By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University
A few months ago, one of my APUS colleagues, Dr. Cassandra Shaw, Director of the Entrepreneurship program, asked if she could do a workshop for the School of Business directors and I agreed. I did not know the topic, but I wanted to assist her.
Start a management degree at American Public University.
The topic of the workshop was stress. How timely!
Why was this opportunity important to me? The workshop gave each of us an opportunity to reflect on how we have dealt with stress. All the participants were at the director level and have led teams. We learned about each other and now know how to offer support to one another and to our teams.
The event was so successful that I decided to write an article to showcase its main ideas. Dr. Shaw graciously agreed to respond to some questions that I had.
Dr. Harper: What led you to create this workshop?
Dr. Shaw: I’ve been on a journey of identifying stress factors, especially the intangible – the things we don’t see – and how we relieve stress. It can be a change in routine, change in job, a move and so forth. These add up until there’s one big pile of stress and then you think, “Uh oh, now what?” This buildup leads to physical consequences, such as high blood pressure, headaches and digestive issues.
For me, it was after the death of my mother when I realized how much stress I was carrying. I had always been able to handle 20 things at once, but not anymore.
I wanted to learn more about relieving stress, which led me to the workshop “Resilience & Thrive” run by Dr. Joel Bennett of Organizational Wellness & Learning System (OWLS) through the National Wellness Institute. I received training, passed the exam and received certification as a facilitator. Now, having given the training to our team, I have completed the final step to be certified.
Dr. Harper: What did you hope to achieve?
Dr. Shaw: I wanted to arouse awareness of stress, the negative consequences of it and coping styles. If we let stress build up and don’t stop to pause, the tension builds up and then there’s a release. That release is usually negative.
By doing the workshop, it brings awareness not only to the attendees, but also brings a different perspective about the people they interact with. We never know what someone else is going through.
This training acts as a reminder that we are all stressed at some level. We each have a different stress level we can handle.
It was also important to bring awareness to recovery periods after stress. A rule of thumb is that how much time we spend in a stressed mode is how much time we need to recover. Recovering could be taking a walk outside, playing a game, putting together a jigsaw puzzle or doing something else you enjoy.
Dr. Harper: How do you believe the exercise assisted your peers with the topic under discussion?
Dr. Shaw: There were positive comments from the team. One member emailed me the next day and said they realized they needed to take a step back and pause — they had been having a stressful day. That person then decided to bake something. They went to the refrigerator, looked to see what was in there, grabbed what needed to be used then — or else would be thrown away — and made bread. They sent me a picture of it, and it was a work of art!
That act of stepping back to recognize they needed to take a pause and doing something to break from the stress created something inspiring. And the stress levels immediately stopped going up.
Dr. Harper: Do you believe the workshop was an opportunity to build the team? How so?
Dr. Shaw: Yes, I believe so. Because when a team can come together and learn about one specific item, such as stress, it helps to open eyes to why other people act or react, the way they do during certain times.
It also helps us to notice when someone else might be stressed and they don’t know it yet. Each member now knows the early warning signs as well as the later warning signs.
Being aware of how stress manifests and that we each carry stress loads differently, helps each of us to recognize stress when we see it. We can then offer to help each other and when we do, we become even stronger.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders.
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