Tips for stress-management classes.

Stressed spelled backward is desserts. Doesn't that make stress sound much more appealing?

Actually, there isn't anything appealing about stress. Too bad, since it's so common nowadays.

While stress isn't appealing, stress management is. Small wonder that stress-management programs are so popular. But how do you differentiate your stress-management classes from your competition's? How do you attract more people? How do you offer value?

As a trainer in the club industry and the outside world, I believe that the best stress-management classes should have humor, interaction, and techniques that are readily applicable and user friendly. They should also inspire the attendees to action.

Promotion
The first thing you want to do is get people interested in the program. Posting a great cartoon - something that's funny without being offensive - along with some hints about what the stress-management course will cover always seems to work. Remember, humor sells, especially when it comes to stress.

Free or Fee
Should you charge for stress management? The answer depends on many things: your motivation for adding the class/lecture, who's conducting the class, how many attendees you might draw. You also must decide whether the program's purpose is to create perceived value for existing members. Is it part of a campaign for recruitment or just value-added marketing for retention?

If you are interested in having a lecture series, you may want to offer a complimentary class to determine member interest. If there is interest, you may have to charge a small fee to recap your investment (depending upon who your lecturer is).

You can also offer stress management as part of a yoga or meditation class. In that case, you wouldn't charge.

Program Structure
In my programs on stress management, I look at four areas of one's life: personal, work, couple and family. You could divide your stress-management programming into these areas and concentrate on one each week for a month. You could then offer the program monthly, quarterly or during stressful times of the year (e.g., tax time).

Each area would have a different focus. For example, for the personal area, you would discuss how happy, relaxed and loved your participants feel, and whether they like to do things alone or with friends. But in the family area, you would talk about the personality characteristics of the whole unit, household responsibilities, and how they relate with each other.

Introduction
Start the program by asking all attendees if they have stress. After the laughter subsides, have them write out every stressor that they can possibly think of in all areas of their lives. After about a minute, have everyone read their lists out loud at the same time and sit when they are finished. The last one standing gets a prize (a bottle of aspirin or bath oils) to help him cope with the fact that he had the most stress.

Afterwards, you can use the exercise to segue into the program. Start by emphasizing the importance of laughter in stress management, and the development and nurturing of a sense of humor.

Humor
Need proof that laughter cures stress? In his book The Healing Power of Humor, Dr. Norman Cousins talks about how he went into cancer remission through his use of humor and play.

Since interaction is important, ask your members to suggest ways to add more humor to one's life. Have one of them come up to a flip chart and record the suggestions while the others shout out their ideas.

You can also suggest that your members create a humor journal by recording all the things that make them laugh every day. Then when they are having a stressful day, they can read their journal and have a good laugh.

Relaxation Techniques
Now that the participants are loosened up, ask them to work as groups and discuss how to recognize the symptoms of stress: sweaty palms, overeating, nail biting. You'll be amazed how many they come up with. You'll also be amazed at how many people aren't aware they do these things as a result of stress. This part of the class can be a real eye-opener.

After all that, start sharing tips on stress management: meditation, yoga, taking Fridays off, luxurious baths, hobbies, sports, gardening, etc.

Next, teach deep-breathing exercises, progressive muscular relaxation, visualization and so on. Bring in experts (doctors, behaviorial specialists, professional speakers) to spice up the programming.

The specialists should be able to discuss the following coping resources, all of which should be covered in the program:

- Problem solving: the ability to deal directly with, not avoid, problems you face and make positive changes.

- Communication: the ability to share thoughts and feelings with others to promote mutual understanding.

- Closeness: a comfort level with others and the ability to connect with people in your environment.

- Flexibility: an openness and ability to respond to change.

The Final Day
If time permits, do a little celebrating at the end of the program. Invite participants to bring some healthy snacks. Play relaxing music. And remember to have some fun yourself. You don't want to get stressed out over your stress-management program.