by Luanne Parker

John Abbott Update

Feeling burned-out?
Chronically tired?
No longer excited about your life and career?'

If so, you may be suffering from the long- term effects of stress, Stress is a constant factor in our lives. showing itself in many different ways  from irritability and insomnia to depression and alcoholism.

In the business world, the price of stress-related illness is staggering. One recent study concluded that stress costs Canadian companies approximately $750 per individual worker per year, adding up to millions of dollars in lost revenues annually.

On a personal level, stress interferes with our enjoyment of life. However, while the stress of major crises  like divorce or a death in the family - can never be eliminated we can learn to cope better with life's minor irritants.

Traffic jams, bank line-ups or crying kids needn't drive us up the wall'; stress- management techniques can teach us more effective methods of dealing with daily stress.

For five years John Abbott College's Continuing Education division has been offering a stress-management course, directed by psychotherapist, educator and stress consultant, Frances Kucharsky. 'Transform Stress: Learn to Relax' focuses on the psychological aspects of stress.

\We're exposed to stress through our environment and through the stress we create (or ourselves, both psychologically and physically," Frances explains. "We perceive stress as something over which we have no control - we need to understand the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and behaviours."

Transform Stress: Learn to Relax' uses a workshop format, with group exercises and class discussions. Students learn the four 'A's" of stress management:
Awareness - of their personal stresses
Acceptance - of their feelings in a nonjudgmental way
Affirmation - of their commitment to change
Action - of undertaking new, more positive, methods of acting and reacting to stress

Overcoming old habits and thought patterns can be hard. 'Change will often necessitate some discomfort, Frances admits "But the belief that life should be easy is simply not true - much of what's worthwhile accomplishing requires effort. A large part of the course deals with developing the courage to change."

When stress is so prevalent in our society, can a stress management course really be helpful? Definitely affirms stress management graduate Luanne Bisallion

My husband and I wanted to learn how to handle stress on the job and to avoid bringing it home with us after work. And the stress management classes were incredibly helpful

One part of the course Luanne found invaluable was an exercise where students wrote down the situations they found stressful and then analyzed possible solutions.

Actually committing to paper the things that bother you makes them seem immediately less overwhelming," she reports. I learned to realize most situations weren't that earth-shattering and to separate what I could change from what I couldn't. I still often do this exercise - and usually find things aren't as bad as they first seem.

'Transform Stress: Learn to Relax' students register for many reasons: some are people facing transitional phases - e.g., divorce or children leaving home - in their lives; some come because their doctors have recommended they do so; some are merely curious: while others hope to cure social phobias, like shyness.

Although Frances' first class contained only one lone captive man,' over the years the male/female ratio has become much more balanced.

Transform Stress? Learn to Relax teaches students self- awareness and the tremendous importance of making time for themselves to do whatever they find relaxing, from taking a walk to a hot bath. The course principles for healthy living can be used anywhere, Frances states.

From childhood on we're taught to show kindness towards others. In our  frantically-paced world perhaps the essence of stress management is simply learning to apply that same principle to ourselves.


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