (e.g., over or under-eating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol misuse). Sometimes we get a rush from stressful situations and this happens in the workplace too. It can attract us to certain types of careers. We also change our perceptions and therefore our reactions to stress after a while, we get used to stressful situations, especially those we have successfully managed previously. Stress is also tricky, because we don’t always know when we are experiencing it. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms, try to find the root issue causing stress, and take steps to manage it.
Techniques for coping and stress management (with help from the CDC)
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out. Practice mindfulness.
- Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor. Empathy can be restorative.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to reduce stress, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling, like pouring fuel on the fire.
- Take a break, if you can. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news. If workplace conflicts and pressure are causing you stress, try to avoid them for a day, if possible.
- Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.
The career-and-life balance (from the Mayo Clinic)
Married to your work? Consider the cost
If you’re spending most of your time working, your work and your home life might be negatively affected. Consider the consequences of poor work-life balance:
- Fatigue. When you’re tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly might suffer — which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.
- Poor health. Stress can worsen symptoms related to many medical conditions and put you at risk of substance misuse.
- Lost time with friends and loved ones. If you’re working too much, you might miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and might harm your relationships.
Strike a better work-life balance
As long as you’re working, juggling the demands of career and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge. But by setting limits and looking after yourself, you can achieve the work-life balance that’s best for you.
Setting Personal Boundaries
If you don’t set limits, work can leave you with no time for the relationships and activities you enjoy. Consider these strategies:
- Manage your time. Give yourself enough time to get things done. Don’t over-schedule yourself.
- Learn to say “no.” Evaluate your priorities at work and at home and try to shorten your to-do list. Cut or delegate activities you don’t enjoy or can’t handle — or share your concerns and possible solutions with your employer or others. When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.
- Detach from work. Working from home or frequently using technology to connect to work when you’re at home can cause you to feel like you’re always on the job. This can lead to chronic stress. Seek guidance from your manager about expectations for when you can disconnect. If you work from home, dress for work and have a quiet dedicated workspace, if possible. When you’re done working each day, detach and transition to home life by changing your outfit, taking a drive or walk, or doing an activity with your kids.
- Consider your options. Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be.
Caring for yourself
A healthy lifestyle is essential to coping with stress and to achieving work-life balance. Eat well, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. But it isn’t just about taking care of your body and soul. Part of it is finding the things that bring you joy and peace and contentment. These are the things that give your life meaning, bring you pleasure, connect you to life, and make you feel like your best self, the one that matters. In addition, aim to:
- Relax. Regularly set aside time for activities that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga, gardening or reading. Hobbies can help you relax, take your mind off of work and recharge. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes.
- Volunteer. Research shows that volunteering to help others can improve your connections with others, as well as lead to better life satisfaction and lower psychological distress.
- Develop a support system. At work, join forces with co-workers who can cover for you — and vice versa — when family conflicts arise. At home, enlist trusted friends and loved ones to pitch in with child care or household responsibilities when you need to work late.
Choosing the career with the stress level you can handle
Keep in mind that your current perceptions of stress will change as you become accustomed to a working situation, but even working from home can be stressful, depending on production expectations, distractions, and detachment and managing your personal life and boundaries. Typically careers that are more stressful or have a higher amount of responsibilities tend to be on the higher end of the pay scale, but lower paying jobs can be really stressful as well. O*Net Online ranks stressful jobs under a category called “Work Styles.” Here is a link to that list: https://www.onetonline.org/find/descriptor/result/1.C.4.b?r=1&a=1.
The ways that personal health (choices) can affect your daily work (setting personal health and wellness goals)
Many companies have job roles for health and safety personnel, because employers have a vested interest in their employees, who they often refer to as their “most valuable assets.” Why is this? The goals of most employers are the same in this respect. They want their employees to be as healthy as possible, because this keeps them at their jobs with fewer interruptions or setbacks and increases production. Obviously, employers can help their reputations as well by offering more care to their employees. But a healthy body and spirit are good for everyone. Misuse of drugs and alcohol, tobacco use, poor eating habits, lack of exercise are all things to avoid or reverse. Stress is universal and the most difficult “illness” to detect and counter-act. It’s important for workers to take their health seriously and set realistic, measurable personal goals for maintenance or improvement. This is often an unwritten expectation of any job, that you approach your work in a healthy and positive way. Behaviors that undermine this, even those done on your personal time, can have lasting effects on your productivity, effectiveness, morale, and outlook.
Workplace Safety: Risk and Plans (from Ready.gov)
The first step when developing an emergency response plan is to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential emergency scenarios. An understanding of what can happen will enable you to determine resource requirements and to develop plans and procedures to prepare your business. The emergency plan should be consistent with your performance objectives.
At the very least, every facility should develop and implement an emergency plan for protecting employees, visitors, contractors and anyone else in the facility. This part of the emergency plan is called “protective actions for life safety” and includes building evacuation (“fire drills”), sheltering from severe weather such as tornadoes, “shelter-in-place” from an exterior airborne hazard such as a chemical release and lock-down. Lock-down is protective action when faced with an act of violence.
Provide the scenario: School and life are going along normally. Suddenly a new strain of virus breaks out causing another pandemic. You (students) are getting messages around the clock from friends, family, and media about how the outbreak is growing, and folks are now getting sick and dying at higher rates. Your school is still open but you are having trouble concentrating on your work, and to make matters worse, you feel you might be falling behind due to your stress. Tell us about your stress. What can you do to better manage your stress?
Provide examples of stress that arose during the 2020-2021 pandemic and shut-downs.You might focus on the way it changed the nature of the workplace, displacing many. There were heavy tolls, but there were also lessons learned. Which industries were hit the hardest? Which industries changed the most?
Discussion: Cite examples from history or current news of stressful global events. How did people and governments react?
Work in teams to create a public service announcement (PSA) for coping with stress and emphasizing self-care, especially during a time of national duress (e.g., the pandemic, natural disasters, political unrest, difficult news cycle, etc.). Some teachers will simply require a short written plan, but others may want to require a presentation or a recorded presentation.
- Identify the general cause of stress (to many people).
- Identify some of the negative effects of stress.
- Include techniques for managing stress.
- Include a quick exercise for relieving stress.
- Emphasize self-care.
- Make it a positive message.
Note: If students cannot describe stress mitigation techniques, provide examples from this list:
- Create a personal hygiene plan (or self-care plan: any plan of action that contributes to your mental well being as a whole).
- Take a break from social media.
- Use techniques for decompression and centering.
- Define and practice mindfulness.
- Talk to a trusted, calming source and/or mentor.
- Volunteer to help someone else.
- Create an emergency management plan (according to FEMA, the four phases are: Preparedness, Response, Mitigation, Recovery)
(what the students produce to indicate completion)
- Create a public service announcement (PSA) for coping with stress and emphasizing self-care, especially during a time of national duress (e.g., the pandemic, natural disasters, political unrest, etc.).
- OR create a fun stress-reliever exercise for others (this could be part of the PSA).
Instructors may use this simple rubric for completed projects OR for collected answers to process questions.
Another, more thorough rubric is supplied here: New York CTE Center Rubric. To produce a customized rubric, instructors should select only those competency/line items that they wish to evaluate for this activity.
Post-Activity Process Questions
- What types of stress would you likely experience in the career you choose?
- How do you handle stress currently, and what would you like to improve about your stress management?
- How do you know when you are becoming affected by stress and what action do you take?
- Why is it beneficial to employers to have employees cope with stress and stay safe, both at work and on their personal time?
- What are the similarities and differences between self-care and stress management techniques?
(to address learning styles and disabilities)
- Create your own breathing exercise to center others.
- Break out the phases of Emergency Management Planning and assign each phase to small groups. Groups would define the phase and tell us what that would look like during a pandemic.
- With volunteering or service learning, these students could just perform a search for opportunities, including working with animals.
- Substitute a different widespread issue, such as wildland fires or hurricanes or even alien invasion (no harm in being creative).
Students should be guided to the vocabulary exercises at Quizlet: https://quizlet.com/_9um08k?x=1qqt&i=wcwth
- Coping, dealing with problems and troubles in an effective way
- Coping strategies, actions that people can take to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize the effects of stressors
- Culturally aware, an awareness of one’s own background, recognizing biases, prejudices, and assumptions about other people
- Emergency management, the creation of plans through which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters
- Mindfulness, a state of open, nonjudgmental awareness of current experience
- Pandemic, disease that occurs globally and affects a high proportion of the population.
- Public Service Announcement (PSA), a message created to educate the public about an issue (informational in the interest of public health; not an advertisement)
- Self-Awareness, knowledge of oneself
- Self-Care, can be a stress management or coping technique or any activity that puts yourself first or which brings you happiness and meaning
- Self-Management, ability to understand oneself, exercise initiative, accept responsibility, and learn from experience
- Self-Regulated learning, regulation of one’s own thought processes, studying behaviors, and emotions in order to learn successfully.
- Self-reliant, independent; someone with the capacity to rely on his/her own capabilities and to manage his/her own affairs.
- Stress, the reaction of the body and mind to everyday challenges and demands
- Stressor, anything that causes stress
- Wellness, overall state of well-being or total health