Working in a lab is not always as laid-back as TV shows or movies make it seem. As a lab employee, here’s how you can better cope in this high-stress environment.
Whether you are a medical technologist or a full-time researcher, working in a laboratory can take its toll on both your physical and mental health. Laboratory employees are often exposed to high-stress environments, not to mention the work-related risks that they deal with every day. Moreover, compared to other workplace environments, working in a laboratory doesn’t often provide opportunities for socialization.
High stress levels can burn out even the most seasoned employees. So if you are working in a laboratory, here are some pointers to help you cope with the demands of your job:
1. Look out for the signs of burnout
To prevent a full-blown burnout, you have to recognize the early warning signs before they get worse:
- Difficulty with simple tasks, such as looking for an autoclave for sale or managing routine activities
- Easy irritability
- Sadness, loneliness, guilt, shame
- A tendency to blame others
- Feeling indifferent or apathetic
- Trouble sleeping, nightmares
- Constant worrying or anxiety
- Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
- Physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, etc.
When you start noticing signs of high stress levels, it’s time to take a step back and let yourself breathe. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of the effects of long-term stress, such as mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, nutritional problems, and gastrointestinal issues, among others.
2. Recognize your stressors
What things often cause stress for you in the workplace? Is it impending deadlines? Overbearing co-workers? Demanding tasks? It is vital to recognize the causes of your stress so that you can find ways to avoid them. For example, if you find yourself highly stressed when deadlines are approaching, then you might need to rework your schedule. If it’s your co-workers or supervisors, seek ways to communicate to minimize disagreements or misunderstandings.
While it’s not always possible to avoid stressors in the workplace, finding ways to minimize them is a great place to start when you’re trying to manage your stress.
3. Don’t skip your breaks
It is a common habit for lab workers to skip breaks so that they can keep working. However, not giving yourself enough time to eat or rest throughout the day can do more harm than good. You might be working through your backlogs or speeding through the research, but you might not be doing your best because you’re hungry and tired. Also, you are more prone to making mistakes if your body is stressed due to hunger and fatigue.
Don’t skip your breaks unless you need to. Take your regular lunch breaks to eat, rest, and socialize with others.
4. Set your boundaries
If you are a researcher, the laboratory setting is often a highly competitive environment. As a result, you might feel the need to outperform your colleagues and give your work everything you’ve got.
Working hard is necessary to achieve your goals, yes, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of your physical and mental well-being. Set your boundaries and learn how to say ‘no’ to work that you cannot handle at the moment. It might be tempting to accept every little task thrown at you to look good, but being overloaded with work can lead to underperformance or critical mistakes that derail your research.
5. Increase efficiency
The more efficient you are, the better you can finish your work and leave the lab on time. Remember that the quality of your work is not directly related to the amount of time you spend on it. Hence, being more efficient at what you do is essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
To increase your efficiency, here are some tips that can help:
- Limit distractions, avoid using personal devices while working
- Designate a particular time to answer emails, make calls, etc.
- Prioritize the most difficult and time-consuming tasks
- Stay organized, keep your workplace free from clutter
- Maintain a detailed documentation log to avoid confusion later on
- Determine inefficient processes and find ways to address them
- Make use of automated technology
6. Take care of your health
Drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat healthy balanced meals. Avoid alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use. Lastly, get a good amount of exercise, especially if your physical activity is limited in the lab.
It is impossible to eliminate stress in a competitive, high-stress environment such as a laboratory. However, this doesn’t mean you have to learn to live with it. If you want to utilize your full potential and translate that into excellent performance, then you have to put yourself first. Use these strategies to keep your stress levels at bay, and find more ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance.