Sun Jun 30, 2002 - Updated at 02:13 PM








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Stress is funny . . . ha ha!
Former 911 dispatcher uses humour to teach coping strategies
By Tracy Hanes
Special to the Star
Stress is serious business. But that's all the more reason to laugh about it, according to Tricia Hasenclever.

When the Oshawa motivational speaker gives a seminar to a corporate group or workshop participants, it's like a stand-up comedy performance as she quips, banters, gesticulates and grimaces.

"Humour is my thing, how I teach people to relieve stress and it's how not to bore an audience. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has told me I should be in Vegas. I'd be rich!" says Hasenclever, who calls her business Learn With Laughter. Her humour is largely self-deprecating, as she pokes fun at people's common idiosyncrasies.

"We are so afraid to ask for what we want that we'd rather jump in our car and drive 140 kilometers in the driving rain on the 401," she says. "Or we'll prowl downtown Toronto streets in the middle of the night rather than pick up the phone and tell a friend she did something to hurt us."

She didn't always find life as amusing during the seven years she spent as a 911 dispatcher with the Metro Toronto Police, dealing with life-threatening situations on a daily basis, juggling multiple tasks at once and adapting to the rigours of shift work.

"Part of me misses it, but it's such a difficult job with tremendous mental stress as people are always at their worst during an emergency," says Hasenclever. "Things started happening to my body. I developed a sleep disorder, I had swollen glands, my immune system was shot and I got depressed. It was all due to stress."

Hasenclever left the police force to start her own business, selling clothing through home parties. While running that business, she discovered she had a talent and a passion for public speaking and Learn With Laughter was born several years ago. She draws upon her experience as a former university psychology student, her training as a 911 worker and from her own years in therapy. Her curiosity about people and a natural insight has also been a benefit.

As well as public seminars, she has frequently given them for companies looking for a way to increase productivity, such as York Region Health, McDonald's, the Investors' Group and her old employer, Metro Toronto Police.

"Stress is huge, it's a real catchword and everyone's feeling under the gun," says Hasenclever. " Sept. 11 had a huge impact on people, especially women. People better appreciate that time is short, and we've become more family oriented, but it created a real sadness that's still there."

The problem is that many people don't even recognize the signs of stress ... or don't want to.

"Stress is an intangible thing and people like concrete things," she explains. "We are so not aware of the signs and haven't been taught to recognize them, so we ignore them. We don't connect the dots. We don't clue in that our ulcer is due to stress. We'd rather blame spicy foods."

Hasenclever typically starts one of her seminars with a flip chart outlining the common symptoms. They include sleeplessness, quickness to anger, weight gain or loss, strained relationships (not just with spouses, but friends, family and co-workers) less productivity at work, fatigue and illness.

"Once I talk about the signs, that usually starts quite a discussion and it's a huge step forward once people recognize they are suffering from stress," she says. "It's not something that should be ignored."

`We don't clue in that our ulcer is due to stress. We'd rather blame spicy foods'

Tricia Hasenclever

Speaker & Humorist

Many don't want to recognize stress as the root of their ills, because that suggests a psychological problem, which still carries a stigma, "and many think that's hooey," she says.

"Even now, people will say it's fine to get counseling or therapy, but they still won't see a psychiatrist. They are terrified to find out what's inside them. But you find out things that become obvious when you hear them. I tell people it's not worth doing unless it's frightening ... except for bungee jumping. Don't try that."

People mistakenly believe stress can be banished, but that's just not so, Hasenclever says. Stress has myriad causes, including buying a home, planning a wedding or dealing with relationships. It's important to learn how to relieve stress and develop individual coping strategies.

"I'm always amazed by how many people refuse to believe that a positive attitude can change your life," she says.

Among Hasenclever's suggestions for combating stress are:

  • Exercise. "It's huge in helping reduce stress. Start with a 20-minute walk a day. People still aren't making the connection that their body needs an outlet to release tension."
  • Support groups
  • Communication. "We aren't communicating enough. I still have a hard time communicating with my husband and I'll go hide and lick my wounds and he won't have a clue I'm hurt or what's wrong. It's so instinctive for us to close up and we've gone out of our way not to be vulnerable." Hasenclever says it's important to air your grievances your boss, family or spouse what's wrong in a non-threatening manner to open up the lines of communication.
  • Do an activity you enjoy. Hasenclever takes delight in the gardens that she and her landscape designer husband created and she's also enjoying learning to horseback ride.
  • Learn to laugh. Hasenclever says chuckling about life's little annoyances is important.

    "Say you come home and see that your husband hasn't done the dishes. Pull back, learn to laugh and communicate about it."

    For more information

    Call 1-800-411-4821



    Tracy Hanes battles stress in Whitby.

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