Barry Winbolt's Blog

A new approach to stress training

Pressure Gauge

Stress is ubiquitous; we are all subject to the daily demands of our lives and the pressures of the workplace.
One of the side-effects of constant demand is that it is self-perpetuating, another is the tendency it produces in us to neglect our needs. We stop doing the very things we need most to counter the effects of stress: regular exercise; time for reflection; healthy habits of eating, sleeping and socialising.

In short, constant demand means that we gradually lose healthy balance in our lives and even begin to lose touch with ourselves. This is why stress so often catches people out, because thay have lost the ability to effectively self-monitor and manage their well-being. The immediate demands they are faced with trump the less urgent, but much more important, personal needs listed above.

I have noticed over the years in working with people complaining of stress-related symptoms that as demands on them increased they routinely stopped doing the very things that would have helped act as an antidote to stress: regular exercise; time for reflection; healthy habits of eating, sleeping and socialising…

Advice is all well and good, in fact we are surrounded by recommendations to counter stress and maintain balance in or lives, but it often doesn’t help much because people fail to act on it. For the same reason traditional approaches to training, though of high-value in content, are of less value in the medium to long term, particularly where stress and welleing are concerned.

Traditional training – which usually follows a predictable format – is fine for information-based topics, so it is recommended to training on matters that are technical, administrative or procedural. Topics like stress, resilience and wellbeing, which are conceptual rather than technical and therefore involve a different type of mental engagement, are better imparted through interactions that involve ‘learning by doing’. Most training of course involves practical exercises, but these are often regarded with suspicion by attendees who say they are as inauthentic and ‘not the real thing’.

So a more effective alternative to conventional ‘talk and chalk’ methodology is to design training sessions that focus on experience, re-engagement with the self, and fun. Part of the value of this approach is that participants have to suspend critical judgement to engage in the activities. They are distracted, involved and, even if on one level they may be cynical, learning is still happening on another less conscious level.

This is a new approach to training which immediately demonstrates the benefits (in this case of of de-stressing), rather than extolling the virtues of a healthier approach to life. Once people have experienced what it is to be able to reconnect with themselves, focus their thinking and relax at will, the ‘learning’ that the training is intended to impart is already well under way.

Behavioural learning – which focuses on changes in behavior due to experience – emphasises the cause-and-effect relationship between ourselves and our interactions, with others and the outside world. This approach doesn’t require  participants to take on statistics, details or theory, it simply asks them to follow instructions in a sequence of simple and practical exercises.

A typical session lasts 60-90 minutes. There are no course handouts, no writing, and very little sitting down. Participants are engaged in 4-5 practical exercises involving the whole group, small groups and individuals. At the end of the session they are handed a list of consolidation exercises to continue the work if they so choose, and also a reading list.

Results obtained in these sessions have been described by participants as ‘profound’ and ‘a real eye-opener’. Once people know how to manage their stress they can develop a sense of personal agency which invigorates and empowers them. Even if some of the participants do not ‘buy into’ the ideas, they will have enjoyed a relaxing session of stress-reduction.

Find out more:

Contact me to discuss how your organisation could use this approach.

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