Hesperian Health Guides
Organizing to reduce stress in the factory
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When you organize for higher pay, health benefits, or access to toilets or clean water, you are organizing to reduce the problems that cause stress. You can do a lot to reduce your feelings of stress, but it usually it takes a lot of workers together to pressure the management or the government to make the changes that eliminate the causes of stress. As a group, you can work to remove or reduce many of the causes of stress at work.
Reducing stress and improving conditions that affect workers’ mental health will benefit everyone in the factory, including the boss. Workplaces where workers are respected, paid fairly, and treated well have fewer people missing work, a more committed workforce, and fewer conflicts that can interfere with work.
Unfortunately, many factory owners refuse to see that being organized and respected reduces workers’ stress and improves conditions for work. They see any organizing as a threat to their power and profits. Management often responds to worker organizing with penalties, firings, and violence. This creates enormous amounts of stress for organizers, and fear for workers.
Only you and your co-workers can decide whether organizing around an issue would improve conditions in your workplace. The activities and ideas in Chapter 3 can help you think about what might work best for you.
Reduce the stress of organizing
Organizing for change in a factory, whether it is forming a safety committee or building a union, takes time that workers usually use for rest and relaxation. Because of fear of reprisals from management, not all workers or community members will be in support of these efforts. But for many workers, being part of a struggle to improve things is less stressful than doing nothing.
- Participate in committees: One of the worst causes of stress is feeling that you have no input into or control over your work. As your committee discusses ways to improve working conditions, also introduce ideas for reducing stress.
- Set up a personal support networks: Get families, friends, and neighbors to share responsibilities for meals, childcare, and transportation. Knowing you can depend on others can keep you from feeling too stressed.
- Work with people and groups in the community: Approach churches, local organizations, and other unions and worker associations for moral support and solidarity. Knowing that others in your community support your efforts can keep you from feeling isolated.
- Keep information flowing: Make sure the people you are working with know what is happening and that their views are being heard. Valuing communication promotes participation and feelings of community.
- Reduce tension at meetings: People may be tired, worried, or upset. Making meetings participatory and productive can help people see that organizing will improve their lives and spirits.
- Celebrate the small victories: Don’t forget to recognize people’s work and successes along the way. Knowing that progress is being made can help keep people hopeful through a long process.
- Have fun: Laughing, singing, sports, and other ways of having a good time can reduce feelings of stress. Knowing that organizing can include enjoyable activities can both attract more people to the work and build closer and healthier ties among them.
Helping yourself and helping others
A person suffering from mental health problems can begin to feel better with treatment, support, and understanding. There are many things a worker can do on her own and with others.
- Learn what causes stress for you and others: It helps to talk to someone about our problems. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us compassionately, and maybe they also have ideas about what to do to resolve the problems. You can help others by listening to them, too.
- Stretch during your breaks, and invite others to join you: It is not always easy to find the time to breathe deeply or move around, but even a few minutes of stretching and deep breathing can help calm you and put you in a better position to deal with stress at work. In your free time, make an effort to do things you enjoy. Sing, play music, dance, or play sports during time off and during breaks at work. Exercise and moving your body are great ways to reduce stress. Involve other people.
- Eat foods and use traditional medicines that help: In many communities around the world, people use foods and traditional medicines to heal from mental health problems. Eating enough food and a variety of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, provides nutrition needed to keep the body and mind healthy.
- Help each other make time: Ask friends or family members to help with your chores or childcare so you can have a few moments to yourself, and offer to help with theirs in exchange. When you share chores with someone else, you can also take turns resting.
- Talk and listen to each other: Most factory work is planned so that each worker, although surrounded by people, is alone with her task.
- Form a support group: Bring people together to talk about problems and connect with others who might be experiencing similar things. Although it is easier for one person to lead the meetings, a good leader will give everybody a chance to talk about their situation and will also help keep the group on track (with time and topic). Before the group starts, talk about the rules of the group, what you hope to accomplish during the meeting, and how each person can participate and be a better listener.
Activity Make time to relax
Spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, or prayer can help to calm your mind and body as well as build inner strength.
This is an example of a relaxation exercise. You can do this alone or with a group. If you are in a group, ask someone to lead this session (make sure there is time for the leader to relax, too).
- Find a place where you can sit or lie undisturbed for a few minutes. It is best if it is also a quiet place, but you can do this anywhere and at any time.
- Close your eyes.
- Take slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Feel your heartbeat slow.
- You can pray, or repeat a positive word or phrase, or simply try to keep your mind blank.
- Do this for a few minutes as often as you can.