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Mental Health & Construction: Fighting Fatigue

Mental Health & Construction: Fighting Fatigue

We asked a few construction workers the question, “How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?”

(You can probably guess the results.)


“Like I have no energy.”

“It’s a struggle to get out of bed.”

What do they all have in common? Fatigue.


Being fatigued is more than feeling tired and unhappy about going to work. It’s a physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that wears people down over time. It’s an almost-universal experience. It’s so common, people forget how harmful it is. And it can happen to anyone.

Whether you’re an employee or an employer, there’s ways to help keep fatigue and stress at bay. Preventing fatigue is absolutely vital to keeping your mental and physical health in good shape.



What is fatigue?


Fatigue is a constant or extreme feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. As we’ve discussed, fatigue makes it difficult to get up in the morning and make it through your day.

Physical fatigue (weariness or weakness), mental fatigue (lack of concentration), and emotional fatigue (lack of motivation) are all impacted by your day-to-day life.

Fatigue isn’t necessarily stress, but fatigue and stress are a vicious cycle because they impact each other so much.



Preventing personal fatigue

If you’re feeling fatigued, it might be time to make some changes. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be daunting.

As we’ve mentioned in our article about mental health and burnout, even one small change can help you gain back some energy and lower your chances of burning out.


1. Eat small meals and snacks often, and make sure you’re getting lots of protein and fiber.

One of the easiest ways to help prevent fatigue? Keep your body fed! Even if you can’t commit to meal prepping 10 pounds of chicken and broccoli every Sunday, bringing healthy snacks and eating every 3-4 hours can reduce your fatigue level.

Healthy snacks include mixed nuts, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, yogurt cups, string cheese, healthy popcorn, veggies, fruit, and more.

Consider building a “Lunchables” or bento-style snack with a protein source, a healthy carb, a healthy fat, and a source of fiber.

Want to learn how to keep your lunch safe from microbes and the heat? Check out our blog post about jobsite lunch safety.


2. Drink more water

Construction workers get dehydrated easily. It’s almost an expected part of the job. But staying hydrated is vital to keeping your energy up.

Sports drinks are a mixed bag, as far as being “good for you.” They’re often sugary, but they’re also full of electrolytes and can help your body retain more hydration when you’re sweating. A healthier substitute for sports drinks is Pedialyte, which has the same health benefits without all the sugar.

On especially hot days when you’re sweating a lot, bring lots of water and a sports drink as well.

3. Find a form of mild exercise that you enjoy

Construction workers get a serious workout most days, so you might find it difficult to exercise when you get home. But exercising is more than just physical exertion; it’s also about the mental component.

Light exercise once you get home can boost your mood and help your body prepare for sleep.

Even a 15-minute stroll around the neighborhood or property can give you an energy boost, especially if you take a walk with a family member or listen to your favorite music while you’re walking.


4. Get more sleep

This is one of those “easier said than done” points. Unfortunately, it’s one of the best ways to beat fatigue.

On average, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Men often fall on the lower end of the scale and women on the higher end, but that’s not always the case. Your body may need more or less sleep than other people your age and gender.

If you frequently wake up feeling exhausted, even when you’ve been asleep for 7-9 hours, you should see a doctor. You may have a condition like sleep apnea, which can interrupt your sleep and cause other health problems.


5. Practice self-relaxation tools like prayer, meditation, and guided breathing, especially if you’re having trouble sleeping

Did you know prayer can be a form of meditation? Talking to a higher power can help you relax, especially in the evenings, and make it easier for you to fall asleep.

If you’d prefer to use a different meditation tactic, check YouTube for guided meditations or guided breathing exercises. Both can help lower your stress level, making it easier for you to fall asleep.


6. Drink less alcohol

To no one’s surprise, alcohol is, unfortunately, bad for us. It’s a depressant, a mild neurotoxin, a carcinogen, and a sleep disruptor.

Enjoying alcohol in moderation and cutting down on your intake will help you sleep better and feel better. Fortunately, many brands now make nonalcoholic beers, meaning you don’t have to give up the social aspects of drinking or the taste of your favorite beer.


7. Connect with friends, family, or other social support networks

Humans are social creatures! We feel better and less fatigued when we get a break from our routines and see our friends.

On the subject of alcohol: if you and your friends enjoy going to a bar, that’s fine! Just try to cut down on the number of drinks you have.


8. Laugh (even if you have to force it)

Did you know your body affects your brain almost as much as your brain affects your body? Laughter lightens your mental load and releases endorphins.

If you’re having a rough day, smiling or laughing (even if it’s fake) helps trick your brain into thinking you’re having a great day.


9. Hop off social media and set your phone to DND at night

It’s important to stay connected, but humans weren’t made for constant connectivity. Plus, social media is often riddled with negative content designed to put you on edge, so you interact with it and stay on the platform longer.

If you have someone you need to stay in contact with, set them as a favorite in your phone, and set your DND mode to always allow calls from favorites. It’s an easy way to stay connected to important people without getting all your notifications when you’re trying to sleep.


10. Set easily achievable goals

Your brain likes finishing things! Setting easy goals for yourself and checking them off, whether in your head or on paper, is one of the easiest ways to give yourself a win and release relaxation hormones in your brain.


11. Try to reduce your stress

One of the biggest causes of fatigue is actually stress—because it impacts everything else in your life. Stress weighs on the human body.

Did you know that stress uses up so much of your energy, it can lower your metabolism because your body thinks you’re facing something life-threatening?

When your body is experiencing stress, your brain uses up to 12% more energy than when you’re not stressed. This can lead to you feeling even more drained.

Stress can even cause you to get sick. It’s bad for your body and your brain to stay stressed all the time.

Luckily, any of the small changes we listed above can help you minimize some stress and minimize your chances of getting sick. There’s usually no immediate fix, but starting small can get your stress levels under control.


12. Give yourself some grace when you don’t meet your goals

We’re human, so sometimes we fail. There will be a day when you forget your healthy lunch at home, or have a bad night’s sleep, or just genuinely can’t seem to be in a good mood.

It’s important to make sure you don’t try to take on too many new habits at once. All of these goals are important, but overdoing it is a surefire way to fatigue yourself even more.

It takes about 21-30 days for most people to form a healthy habit. Pick one (or two, at most) of these goals and try to meet it, every day, for one month.

Don’t expect perfection from yourself, and be willing to praise yourself for your successes. (Even the small ones.)



What now?

So what do you do when lifestyle changes aren’t enough? We’ve just detailed a ton of ways to improve your life, one step at a time, but some fatigue isn’t curable with lifestyle changes.

Long COVID, clinical depression, and autoimmune disorders are some of the biggest contributors to chronic fatigue. It’s also possible you could have an underlying medical condition, like heart disease, hypothyroidism, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia.

Beyond those, there are also stressors you can’t change, like parenthood. While it’s a joyous thing to be a parent, that doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting.

When you are still fatigued and exhausted, even when you’re doing everything “right”, it’s time to see a doctor.



Preventing jobsite fatigue

If you’re an employer, helping prevent employee fatigue should be one of your top priorities. Fatigue can lead to greater chance of injury and illness, and even burnout and suicide.

There are a few relatively easy ways to prevent employee fatigue, and there are a few that are more difficult to implement.

All of these changes will help create a culture where employees feel valued (and therefore, make them more likely to stay employed with your company).


1. Implement balanced schedules.

Most employees aren’t very productive beyond 8 hours of work, but sometimes, construction requires overtime and longer days.

If your employees are working longer days, they will need more frequent breaks during the day and more frequent days off.

Avoid inconsistent scheduling. If your employees’ sleep schedules are forced to change, they’re going to be more fatigued and more likely to cause accidents.


2. Give your employees frequent breaks and time off.

Even if they’re not working overtime, breaks are still important. They give your employees time to eat a snack, drink water, recharge, and come back refreshed and ready to go.


3. Distribute information on healthy sleep schedules and stress management.

So much of stress management feels like a given once you read it, but a reminder never hurts. Information on managing stress and proper sleep can help incentivize your employees to make positive changes.


4. Have enough employees to conduct the work.

We know, we know—we’re in the middle of a hiring crisis in the construction industry. But that doesn’t mean you should be content with an understaffed jobsite.

Being understaffed can cause employees to be overworked and feel like they can’t take breaks.


5. Provide clear instructions and job expectations for all employees.

People work better, faster, and happier when they know what’s expected of them. It sounds like a minor thing, but it’s actually very important.


6. Offer health insurance that also covers mental health services. In an industry like construction, it’s vital.

In 2018, nearly 24% of construction workers didn’t have health insurance (more than double the rest of US workers).

Nearly half of Latinx construction workers were uninsured, compared to a 13% uninsured rate among their non-Latinx counterparts.

Occupational hazards are higher than most other industries, and construction workers are more likely to experience suicidal ideation than workers in other industries.


7. Provide water stations and encourage a well-balanced diet by offering healthy snacks.

Hydration and satiation are vital to preventing short-term fatigue.

Snacks that are high-protein, high-fiber, and loaded with healthy fats and carbs can help keep employees feeling full and less fatigued.

Consider offering a station with mixed nuts, trail mix, yogurt cups, string cheese, healthy popcorn, and fruit.


8. Conduct regular jobsite-wide breaks for employees to drink water, eat a snack, converse, and stretch. You can even lead a stretching session.

Just ten minutes can recharge an employee. Beyond just helping them feel better, they’ll do better and safer work when they get back to their stations.




It’s not easy to beat fatigue, but it’s vital that employees get enough rest and stay healthy.

Even small changes are important. Celebrate little victories and focus on building a habit to become healthier over time.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe jobsite with an employee-focused culture, which will lead to better results from employees.


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