Workshops and Individual Coaching to Improve and Increase Stress Management Skills and Quality of Life in High-Risk Populations

The Introduction and Problem Statement

In a world that seems to be going mad, with racial, social, and political tensions rising with the summer heat here in New York, how can we keep our cool in every way at all times?

The problem is that we don't. Every person has a break point where the stress becomes too much and s/he snaps. The time "off the beam" can be brief, for life, or anywhere in between. While off-balance, there is a higher chance that serious mistakes will be made, resulting in grave consequences.

  • The very people who have the most stress in their lives have the greatest need for stress management skills.
  • These same people are often the least likely to have the information and techniques for effectively managing that stress, and often they have the fewest resources to access the services they need.
  • Among this population, the quality of life can be the lowest in the country, and it is a problem that feeds itself: high stress levels, when poorly managed, increase chances of violence and death, which in turn sets off a cascade of events that create even more stress, more violence, etc.

It is difficult to know where to start in addressing this huge and complex problem. Defining the entry point into the storm is critical to success.

The Program Goals and Objectives

The Goal overall is to improve the quality of life for each targeted population, as reported by individuals in pre- and post- workshop and individual coaching session surveys.

  • The Objectives will be based on the HEART-TUNE D-Factors, which are:
  • inversely proportional to the quality of life;
  • directly and highly correlated with an individual's subjective experience regarding quality of life;
  • variables such as Death, Disease, Disability, Discomfort, Dissatisfaction, Disrespect, and Despair.

It is a far more effective use of resources to stop despair before it starts, and to reverse despair before people take action resulting in decreased quality of life...including death by unintentional injury, homicide, or suicide. When individuals and communities lose hope for a better future, that is when apathy, anger, frustration and despair are more likely to set in.

Preventing and reversing Despair is of particular interest and focus in this program because it is most strongly linked to high-risk behavior, especially suicide.

Stated positively: if someone is empowered with stress management techniques that work well, then there is...

  • more hope for the present and future;
  • higher quality of life as objectively defined by decreasing rates of the D-factors (Death, Disease, Disability);
  • higher quality of life as subjectively defined by the individual (Discomfort, Dissatisfaction, Disrespect, Despair);
  • greater optimism and cooperation among the members of the community;positive feedback loop emergence of hope, constructive action taken, positive outcomes, increased optimism based on success;
  • happier individuals, families, and communities.

The Program Activities

All activities will be geared toward equipping and empowering participants with a key understanding of stress management techniques and many opportunities to demonstrate mastery. A long-term effect will be the decrease of stress levels and improvement of the body-mind biochemistry.

Some activities will be "Left-Brain" oriented with discussion, reading, and linear / logical thinking exercises. Other activities will be "Right-Brain" oriented with sub-verbal, emotional, experiential, creative exercises. Other activities will require complex cognitive use of both sides in balanced coordination and may also help improve the connection between the body and the mind.

After an assessment (what is already available? what interests the target population? what are the service gaps?), specific programs will be added to the participants' options.

  • Workshops on stress management: what stress is, and how it can be reduced or eliminated; an overview of the possible physical, medical, psychological, emotional effects of stress;
  • Workshops on self-destructive coping mechanisms: understanding the wide range of ways we try to manage our stress with various degrees of success and damage to ourselves, and how to manage the cravings during the detox process;
  • Music education (writing poetry, spoken word, or lyrics; writing or composing music; singing, playing instruments, rehearsal and performance)
  • Meditation techniques (breathing, shifting the heartbeat pattern, shifting the brainwave pattern, releasing emotional patterns that create and lock in physical pain and cravings for addictive substances);
  • Art classes: photography and printing; graphic design; painting small or large scale work; various styles, periods, and masters; sculpture, pottery, woodwork, metalwork, constructing installations;
  • Reading clubs and composition classes (essays, articles, interviews, short stories, novels)
  • Continuous feedback from participants and related individuals will inform the tuning up of existing programs and creation of new ones.

Janelle Allbritton, MPH is the founder and president of HEART-TUNE.
She writes about issues including quality of life, personal and artistic development, holistic wellness, social justice, and human trafficking. And she is a jazz singer.


"Listen to your HEART • TUNE up your life."
janellehearttune@gmail.com
www.janelleallbritton.com
646.884.0505
 

A HEART-TUNE Philosophy

I'm Janelle Allbritton. I teach stress management to anybody who wants to learn powerful tools, feel more relaxed and happy, and enjoy a higher quality of life. 

In 1994, I earned my bachelor of arts in business administration with a major in marketing and a minor in psychology (California State University, San Bernardino). I went on to earn my master of public health degree from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in 1999. My areas of focus were in health education and global health, which means I have something like an MBA to run a non-profit organization in a developing country. A strong part of the program prepared me to design, implement, and evaluate community-based health education programs that are meaningful, impactful, efficient. Most of all, I love to write and teach.

As a health educator, I "talk my walk." I encourage people to be active and pay attention to what they eat, drink and breathe; I offer support if they ask for help quitting drugs, smoking, vaping, binge drinking, etc. But the most important lesson I teach is that being in touch with our true inner artists is the best way to manage everyday stress -- both the normal wear-and-tear kind and the occasional bad surprise. I teach that having an artistic outlet is one of the very best ways to maintain a high quality of life. That creative rush gives us all the kind of high that never gets old while helping us to rebuild and rejuvenate from the inside out at the same time.

How do I "walk my talk"? I eat reasonably well, enjoy wine with dinner and the occasional cocktail. I don't smoke or do any other kinds of drugs, prescribed or otherwise; my Body Mass Index (BMI) is in a healthy range and my biological age is over 20 years younger than my chronological age. I have had a few health challenges, including years of progressive and chronic illnesses, prescription drug complications and a few surgeries, but that is all behind me now.

My only medical issue I have now is hypothyroidism. It can be a real nuisance sometimes but it taught me so much about chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, allergies, raging respiratory infections, and the frustration of not being able to physically keep up with everything the mind wants the body to do. Thyroid function connects with quality of life in so many ways -- but that discussion is for another time because I am evolving into something of an expert on the topic.

Above all the ways I take good care of myself, the most important thing I do is express my inner artist who just happens to sing! Jazz chose me years ago but I ran from it for a while. Then one day, overlooking the American Embassy from my patio high above the noise and rush of Bangkok streets, I had that "a-ha" moment: "I will get an agent and sing jazz professionally, starting right now, right here in Thailand." And so it began for me, as it can for you. (What does YOUR inner artist do?)

HEART-TUNE Begins

A few years ago I was encouraged by a group of folks at The Empowerment Center, a non-profit organization, to start a company. One of their departments was a business incubator to help empower people economically. I had to name my new baby, this company.

This was a bit of a struggle for me because I have my "academic, professional, day job" and my "artistic, professional, night job." I didn't want to choose between them in branding my company, but wasn't sure how to pull the two together. I knew intuitively there was an elegant solution.

Thanks to friends, coaches and authors who inspired me, I named my company HEART-TUNE. (It's in all caps not because I want people to say it loudly, but because it's an acronym I will share some other time and place.)

The HEART-TUNE byline is, "Listen to your HEART • TUNE up your life."  This works in two ways because technology, scientific research and medicine have advanced to a point were we now understand that the heart has far more to do with our overall health than we ever thought before.
1)  If we really pay attention to heartbeat patterns and electro-magnetic field using the latest tools, our hearts can teach us much about how to be happier and healthier.
2)  If I really pay attention to what "makes my heart sing" and "warms the cockles of my heart," I will be in direct contact with ancient wisdom, my inner artist, the part of me that loves me unconditionally, the special place in my human experience that builds resilience, cushion, protection from the wear-and-tear (and sometimes hard knocks) of daily life.
3)  TUNE refers to both giving our hearts a tune-up, just like we tune-up a car, when we make changes in our lifestyle with how we drink, eat, breathe, and move. Of course these tune-ups impact the rest of our bodies as well by helping to prevent or control diabetes, boost energy levels, improve cognitive function, and increase overall quality of life.
4)  TUNE also is about music, singing, and all those vibes that go into an artistic experience. Singing is words put to a tune. We tune up our instruments for the best quality performance.

So what does this all have to do with stress management workshops? Because I believe and teach that at the most essential level, ALL disease is caused by stress. Anger has been strongly linked to cardiovascular diseases and incidents such as heart attack and stroke. Depression ("anger turned inward") has been strongly linked to suppressed immune system function and cancer.

The most stressed out people are usually the least healthy people, often with issues related to substance abuse, poverty, the legal and law enforcement systems, domestic violence, homelessness, mental illness, etc. These issues tend to overlap and exist in clusters for people who are the most stressed. It is a storm cloud that can cause folks to feel overwhelmed and then hopeless and apathetic. This can then lead to high-risk behavior with the attitude, "I've got nothing to lose."

It is people in these situations who are losing hope. I call them "high-risk" because are more likely to believe they are running out of options, feel frustrated, desperate, angry, apathetic. They are the ones I want to reach out to first. Sometimes the challenge is how to identify and make contact with them.

The Inner Artist and Stress Management

What does your inner artist do? Some people can answer this question right away because they have listened to and expressed their inner artist for years before I meet them. Others still have no idea, even in middle age. Yet others know what their inner artist does, but they don't give it the time, space and resources to express itself.

No wonder anxiety and depression are on the rise -- or at the very least, is getting more attention and becoming less stigmatized. It may sound like Pollyanna and a little corny, but this world really would be a better place if we all expressed our inner artists and helped to create a community that encourages and supports others to do the same. In my own way, this is what I'm doing in my own little corner of the world.

Thus, my workshops and individual coaching: I fling them into the Universe to draw in those who have been looking for what I have to share. By identifying and reaching out to those who are most suffering from stress and its effects, I know that I create a ripple effect because each person I seek to inspire and empower knows many other people with whom they can share their newfound knowledge and techniques.

When I teach children, they go home and teach their parents. When I teach teachers, they pass it forward to their students. Employees tell their friends on social media. It's exciting to be a spark that helps set off a flame to warm the world with empathy, empowerment and increased quality of life.

One way this happens is by encouraging people to write their stories in whatever form they prefer. Whether it's spoken word, poetry, or lyrics for a song, it's their story. I teach a class on jazz standards, so they can learn to hear the sections of a basic song and begin to write their own. They also can study the lyrics of songs for inspiration. Throughout this process we open up and trust each other with our stories, the things we are writing about, our hopes and dreams for the future. It's a loving and supporting vibration that buzzes in the room when people gather together to support each others' artistic expression and development. For some people, my workshops are the first time they have ever experienced such an environment.

Who can benefit from improved stress management skills?

  • married couple adjusting to the new "Empty Nest"
  • teenaged girl wanting to re-invent herself as she prepares for college
  • young man nervous about his exams
  • bullied child refusing to go to school
  • pregnant woman trying to kick an addiction to nicotine / heroin / alcohol
  • medical professional who couldn't save a patient
  • military vet suffering nightmares and insomnia
  • prison inmate
  • someone just diagnosed with a serious disease
     

It doesn't matter if stress "comes with the job." Stress is still stressful, and whether it is running into a burning building that collapses or surviving a tsunami while on vacation, anybody can use a little help sometimes to get back on track and feel normal again. It can be a challenge to put the traumatic memories in their proper place: the past.

HEART-TUNE D-Factors

I define "quality of life" partly by using the HEART-TUNE D-Factors:

  • Death
  • Disease
  • Disability
  • Discomfort
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Disrespect
  • Despair

What gives me great satisfaction is preventing one of the most deadly factors: Despair. It's the one HEART-TUNE D-Factor that I take most seriously because without hope, one's vision for a better future dies. Hope is what gets us through the darkest nights of the soul, but despair can snuff out life even on a sunny day.

The more of these D-Factors one has in life, and the more intense each "D" is, the lower the quality of life sinks. Preventing all these factors is possible and is a major objective of all my programs designed to help people express themselves, feel valuable because someone is truly hearing them, and gain hope that they can move towards living their dreams.

Conclusion

Stress is stressful mostly because it feels so out of control, unmanageable. By helping people connect with their inner artists, I help them gain a sense of mastery over their lives, a level of control over how they experience the situations they are in. Even though we can't change other people or facts of events past, we have the power to change how we relate to the facts, what we think and feel, and how we will transform ourselves so that we perceive our lives and the world in new ways.

Preventing all these factors is possible and is a major objective of all my programs that are designed to help people express themselves, feel valuable because someone is truly hearing them, and gain hope that they can move towards living their dreams.