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key Stress Management

BACKGROUND

The Challenge of Change stress management training programme has a firm foundation in widely published research, which began at the University of York in England in 1980 and continues today (since 2003) at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. The University of York is one of the most prestigious Universities in the UK, and the Stress Research Unit which Derek Roger established there was an acknowledged centre of excellence in stress research.

The findings from the research contradicted much of the received wisdom about stress, and the Challenge of Change offers a unique and innovative approach that really works. While the programme has a solid research base, the training itself is entirely practical, and has been shown to have a significant impact on a range of job satisfaction indices, including sickness-absence.

The training is marketed through the Work Skills Centre consultancy, which is now centred in Christchurch, New Zealand but continues to operate under license in the UK. The Work Skills Centre has been a Preferred Provider of stress management training to the BBC across the UK for the past 6 years, and forms part of core training for all newly-appointed medical consultants in the NHS across the North of England.

The training has been implemented in a wide range of other public and private sector companies across the UK, including the Police, local authorities, Axa Insurance and Smith & Nephew Pharmaceuticals. In New Zealand, clients have included Meridian Energy, Bridgestone, Caltex and Ravensdown Fertilizers.

TARGET AUDIENCE

The programme is applicable in all public and private sector organisations, particularly in view of the high profile given to stress in recent Government legislation.

PROGRAMME OUTLINE

Conventional stress management focuses on things like symptoms of stress, "life events" and relaxation, but simply listing symptoms provides no insight into the causes. Life-event scales put stress in the events themselves, and since so much of what we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is unavoidable, stress then becomes unavoidable as well. Relaxation is useful, but is only a temporary solution. Conventional stress management also confuses pressure and stress. Pressure is simply a demand for performance, which varies from day to day, whereas stress decreases performance and can seriously affect your health.

By contrast, The Challenge of Change makes a clear distinction between pressure and stress, and shows how to avoid turning pressure into stress. The course starts from the assumption that people are asleep most of the time, and the key to stress management is first to wake up. What this means is coming out of what the programme call 'waking sleep', where attention is hijacked by thoughts about the past or the future. An illustration is waiting for the local weather on the car radio, and then finding 10 minutes later that you missed it completely. Waking sleep is about attention being snatched rather than choosing intentionally to plan or drawing on experience, and the second step in the programme is learning to control attention. Stress occurs when the repetitive thoughts about the past and future are clouded by negative emotion, and begin to revolve around 'what-ifs' and 'if-onlys'. This makes you miserable, but as the course clearly shows it can also make you ill and shorten your life. The third step is called detachment, which is not about not caring but rather about perspective-taking - being able to see molehills as molehills, and not making them into mountains. The final step is letting go, which is about releasing the negative emotion that comes with stress. In fact there are just four steps to being free of stress - waking up, controlling attention, becoming detached and letting go - and the course uses a series of diagrams and illustrative analogies to show how to put them in place.

Other issues covered in the programme include emotional intelligence (some of the measures in the profile have been included in the compendium of emotional intelligence measures assembled by the University of Pennsylvania), adaptive coping and effective communication. There is a specific exercise which extends simple relaxation to the more important practice of relaxing the mind, and a CD with these exercises is included in the delegate pack.

METHODOLOGY

The training forms a logical sequence which is built up through the use of various AV techniques. Questions are welcome throughout the session, though there are timetabled opportunities for questions. There are also two sessions dedicated to consolidating the system and for practising the practical strategies. The research programme identified a series of personal characteristics that contribute to making people resilient or vulnerable to stress, and these are included in a pre-training questionnaire completed by those attending. The results of the profile are not disclosed to anyone else, but they provide delegates with a clear and well-validated index of where they need to focus their practice.    

OUTCOMES

The course is aimed at equipping participants with the practical tools and strategies for reducing stress, both in their working lives and at home. Particular attention is paid on the course to the way in which realistic, practical skills for enhancing personal and professional development can be implemented for the benefit of individual participants as well as their teams and companies, and the benefits include greater job satisfaction and performance, better health and improved communication skills.


All participants receive a detailed pack with an overview of the day, including details for the interpretation of their profiles. They also complete an anonymous evaluation of the day, which is summarised and returned to the contracting authority. Finally, there is a follow-up scheme which helps to consolidate, reinforce and refine the practical skills acquired on the course.

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