At FRSecure, we have a strong passion for the customers we work with every day, many of whom are CIOs, CISOs, information security admins, and IT employees tasked with a mountain of critical responsibilities. During our time in this field, we have seen stress levels rise because of increasing security requirements, staffing constraints, inadequate budgets, and even lack of support from leadership teams.
We have touch base conversations with our vCISO clients regularly as part of their engagement where we discuss information security program components. It often becomes apparent that certain common issues like budget, staffing constraints, technology, and of course the security threats we face, can wear on security professionals.
As an information security firm, we understand those feelings well and felt it would be beneficial to put together a toolkit that you can use to manage the day-to-day stress that can creep up on us in the cybersecurity field. We all face challenges at work, especially in this landscape, but we need to take care of ourselves so that these challenges do not affect our mental health. After all, security is important, but nothing should take priority over our own wellbeing.
Stress Relief & Mental Health Tips From our vCISO’s
1. Take frequent short breaks
Taking breaks is important for anyone in any role—especially roles like ours, where stress levels can quickly rise in the face of ever-changing and rapidly growing threats. Giving yourself time to relax for a few minutes every hour or between meetings is a great way to keep those stress levels from bubbling over.
Activities like reading a book, taking walks, or sending a message to a loved one, are all excellent ways of allowing your brain to rest and compartmentalize information in a healthy manner.
The best part? They don’t have to take very long at all!
“I like to briskly walk up the stairs from my office on each break. Even if I don’t need anything, by getting away from the desk and even a little physical exercise helps.” – Shawn Pollard (Information Security Consultant at FRSecure)
“I enjoy my daily quarter mile walk to my mailbox and back. Watching the dog chase squirrels, checking out the new tracks in the driveway and being happy that there are no bills in the mailbox.” – Mike Kongsjord (Information Security Consultant at FRSecure)
2. Balance your work and home life
It can be difficult to leave work behind at the end of the day, however this separation is very much necessary to enjoy a healthy work/life balance.
If you find yourself constantly thinking of everything that could go wrong over the weekend, or find it difficult to let the issues of the day go after work, here are a few things you can try:
Start and end work at the same time (or close to the same time) every day. This will make it easier to move on from your responsibilities at the end of the day, and if the tasks aren’t pressing, you can always come back and finish what you were working on in the morning. In our field however, those pressing tasks can pile up, so try and identify items that can’t wait, and don’t procrastinate on getting those things done first.
Lastly, try and keep enjoyable activities scheduled during your free time! If you can look forward to spending time with loved ones, practicing with an after-work sports league, or pursuing hobbies like cooking, gardening, or photography, you’ll have a way to keep your mind occupied and free from the issues of the workday.
“I grew up as a farm kid so working with beef cattle is my primary hobby. Cows have absolutely nothing to do with cyber-security, so the separation helps me with balance.” – Shawn
“I am a wood carver, birds mostly. There is something that is very relaxing in taking a piece of wood, understanding the grain and where best to start. I become immersed in the project and don’t think of anything else.” – Mike
3. Participate in activities that release Oxytocin
Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” Similar to Dopamine, it’s well known for relieving stress.
For those of us who have pets at home or live with loved ones, this is simple! You can boost your oxytocin levels by hugging loved ones, petting an animal, or even doing yoga.
“Most of my cows are not big on hugging but my two dogs sure are! Knowing that they are always happy to interact and show their love is a great way to relieve stress.” – Shawn
“I have two cats and a dog. The evening ritual is both cats sleeping in my lap and my dog sleeping at my feet. There is something very relaxing and calming about this.” – Mike
4. Look into seeing a specialist
While some people are able to maintain their mental health without any help, some of us can’t change the fact that our brains just won’t cooperate. There’s no shame in needing a hand! If you find yourself struggling to cope with the stress of your position as an information security professional on your own, look into getting help from a licensed professional.
For those that prefer a more traditional approach, start by looking into providers that accept your insurance. Be sure to do your research ahead of time so that whomever you sit down with is as compatible with you and your needs as possible.
5. Get plenty of sleep
Let’s be honest, do any of us ever really get enough sleep? If you’re lucky enough to be getting a full 8 hours every night, you’re already enjoying all the benefits of a good night’s sleep, but according to the American Psychology Association (APA), most Americans could benefit from getting an extra 60 – 90 minutes of sleep each night.
In addition to missing out on essential functions that occur during sleep like muscle repair and memory consolidation, a lack of sleep can be the culprit behind elevated stress levels as well. The APA highlights the sleep-stress cycle as a key issue. This is when a lack of sleep causes more stress, and more stress prevents getting enough sleep.
Challenge yourself to squeeze in an extra hour of sleep each night and turn it into a habit over time!
“I recently was given a weighted blanket. I had never heard of one before, but that has been an incredible blessing in trying to get more high-quality sleep.” – Shawn
“I practice some deep breathing and a short meditation session before I go to bed. There are many great resources on the internet that you can use for guidance.” – Mike
Look, we’re not mental health professionals. But we do see job-related stress as a concern in our industry, and we have experienced similar issues and challenges to what you may be facing in your role.
As industry professionals, it’s important that we continue to be in each other’s corner—after all, we are in the business of protecting people.
We hope that if you are experiencing work-related stressors, you try some of these suggestions and that they help ease your mind. Either way, we’re here for you.
For more information and resources on alleviating workplace stress, the MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) training is an excellent resource. Also, consider supporting our partner, Mental Health Hackers, who specialize in lending a helping hand to professionals in the ethical hacking and cybersecurity communities.
Finally, we’d like to extend our gratitude to Mike Kongsjord and Shawn Pollard, two of our best in-house security experts, for their quotes and contributions to this post!
As always, if you’d like to discuss the challenges with your security role (especially if they are related to roadblocks within your current security program), please don’t hesitate to reach out.