Free course to help Cork people conquer stress

Up to 350 people are being invited to take part in a free course in Cork city and county aimed at addressing stress. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to a psychologist with the HSE to find out more
Free course to help Cork people conquer stress
Cork Senior Women's Footballer Orla Farmer, promoting Cork Beats Stress.  Picture: Clare Keogh

ARE you feeling stressed but are unable to move beyond this debilitating state, which results in absence from work and tension at home?

An initiative called Cork Beats Stress was launched in City Hall recently which sees the GAA, Cork City Council and HSE Psychology Services in Cork team up to help the citizens of Cork deal with stress.

Up to 350 people are being invited to attend free weekly lectures (lasting 60 to 90 minutes) over a six-week period on managing stress, at Cork City Hall and Macroom GAA club.

Psychologist with the HSE, Dr Jennifer Hayes, who is part of the team delivering lectures, acknowledges that “life is difficult and there are always problems and challenges along the way”. She adds: “Regardless of your personal circumstances, stress will be a feature of your life at some point.

“Although stress is normal and inevitable, when stress gets a grip and becomes difficult to control, it can be a rotten experience.

“It can impact our relationships, our work, how we feel about ourselves and our ability to relax and feel on top of things.”

The stress control initiative, unique to Cork, started in 2013. It involves the GAA as the organisation that is embedded in the community and is associated with positivity.

Jennifer said: “There is no stigma going into a GAA club. There’s nothing medicalised about it. We got twice as many men attending lectures in their GAA clubs (in Midleton and Togher) rather than doing it in a clinic. But we’re still way under what we’d like to see. The women outnumber the men. But this time, we’re running the course in the evening because daytime was a barrier for many people.”

Jennifer says that people from all walks of life get involved in the initiative.

“But we don’t get many young people. It’s mainly people aged thirty-five and upwards. However, young people definitely get stressed and they see it as a problem. Maybe we need to find a way to draw them in through social media routes. They are a difficult cohort to engage.”

While being busy, with a bit of stress, isn’t a problem, says Jennifer, “it’s when stress impacts on your day to day life, your quality of life, that you need to do something about it. You may not feel great and no matter what you try to do, you can’t get to the bottom of your problem.”

The stress control programme was devised by a Scottish psychologist, Jim White, who was working for the NHS in Glasgow.

“The course is based on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) principles which is the treatment of choice for anxiety or stress. It’s about changing your thinking, your behaviour and your feelings.”

There are 350 places available on the course in Macroom GAA Cub and in Millennium Hall, Cork City.

“It’s a really effective course that works and is suited to big numbers.”

Booklets will be handed to participants as well as relaxation CDs.

Stressors in today’s world include social media “which is really addictive”.

Jennifer said: “It’s not real life. Often times, you’re seeing a kind of spin with people projecting an image of themselves that isn’t real. Of course, there is an upside to social media as well.”

Technology means that employees are always contactable but Jennifer stresses the importance of switching off from work when at home or socialising.

“There’s a reason why there’s legislation to protect people and to build in breaks from work. it’s very important that you have time not thinking about work and living your life, connecting with family and friends. Ironically, the more stressed you feel, the harder it can be to cut back on work.”

There are pressures in some many aspects of life, not helped by the housing crisis and high rent.

“On the course, you could be in the same room as someone you know made it big in the boom time. But here they are now. Stress is a great leveller.”

Children get stressed too.

“I would really hope that people take stress in children seriously. You often hear a young child talking about a pain in their tummy. it is a real pain but a lot of people think children make it up.

“It may not be a pain caused by a virus but it can be caused when a child’s muscles tighten. They can have problems at school or with their friends.”

Stress can lead to panic attacks also.

“A panic attack is a sudden surge of anxiety that can lead to a pounding heart. Some people experiencing this think there’s something wrong with their heart which will make them panic even more.

“It’s stress in the body caused by fight/flight mode. On the course, we will talk about panic attacks which are very common,” Jennifer explained. To date, about 1,600 people in Cork have completed the stress control course.

“The feedback is excellent. The course works.”

Cork hurler, Damien Cahalane, says: “You cannot separate out someone’s working and living environment from their sense of wellbeing and their quality of life. The two are intertwined.

“We are excited to play our part in bringing this course to the people of Cork.”

The Stress Control course started at Macroom GAA Club on September 20. The course at Millennium Hall starts on October 1. Book your place by emailing CorkBeatsStress@hse.ie or by call 086 7871016.

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