I regularly facilitate a Stressed Out! workshop for Job Seekers in a non-profit organization serving a wide range of customers and clients in search of meaningful and self-sustaining work. The clients I typically present to are college educated adults who have had some work experience, and are accustomed to the everyday stressors one experiences in the American workplace.
Once when I was facilitating this workshop, a staff person from the division that offers services to immigrants and refugees was in attendance, and he asked me to offer the workshop to students in his class. I happily agreed.
I usually use a PowerPoint presentation with handouts for this workshop, and when the time came for me to facilitate this class, I was well-prepared with numerous handouts and lots of energy (no PowerPoint though).
In these workshops, I speak about the ways that individuals can get stressed, and then I share commonly known techniques used to reduce stress. When I began my presentation for this class, I directed them to a particular page of the handouts. Silence. I asked “What is stressful for you right now?” Silence.
I stood at the front of the classroom and was hit hard on a number of levels with what felt like an embarrassingly obvious and hard reality: 1) The students in this class could not read my handouts; 2) The students in this class did not know what the word stress meant; 3) Talk about everyday stressors one experiences in the American workplace — I realized that I had been defining stress in my workshops from a very limited perspective. What was stress in the workplace? I had to work an extra hour and finish up a client report. I had to remember to pick up milk on my drive home from work in my car.
Some of the students in this room could not speak fluent English, had to get up very early and wake their children up very early to make sure they were safely transported via public transportation to a friend or family member’s home before going to school. They then had to take another form of public transit, and stand on their feet performing manual labor for many hours before getting a break. Sometimes the work was repetitive and tedious, sometimes the work required heavy lifting, and sometimes the work was just plain hard. All the work took a toll physically, and these students still came after work to learn English and learn about stress.
I decided in that instant that I would throw out all the handouts, and begin to teach this Stressed Out! workshop in a new way. This class would learn about stress and how to manage it in a way that was relevant for them. We danced, we breathed, we ate good food and smelled nice smells. We listened to music and laughed. We talked about things that a person could do to feel good, and many students had many examples of activities they engaged in that made them feel less stressed. I now have a new way of teaching Stressed Out!, and I teach it this new way every chance I get.
As Pamela Haines states in her recent Class Action musings on More is Less, “…when abundance breeds assumptions of entitlement and an inability to appreciate, we are the losers.” Facilitating Stressed Out! workshops for students ready to learn and give of themselves has taught me more than I ever even knew about myself, about stress, and about my assumptions. I actually feel like a winner.
Amy Mazur is a Career Development Specialist and Counselor Educator in Greater Boston, who assists individuals to begin, renew and advance their careers, while reflecting on the meaning of work and how they want it represented in their lives. Her expertise also includes educating, training and mentoring professionals in career and workforce development on using counseling skills to foster growth and change. Amy also continues to grow and change herself.