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Stress Survival:
Secret to juggling many demands may lie
in the 'salami technique'
By Mary K. Nolan

Published in Hamilton Spectator - April 18, 2002


The "S' word is on everybody's lips these days -- and we don't mean the one that ends in "x."

Perhaps more than at any other time in modern history, people are feeling the squeeze from stress -- both the kind that emanates from within and that which seems to be ruling the world.

"People are burnt out, worn out and weary, frustrated, frazzled and fatigued, overworked overwhelmed, overextended, and just plain exhausted," Sue Augustine sums up. "They need to regain perspective and balance, and attain a sense of inner peace and well-being."

The St. Catharines-based motivational speaker, who specializes in time management, personal organization and stress reduction seminars, will be in town Saturday to conduct a morning workshop on Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos, a topic she's been presenting for years, but one that has been much in demand since Sept. 11.

"It's the uncertainty, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and chaos is not going to go away. One of the cornerstones of staying calm in the middle of it all is learning to focus on what you can control versus what is beyond your control. "That's the key to stress survival."

The effervescent Augustine believes that when a stressful stimulus is presented, most people immediately begin to mismanage the situation by reacting automatically instead of thinking it through and responding appropriately.

"Because of our past conditioning and experiences, most of us react as if we're on auto pilot. We don't put a lot of effort into choosing to respond, not to react, and that's how you develop a cycle of stress. But you do have a choice.

:When an event happens -- whether it's a divorce, or a traffic jam or you drop the roast on the floor and the dog gets to it before you do -- it's just an event. It's not good, bad, funny or anything else until you assign a perception to it," she explains, "If the dog gets the roast, you can laugh and think what a funny story it will make, Or you can say 'Why does everything happen to me? My life is ruined. I'm such a loser.' But only you can choose that perception, and changing how you respond doesn't come easy. It takes time and effort."

Augustine begins her workshop by teaching participants how to recognize the warning signs of stress. Even though they're obvious -- physical exhaustion, sleep and appetite disorders, lack of joy, general discontent with life -- people are so accustomed to them that they're seen as the norm and not the alarms they should be. As a guest lecturer on a two-week Hawaiian island cruise earlier this month, Augustine was astonished at the number of passengers who turned out for her stress seminars.

"I thought 'Who's going to come to stress workshop when they're on a cruise, for heaven's sake?' but they were jam-packed every session, standing at the back and pulling up chairs in the hall outside the room. I believe the overload is getting to us. We're overloaded with options and information, too many directions, too many expectations from the outside world and from ourselves. We need to simplify, simplify, clean out the mental chaos."

Another important technique Augustine uses in her workshop is mind-mapping, where participants learn to identify and isolate particular stressors.

"We tend to lump it all into one big, messy pile of stress. . .'Everything is bugging me'. . . but you'll never be successful at managing it unless you break it down. It sounds simple, but it's more difficult that you might think, and it's scary, but extremely revealing. You end up with a giant picture and something tangible to work with, not just a lot of confusing feelings and emotions floating around inside. It's the best way to determine which things you can control and which you can't."

Augustine calls it "the salami technique -- you keep slicing it up until you have bite-sized pieces that are easier to manage."

The workshop will be held at the Royal Botanical Gardens Centre on Plains Road West this Saturday, April 20, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm A fee of $39 includes breakfast, a workbook, coffee break and the seminar. Pre-registration is necessary and can be arranged by calling Sharon Payton at 904-575-1550 or emailing eagle@niagara.com

"it's not just a morning out, it's not just another workshop. It can be lifechanging. It used to be an all-day workshop, but people have so much stress in their lives, I had to shorten it to half a day," she says with a laugh at the irony of that.



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