The Physical And Mental Demands Of The Skilled Trades

From A Trades Guy…

The skilled trades are a fantastic career. I have worked in the skilled trades for 30 years and the opportunities and pathways provided to me have been fantastic. The skilled trades are unlike any other professional career. Every day you are challenged both mentally and physically to deliver exceptional results. Here are some of the physical and mental challenges a tradesperson might deal with on a regular basis.

Physical Challenges

The trades are tough on your body. Period. For the majority of the trades, a workday will consist of lifting items like tools, materials, parts, and other objects that need to be moved, used or fitted. Bending, reaching and manoeuvring your body are also a huge part of the job. Unlike shop class, in the field there are always items in the way of what you are working on. Also, what you are fixing, repairing or maintaining is hardly ever at a comfortable working level. Finally, sitting is rarely an option. Up and down the stairs multiple times per day, climbing ladders and lying on your stomach or back to get the job done are the norm.

The physical environment that skilled tradespeople work in can also be taxing on the body. Extreme heat and cold doesn’t mean things won’t break – actually it is the opposite. Items you need break down at the time when they are needed most. A/C units break on the hottest days and furnaces break on the coldest.

Weather is not the only environmental challenge. In the skilled trades dust, dirt, waste, fumes and other hazards are common. Tradespeople often wear dust masks, respirators and full face protection. I myself have had to wear SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) multiple times to complete a task.

Are the trades tougher on your body than office work? Hard to say. We are starting to recognize the dangers of sedentary jobs, especially those with high stress levels, on our physical health. In addition, jobs with lots of distractions seem to be increasing our anxiety levels and affecting our mental health.

Mental Challenges

Have you heard the term, “always on”? As a tradesperson your mind never stops. It can’t. There are too many things that can hurt you. Whether it is pressure from a pipe, electrical current, heavy objects or power tools, becoming complacent is not an option. On a construction site there are multiple people doing a variety of tasks. Having a sharp mind to keep you focused on your work while being aware of what is happening around you can be taxing.

Safety is one mental challenge, another is problem solving, troubleshooting and diagnosing. It is your job to find the problem as quickly as possible, come up with a solution, and repair the issue. This can happen multiple times per day. As a skilled trades professional, you are looked at to either have the answers or find out as quickly as possible.

One challenge that affects both our minds and our bodies is fatigue. In the skilled trades, the hours can be long and you can be required to work multiple days in a row. When you are tired, it can be hard on your body and it can be hard on your mind. It can be difficult to stay motivated and focused. It is easier to make mistakes or incorrect decisions when you are fatigued. Tiredness can be harmful, and it is up to you to be aware how it is affecting you.

How to Cope

Even with both the mental and physical challenges of the skilled trades, I find it to be an extremely rewarding career. Here are some of the things I have done over the years to help me.

Physical Exercise

Being physically active is a major part of helping cope with both the mental and physical challenges of the skilled trades. Strength training helps make the daily physical challenges easier, and it also releases the endorphins that help the mind. My physical outlet of choice is kickboxing. This allows me to work really hard physically and helps me mentally by leaving it all in the ring.


We are all different, and you need to know yourself. I used to be in awe of (still am) of people who can function well with little or no sleep. This is not me. I tried it. Nope! For me to function at my best, I know I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Rest is so important mentally and physically. I know when I am tired my mood is terrible, I do not eat properly and my judgement is flawed. So I take care of myself because I know that’s what I need. Downtime is so important for my recovery.

Some Things You Might Not Expect

Physical exercise and rest may seem like obvious suggestions for dealing with some of the demands of trades work. I’d like to touch on two more things that you might not expect.

Gratitude Journal

I was introduced to a gratitude journal a few years ago by my wife. It has helped with my mindset immensely. For some reason, we as humans like to focus on the negative. By journaling and reflecting on the positive impacts of each day, I have been happier and I sleep better than I have since I was a kid.


Mindfulness for me is about being in the present. Feeling what you need to feel at that moment. If you are angry or sad, allow yourself to be present in the emotion. Feel it. Then move on. This, along with discovering why or what has triggered you to feel this emotion is a powerful way to overcome mental challenges. If you put in this work to find out what is bothering you, the emotion will no longer have power over you.


The skilled trades are a fantastic career choice. However, you need to take care of both your mental and physical well being to be a successful tradesperson. Exercise, eat well, remain active and rest when needed are great for your physical and mental health. Additionally, reflecting on the positives of your workday and using mindfulness to get to the root cause of your triggers will definitely help overcome some of the mental challenges of a skilled trades life.

Be well,

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