Mental Health and Civil Engineering

Preserving Productivity (And Sanity!) While Working from Home

The new remote environment has brought many challenges. These ASCE members share their tips in adjusting to the new office landscape.


Embracing 2020 and Mental Health!

By now we have all been affected by the craziness of 2020, one way or another. The news of people losing family members, their jobs, and paths to the future has caused a collective devastation.

It has been a challenging year, to say the least, but there is always a silver lining.

Human beings are the most resilient species on this planet. We can get knocked down and rebuild ourselves, just the way civil engineers rebuild a city after an earthquake. We pick up the broken pieces, learn from the experience, and build a better tomorrow.


Stress Management

You can’t just snap your fingers and remove stress. Learn about the journey this ASCE member took to improve her mental health.


What is the social glue that binds us?

What role does empathy play in the mental health of your colleagues?


Avoiding Burnout During the Pandemic

What steps can you take to avoid burnout during these difficult times?

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Managing Stress in the Workplace

  • 1.  Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-27-2019 10:10 PM

    This past weekend, I attended the second session of the Younger Member Leadership Forum (YMLS) along with 60 other younger members from across the country. The three-day workshop at ASCE Headquarters was filled with excellent information and interactive workshops focused on early-career profession skills development. One of the sessions that was most impactful to me was titled "Personal Recharge" which was about mental health and stress management. We had some great discussions based on the following video about how chronic stress negatively affects your brain:

    One way I personally manage stress is by taking a walk at lunchtime at least three days a week, even if it is just to go buy lunch to bring back to the office.

    My question for you – How do you manage stress in the workplace?

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 2.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-28-2019 08:43 AM
    Danielle thank you for sharing the video. The way I tackle stress is by being active and that means going to the gym either at lunchtime or after work. I try to make it at least three times a week. Since I started going to the gym during lunchtime, I noticed I have more energy for the second half of the day and I don't feel tired when I go home. I did request if I could have a longer lunch to eliminate the stress of getting ready before the exercise routine and after to get back to work. That extra time helps me feel more relax. 

    I am also curious about what other professionals are doing to manage stress in the workplace

    Julian Valencia A.M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Richmond TX

  • 3.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-28-2019 12:56 PM
    Such a great video, thank you sharing! It was really interesting....I also wonder if the study done about mothers and kids translates to long-term managers in your career. I have definitely noticed that my own stress is increased when I have been managed by someone else who is more easily triggered by stressors, as compared to someone who is more calm.

    Here's a couple of things I do for stress relief:

    1. Make sure the basics are dialed in: nutrition, getting enough sleep, and drinking enough water. The other three things simply do not work effectively is I don't have these three dialed in, especially getting enough sleep. 
    2. Block out time in the day for planning my activities for the day and my "deep" thinking work, where I do not check email, answer the phone, or allow interruptions. One of the biggest stressors for me is feeling like there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. The more project management I've done, the worse this feeling has gotten (due to constant interruptions, either by team members or clients),. Then, I started blocking off the first two hours of the day to do a quick plan for the day (what's my #1 task that requires no interruptions to get done today?) and then get that most important task done. Yes, you may need to talk to your manager if he/she expects instantaneous responses, but the productivity increases in addition to the stress-relief benefits are huge and already well-documented.  Yes, there are occasional emergencies/unavoidable meetings where I must interrupt this time, but the reality is that most of the time, someone else's "urgent" email isn't really urgent, and he or she can wait two hours or more for a response. 
    3. Take daily walks  at lunch (as part of my goal to get 10,000 steps per day which I track with my fitbit), even if it is just 10 minutes on a really busy day. I find it helps me focus much better for the afternoon. 
    4. Exercise (i.e. something involving sweating) and short meditatation/deep breathing  a couple of times a week. I'm not consistent here, but trying to do better.

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 4.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-28-2019 09:52 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-28-2019 09:52 AM

    This is a great topic, especially for busy engineers like all of us. I personally take the walking approach when I am stressed. Also, we recently got a pull-up bar and some dumbbells to do some exercise at the office. Something that works great for me is to listen to calm music from Colombia in Spanish to help me relax. I prefer to listen to music in Spanish so I am not distracted during work as I am thinking in English and not Spanish. 

    I would also recommend to stay well hydrated and eat the right food. That will help you feel healthy and also with more energy to stay focus on your work.

    Luis Duque EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 5.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-28-2019 12:16 PM
    Hi Danielle,

    Thanks for bringing up this topic; managing stress at work is something I've really been working on this year. 

    I have been trying to do daily 1-3 minute meditations using this app:  When things get hectic at work, these mini-meditations help me to restore my calm and get through difficult tasks.

    I also have an alarm set on my watch for 10:00 am to remind me to get up and go for a walk (just a quick walk around my work's parking lot) on my morning 15-minute break. Sometimes I ignore this alarm if I am busy, but I try not to as I really notice this walk helps recharge me. I usually walk with one of my friends at work on this break and we help remind each other to take this break. So much of our work as engineers can be solitary, staring at our computers, and I find this walk with a friend helps me to socialize and also work through difficult problems if I am stuck on a project.

    Similar to the other replies on this thread, I find working out is absolutely necessary too. I work out at least twice a week, aiming for three times a week.

    Karen Jamgochian P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Brelje and Race Engineers
    Santa Rosa CA

  • 6.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-29-2019 02:24 PM
    In addition to the excellent menu of behaviors already suggested,
    a "Short List" to start a new habit . . .3 to 4 times/week . . .  with might include:

    a. Diet. . . moderate, NOT 'crash!'

    b. Exercise . . .moderate, NOT the Decathlon!

    c. Reading. . .Fiction. . . "Alice in Wonderland."

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 7.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 08-30-2019 09:32 PM

    Thank you for starting this discussion. A lot of the solutions so far have focused on personal health and wellness actions, which are all good. Some wise counsel I received from a peer group takes a different angle on managing stress: 

    If your workload is stressing you out try these:
    1. Ask your boss which thing is most critical and work on that first.
    2. Ask your boss if some of your deadlines can be pushed back or some other arrangement can be made. 
    3. Very important: when you do talk to your boss about being overstressed, come prepared with a recommended solution.
    4. If you are the boss: delegate. Don't try to do everything yourself.
    Most employers want their people to succeed and are willing to make adjustments as needed, but they can't read your mind - you have to make the ask.

    I would also add that if the source of stress is your relationship with a boss or co-worker, take the first step to make it right - don't just wait for the other person to change. If they respond with accusation or similar, stand firm and focus on the facts, not the person. There is an ancient proverb that says "a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up strife."

    A certain level of stress is normal and expected in our profession, but we should do our best to - pardon the pun - limit our personal stress level to the elastic range.


    Alexander McCaskill, P.E., A.M.ASCE
    Geotechnical Engineer
    HNTB Corporation
    Kansas City, MO

    Alexander McCaskill A.M.ASCE
    Geotechnical Engineer
    Kansas City MO

  • 8.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 09-09-2019 07:17 AM
    Thank you, Alex, for sharing your viewpoint! It is a great point that you may be able to relieve the stress in the first place through communication with your boss or even taking a step back to identify the source of the stress.

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 9.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 09-09-2019 12:43 PM
    Visit ASCE Collaborate regularly.  We don't read physical newspapers anymore, do we?  It can provide some much needed perspective on your engineering troubles at hand.

    Walking at lunch time, for sure... I am late for that now.

    I always thought when I became a PE doing real work, I would be listening to classical music, as that is more professional and dignified.  However, I have found what worked in high school and college has served me well... rock music... positive energy, good rhythm, and emotional lyrics can make the most tedious calculations move along quickly.  Lyrics, especially familiar ones, can actually stimulate creativity and maintain interest in the task at hand.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 10.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 09-25-2019 10:11 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-25-2019 02:35 PM
    These are all great answers! ASCE Plot Points, a podcast that tells the robust story of civil engineering one civil engineer at a time, is in Season 2 and is looking for answers on this topic. If interested, email your answer as a voice memo to ASCENEWS@... for a chance to be featured on a future episode!

    I submitted an answer to one of the featured questions last year, so feel free to respond here or message me with any questions.

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 11.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 10-02-2019 05:17 PM
    ​As an update, the first episode of Plot Points is live:

    @Karen Jamgochian and @Chad Morrison - your voice memos were included in the episode - great answers all around!  ​

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 12.  RE: Managing Stress in the Workplace

    Posted 10-03-2019 03:46 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-03-2019 09:58 AM
    Thank you for this topic. As engineers, stress is something we get to experience everyday of our lives at work. It can either be physical or physiological either ways, the "fight-or-flight" mechanism can also tell us when and how to respond to danger. Managing stress in work place can be done by learning some self-management tips. I personally manage stress by listening to music on site, sometimes I take a short stroll or go grab food to help clam/stimulate my body. Long term stress can be linked to various health conditions so managing stress at workplace as engineers is very necessary from my best of experience.Thank you for this opportunity to contribute once more.-----------------------------
    Clinton Egbuchulam Aff.M.ASCE
    Structural engineer