On the 11th of November 2017, we made our way over to the Western Province Aesthetic Resort. We were here for something a little out of the ordinary. We were here for a workshop on stress management. Organized by Global Tutor, an online e-learning platform, the APEX workshop was, according to them, a testing bed at its most basic level.
Their goal is to celebrate education and identify what stress the students are going through. The purpose of the workshop was to see how commercially viable a program of this nature would be.The audience was comprised of students from Grades 9-11 of Amana International School, Kolannawa.
The keynote speech at the APEX Workshop was given by Sinduja Nandhakumar. Sinduja, who has a MSc in psychology spoke about how to manage and handle stress in children. Rather than talking directly about stress management, Sinduja looked at it as stress and its management.
Sinduja’s session at the APEX Workshop involved a grounding technique to refresh and relax the participants to take part in the interactive session. They were asked to imagine themselves holding a beach ball. Then, after taking a deep breath, they would push the beach ball down, signifying them taking a deep breath to inhale and exhale very slowly. This in turn would relax their muscles, and ultimately reducing whatever stress they were in.
How did they feel? Well, one felt Okay, and one other felt good. The point being that we don’t do these things very often. The process of simply taking a deep breath, you are more mindful and you’re more aware of what’s happening in your body. When you take time for yourself, you can assess what you’re feeling.
Stress is a natural manageable part of life, Sinduja says. It is how we physically, mentally or emotionally react to various conditions, changes and demands of life. This is deeply rooted in the fight or flight response.
So what are the stress that these students would go through? Most replied saying it was about the future, homework, exams. In short, we all experience stress. Be it someone saying something we don’t like or someone physically attacking us, we all feel stress because we feel the need to defend ourselves. If you break down stress as a concept, you have a stimulus, a response and an ongoing interaction between you and the environment.
There are two types of stress: Eustress and Distress. Eustress is good stress related to positive feelings and good health, whereas distress is related to negative feelings and ill health. People mostly refer to Distress.
Next up, Sinduja spoke about Stressors
These can be categorized as micro stressors and major stressors. Micro would be daily hassles, major would be death in the family, natural disasters, etc. the problem is that over time, we fail to differentiate between the two, and thus react to both categories in an identical manner.
So how do we respond to stress?
We need to pay attention to how our body responds to stressful situations because when we’re stressed, our bodies respond in specific ways. Sinduja then went to a more theoretical approach where she laid out a flowchart of how stress affects a person. Be it breaking things, to eating a lot, to being passive aggressive, we all have our own methods of dealing with stress.
What are the individual factors that affect stress?
- Type A personalities (competitive, time-urgent, easily angered are more prone to stress.
- People with vulnerable immune systems due to illness.
- Individuals with low self-esteem and a negative self-image are more prone to stress.
- Family and social environment,
- Culture norms about responses to stress or seeking professional help, economic status.
Sinduja’s next topic at the APEX Workshop was about cognitive responses to stress. These can be quite threatening and demanding and it works in tandem with stressors. One of the biggest problems we have is that we don’t know how to identify our emotions.
She then spoke about the emotional responses to stress such as worrying, feeling hopeless, anger, anxiety, depression, burnout and irritability. Behavior response to stress – being on edge, hypervigilance, aggression, sleep problems, fidgeting, loss of libido.
The participants of the APEX Workshop then went on into a group activity about a stressful event checklist. Here they would list down stressors. The participants came on stage to talk about what stresses them. This ranged from exams, to assignments of the organizing committee, to being at the seminar itself. We go through our day without stopping to identify what stresses us and that in turn can affect us negatively.
The session then went on to a small role-play on health coping strategies. Using 4 volunteers, the session was about an individual who was going through issues in her life such as assignment deadlines, family problems etc. The 3 others would in turn offer their advice on how to deal with these problems. They then asked the audience what advice they would give as well. Their answers ranged from taking a deep breath, to having patience to talking to their parents or best friends.
The reality is that we already know the solution to our problems, but if so, why do we talk to others? It’s because we want someone to listen to us. When you listen to someone, you don’t listen to respond, rather you should listen to understand. Herein lies the problem as in most scenarios, we tend to advice people as a response rather than understand what they’re going through.
Healthy coping strategies
In terms of healthy coping strategies, Sinduja spoke about self-care, learning to say no, talking to parents, talking to a counselor, meditation and exercising and even resting. With relation to self-care, we need to learn to love ourselves first. It’s hard to say no, but it’s something we must learn to manage it. If we do something we don’t like to, then that can be stressful.
Unhealthy coping strategies
This can range from stealing, to writing on walls, to self-harm or suicidal tendencies, over or undereating, substance abuse, social withdrawal, lack of punctuality.
The APEX Workshop had another mental exercise on visualization. They were asked to find a private calm space and to make themselves comfortable, essentially to find their happy place. The exercise went on to prove that they could always go back to this place when they needed to. Many people tend to associate emotions with physical problems, hence somatization of issues such as stress is more prevalent.
Following the exercise, Sinduja’s next topic at the APEX Workshop was about time management. It is important to prioritize what is important in your life. Not doing so can lead to procrastination. We all do it. But this can be overcome. We can break down tasks into smaller manageable tasks. We can even implement a buddy system where you find a friend to hold you accountable for your work. This works a lot with certain age groups. You can even eat the frog, not literally but in a metaphorical level where you complete the biggest task first.
In short, you need to compartmentalize what you need to do. Sindja emphasized that you don’t have to please everyone. Understanding your own stress helps you discover a healthy coping mechanism to replace unhealthy ones. It also allows you to gain a better understanding of dealing with life situations in a healthier way. More importantly, it’s always important to know that you can get help.
Following a short refreshment break, the students participating in the APEX Workshop were grouped up into 6 teams, each with 10 members each. They were asked to take part in group activities located across the hall. Each of these activities revolved round a central theme.
- Character development
- Visual memory
- Historical skills
- Geographical Skills
- Language Skills
- Deduction skills
Each team would take part in each activity and be scored accordingly by the activity. The team with the highest score would be the winner. This was to encourage these skills.
Following the activities, we had Mohammed Fawaz, CEO of Global Tutor, addressing the students at the APEX Workshop. He started off by asking the students what they wanted to be when they were older. He then went on to explain that there are over 7000 subject matter experts in the industry.
From aeronautical engineers, to doctors, to lawyers etc. the point being that the jobs that they want may not be created just yet. He emphasized that no one can tell you what you should do. Rather, it’s upto these students to be ready for the future. The future is not defined. Its upto them to define it.
In essence, Fawaz encouraged the students to be confident in themselves and to always have a thirst to learn new things. Be sure about what you want to do. Ask questions. Learn what is happening in your area of study.
With that Fawaz’s speech came to an end. With awards being presented to the winning teams, the first APEX workshop carried out by Global Tutor came to an end.