If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness. Each May, a special emphasis is given to gaining a greater awareness of mental health. In my blog last May, I indicated that the Mayo Clinic defines mental health as “the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings and behave.” In my blog last November, I discussed a common mental health condition we commonly refer to as burnout. There are different levels of wellness for mental health just as there are with our physical health, and as I stated in last month’s blog, physical and mental health are interrelated.

From my experience in the contracting business, stress is a significant part of every day. You learn to manage the daily stress first by recognizing that it exists and then understanding how you can manage or control its impact. Common industry stressors include bid deadlines, securing contracts, securing skilled labor, equipment and materials, managing cash flow, maintaining the construction schedule, managing job productivity, quality and safety, etc. On top of those stressors, contractors today also deal with additional stress from the pandemic’s impact, supply chain disruption and an inability to control costs due to high inflation.

Before we go any further, let’s pause to define stress. Per the Mayo Clinic, stress is “the body’s response to physical, mental or emotional pressure.” There is both positive and negative stress in our lives. For example, I consider the stress I feel just before making a presentation to be positive, because it allows me to listen to my body and be aware of the need to control my breathing so I can be at my best. On the other hand, I would consider the stress to negative in a situation where I arrived to make a presentation and the format is not what I expected.

How do you manage the daily stress you face in the contracting business? How do you respond to what your mind and body are telling you? Are you able to take a break from the action? We have all heard the three keys to good mental health are good nutrition, regular exercise and quality sleep. In my opinion, there is a fourth key to good mental health for contractors: take a break from the action and practice self-care. It’s essential to take a break from the business for your well-being by disengaging your phone and other devices on a regular basis. Also don’t forget to take an uninterrupted vacation.

I realize that is easier said than done. After all, when I was leading Swanson & Youngdale, I did not practice those suggestions very well. However, I did plan a few vacations where it was not practical to be in contact with the office, and I sometimes purposefully forgot to take any devices with me (including my phone and tablet). Upon my return from those trips, I found that our employees managed the business in my absence with great success.

I also momentarily disengaged from the business by regularly reading non-business articles and books, along with taking brief walks outside my office to recharge. Additionally, I found that driving trips provided valuable windshield time to think and solve problems. The key is to identify what works for you and then practice it regularly.

Remember, as a leader, it starts with you. I know how easy it is to feel like you have to be on call 24/7 when running a business. You feel like you can’t afford to disengage from your business for a second. But self-care is important. Taking a break and disengaging ultimately helps to keep your mind sharp. Lead by example and show your employees that mental care is important. For example, when you have a business thought at 10 PM, wait until the beginning of the next workday to send it to employees (unless it’s an emergency of course). Setting the tone that your company respects personal away time will ultimately yield stronger results for you, your employees and your business.