Stress and worry: How engineers’ tools might help.

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In Technical & Discussion

In common with most professions working as an engineer can be stressful, especially in these economically challenging times. Stress and worry are mainly caused by a fear of what could happen, rather than what will happen. This brings out the ‘fight or flight’ response, but this response is more suited to primitive times than for dealing with modern worries. During our working lives engineers are adapt at identifying hazards and risks and then trying to eliminate them.  Why can’t we use the same tools for dealing with stress and worry in our personal life?

Below I have outlined a process that anyone could use to deal with stress and worry. It is a relatively easy to use process which is used to identify and reduce risk in engineering. But instead we will apply it to personal problems, i.e. reducing stress and worry. Read through the steps below, it will become clearer when you see the worked example afterwards.

Step 1. Take a sheet of paper and list all your worries/ points of stress, as many as you need to, the more the better in fact. Take time to do this.

Step 2. Beside each worry, write a number between 1 and 5, which represents the probability of that worry actually happening. The higher the number the more likely the event will occur i.e. 5 = certain to occur, 1 = virtually impossible. Again take time to do this.

Step 3. Beside each worry add a second number. This number is again between 1 and 5, but this time it represents the impact of that event occurring on your life. With 5 having a huge impact and 1 having little if any noticeable effect.

Step 4. For each worry, multiply the two above numbers together. The resulting value is a way of prioritising the worries. The larger the number the bigger priority it should be given. Now reorganise your list in order of priority. Congratulations, nearly there, you have now prioritised your worries!

Step 5. Starting with those worries with the highest number, i.e. highest priority, identify possible responses for dealing with each of them.  There are usually five actions which can be applied to every worry. These are:

  1. Avoid the worry.
  2. Reduce the worry.
  3. Transfer the worry.
  4. Do nothing
  5. Monitor the situation.

Remember doing nothing can sometimes be an appropriate response. But it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for procrastination.

Step 6. Normally the best solution is to carry out one or all of the actions you have identified for your highest priority worries. By contrast the low priority worries can usually have a ‘monitor’ or ‘do nothing’ response for the time being.

I have placed a worked example below, which will make it clearer, with some imaginary worries, click to enlarge. Hope this helps, let me know what you think.

Worked example. Using engineering tools to help deal with stress and worry, click to enlarge

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