Dojo on stress

This (thinking) dojo came about because someone described their biggest problem as stress, relating to recent job-change events.  I ran this dojo in Melbourne and Sydney to an audience of ~10 people each time. (45mins-1hr long)

As the facilitator:

  1. Say yes.  Accept what people bring.  There’s no wrong answer. Each person is bringing the most valuable thing for themselves to the discussion.  
  2. There is a need to balance the group time and let everyone talk if they want to, but generally people are aware of that.  If needed, thank someone and bring their awareness to the fact that this is a group event and everyone needs to participate to grow.  The exercise is not about being right but about sharing and discussing stress.
  3. Make empty space, (time when nothing is said) both for people to think, and for less talkative people to step up and share. Speak slowly, there is no rush.
  4. There is no need to force participation, feel free to mention that anyone can pass at any time.  It might be healthy to model “pass” behaviour at the start by getting everyone to say out loud “pass”.  “What do you say if you don’t want to contribute and you want to pass?” (“PASS” duh)

1. Share a stressful experience.

Each person should share a personal or significant experience of stress that they have encountered in their life.  It doesn’t have to still be “alive”, but it has to be personally relevant to them being engaged in the discussion and get an internal sense of what “stress” is and the sorts of things we are talking about.  (if doing this on your own, write down your experience, spend a few minutes waiting with the memories to get a sense of how it felt to be in the body during that experience, feel free to write more than one down)

(1-2mins per person)

Briefly check for a common theme.  I.e. stress caused by interpersonal relationships or work.  Be mindful of that when continuing the exercise.

2. Causes of stress

Stress usually has a cause in life.  Each person is different, each person will know their own common causes of stress.  Make a list of personal and common causes of stress.

(2 mins alone making a list, 5-10 mins to discuss the general possible causes of stress and build a group list)  (if alone, you can google it, but with emphasis that this exercise is not about getting the right answer, but more about being aware of the parts of the stress problem and playing around with them in mind in one session.)

2. What are the signs of stress.

How would you know someone else was stressed?  How would you know you were stressed? Make a list as a group discussion. There’s a short list at the bottom AFTER you have made your own list of the relevant signs.

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Get specific to name a few instances if it helps people participate.  “This one time I was stressed about X and I kept having nightmares”. etc.

3. what do you do about stress?  How do you relieve that stress?

get specific about how to wind down, how to rest, how to relax, feel safe, distract, and more. (list at the bottom AFTER the exercise to compare notes)

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Being Strategic

Once we know what causes stress, what stress looks like, and what to do about stress when it comes up, the last thing left to do is to be mindful.  Notice the causes, notice the signs that come up and act appropriately. As long as I am aware of my body, my behaviour and my actions, I can effectively manage my own stress and the stress of the people around me.

4. Anything else we want to share about stress?

How to tell someone else they are stressed without the words coming across like a slap in the face:

  • “I feel like you are stressed”
  • “I noticed you keep pacing, are you stressed?”  
  • (instead of, “you are stressed, stop that”)

Share any other personal stress stories or thoughts that come up from the exercise.  If we are done, go to the conclusion. (10 mins)


Reflect on if this is helpful personally.  How can I tie this into my life. How can I notice the stress?  How can I grow to use this information. Consider reminding myself in a month to check if I still do this.  Consider how I can plan a “stress check” into my weekly routine. Consider how I can make use of this information.  (3-5mins on our own doing what is needed to carry this out) (share any particularly good ones 5 mins)

The following lists are incomplete, they are here for clues, feel free to make your own or ignore these.

Causes of stress

  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Emotions
  • Food/diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Mistakes, accidents
  • Emergencies
  • Surprises
  • Major events or life milestones
  • Big projects
  • Moving house/city
  • Family changes

Stress signs

  • Body based sensations (tightness, sweat, feeling heavy, doom, heart rate)
  • behaviour changes (posture changes, pacing, staying out late, sleep changes)
  • Expressions (face stuff, behaviour, I know I am confused from the confusion expression)
  • Emotions (aaaaah!, Sad, scared, flustered, etc)
  • Energy (lethargy, overactive)
  • Actions (eating more, injury)
  • dreams…  

What do you do about stress?

  • Take a bath
  • Distract myself
  • Leave the room
  • Meditate
  • Play video games
  • Sleep
  • Talk to someone about it
  • Pamper myself
  • Let go of trying to control everything and make sure it goes well
  • Stop doing the thing (sometimes an option)
  • Eat something
  • Concrete checks (have I eaten, drank, slept, got sunlight, spoken to friends) (you feel like shit guide)

Thanks for participating, feel free to get in touch with feedback.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Google doc for comments:

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