The 6 Hour Solution to Work Stress in the Mining Industry
For many workers engaged in the Mining and other high risk industries the experience of work stress is a very personal and private issue. Behind tough exteriors, many share the experience of difficulty sleeping, fatigue, feelings of anxiety, loneliness and even melancholy. This often goes hand in hand with physical symptoms such as an exacerbation of musculoskeletal problems and other existing health complaints. Making good money has bitter sweet consequences. For some workers, the dangling carrot encourages them to put up with a working environment they are having trouble adapting to even though they might be better suited psychologically to working in a lower paid job closer to home. Ultimately both the organization and the worker may end up paying a price for their stoic endurance as the stress begins to undermine their health, relationships and ability to function across both work and personal domains.
Surprisingly, research into the implications of work stress in the Mining Industry on the physical and psychological health and work performance of the workforce is still in its infancy, behind that of research into other high risk industries where there is a clearer understanding of the nature of the interrelationships between work stress, mental and physical health and work performance. Based on mental health statistics however, even without industry specific research, there are irrefutable indicators that the Mining Industry in general needs to embrace a broader context to the notion of "zero harm'. With over 1,000,000 Australians for example, suffering from either Depression or Anxiety in a given year and research highlighting that Depression and Anxiety increases the likelihood of workplace accident or injury, it is clear that Mining Companies need to develop further their understanding of Occupational Health and Safety Issues as it relates to these interrelationships.
Imagine the overall benefits to the industry if the work force could switch on and off at will, mechanisms within their own brain and body that could help them to combat stress and fatigue and to adapt to the daily challenges that face them at work? There is a technique that has been scientifically proven to do just that, and that technique is called Autogenic Training.
Autogenic Training enables people to self-regulate their psychophysiological responses creating profound changes in the mind and body that lead to optimal physical and psychological health and enhanced performance overall . It includes a series of mental exercises taught over 6 to 8 hours and then practised for only a few minutes daily. Backed by over 3,000 clinical studies worldwide, positive changes brought about by Autogenic Training on the mind and the body are immediate and the processes underlying the changes are detectable and scientifically measurable. It is "the real deal'!
Autogenic Training is a technique unlike any other. It achieves cognitive and psychological results similar to that achieved through a combination of meditation, yoga, hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and on a physical level it produces the same physiological and chemical benefits that are associated with rigorous athletic training. It is particularly suited to the Mining Industry as the technique does not require participants to talk or reflect on their feelings or thoughts. Instead, participants are taught how to focus on and consciously control their physical internal processes and this creates both psychophysiological and bio-molecular change both in the short and long term.
Every organization has its own unique combination of environmental factors that can affect the resilience and performance of their employees. In the Mining Industry for example, workers aren't only dealing with complex problems under difficult and often hazardous environmental circumstances, many are also often dealing with psychosocial disadvantage because of the remote location of their work. On top of this, normal personal routines are disrupted to fit in with the work cycles of the mining operations. Stress is rarely compartmentalized. Stress at work affects home life and stress at home affects work life. Little by little, workers find that they are struggling to cope without really being able to identify the core reason. This is not a sign of weakness. It is a very real and a very common problem for workers in mining and an integrated approach at the organizational level can do a lot in mitigating the risk of the negative impact of this "stress creep'.
The Autogenic Training Programme equips workers with tools that build up their mental and physical resilience so that they can deal more effectively with both personal and work-place stressors." The Autogenic Training Programme is a win-win for organizations and workers alike", Helen noted. "When the workforce learns to self-regulate their psychophysiological responses there is improved staff morale, lower staff-turnover, reduced number of stress and injury claims, lower incidence of work place accidents, less sick leave, and higher productivity!"
International research into the benefits of the Autogenic Training Programme for the organization backs these claims up . So impressed is NASA (the National Aeronautical Space Agency) by the benefits of Autogenic Training in assisting their astronauts and pilots adapt to the psychological and physical stressors of space travel, that they routinely train astronauts and pilots in the Autogenic Training Programme. Results from NASA's research into the benefits of Autogenic Training show that it not only enhances general well-being but it also reduces the incidence of human error and helps combat fatigue. Similarly, Kyoto University, one of Japan's most prestigious universities, was so impressed with the psychological and physical health benefits of Autogenic Training, that it has established an Autogenic Training facility in their Department of Health Promotion and Human Behaviour.
The Autogenic Mental Exercises guide you into an "Autogenic State' where you are uniquely and profoundly relaxed both mentally and physically allowing for the regenerative mechanisms in the mind and body to kick in. It allows your mind and body to rest, repair and regenerate and it targets the detrimental effects of the build - up of negative day to day stress that can over time make us unwell and erode our ability to think and perform. Workers, despite their best efforts, reach a point at work where they feel they can't go on. "They either leave their job, go on Workers Compensation or carry on at work at a much reduced capacity, often making mistakes and affecting the morale of those who work with them."
It is easy to see why Helen is so passionate about the Autogenic Training Programme and one wonders why it is not taught routinely in Australia as part of an organization's Health and Safety Programme. Helen is quick to point out that whilst the exposure of Autogenic Training in Australia is still limited, the profile of Autogenic Training is prominent in Russia, Japan and other European nations, particularly in Germany where it was developed by Neuroscience Professor Johannes Schultz and his academic team." Professor Schultz spent decades researching this technique making sure that the results of training could be replicated. In this regard, the technique is very methodical, logical and prescriptive. Results are assured and this is of immense appeal to the thinking person."
Sophisticated neural imaging techniques and other medical testing procedures show the dynamics of Autogenic restructuring in process. As a result of Autogenic Training for example, the brain becomes more plastic and grows new cells. Concordance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is increased with improved blood flow moving from the right to the left hemispheres. Functioning of the left pre-frontal cortex, which is the centre of reasoning and logical thinking, is improved increasing one's ability to problem solve, make decisions and think rationally, an absolute necessity for coping with work stressors and performing at a level required for safety to be maintained.
One area of prime importance in the Mining Industry is the mitigation of the risks associated with fatigue and human error. "It is really important that we understand the psychophysiological dynamics of fatigue and human error if the Mining Industry is to make true inroads into this problem," Helen stated. "As we are aware, fatigue is a ticking time bomb. People have what we call, a Basic Rest Activity Cycle, also known as The Ultradian Performance Rhythm. During the day we have a period of approximately 90 minutes of alert activity followed by a 20 minute period when we feel fatigued and should strictly speaking be resting. People can override the fatigue period up to a point but it is unlikely that levels of hypervigilance will be as high in this phase of the cycle. With Autogenic Training, however, we can automatically switch on our Para-Sympathetic Nervous System (the rest, repair and regeneration mode) and indulge in the ultimate power nap. In a very short period of time you can feel completely recharged and extend your period of hypervigilance at work."
"Based on improvements in imaging technology we now can see the scientific processes behind the Autogenic responses in motion, right down to the molecular level," Helen revealed. "This is a truly exciting time for individuals and organizations alike as we now have at our fingertips a simple but highly effective evidence-based tool which is proven to enhance Occupational Health and Safety outcomes".