Fired Up About Stress

Last week we attended the Indiana CTSI (Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute) Annual Meeting to host a booth about Research Jam. Here at Research Jam, we believe that showing is more powerful than telling, so we created an activity focused on a highly relatable and timely topic in both the academic and care provider communities…stress.


We asked visitors to our table to write down their stressors, fold them up, and put them in our secret box. Numerous studies show that writing about your stress can provide relief. But, in our typical fashion, we wanted to go a step beyond a conventional activity…so we decided that we would burn the stressors as an artistic (and hopefully cathartic) representation of the stressors disappearing. (More on that later.)

After writing down and passing their stressors onto us, we wanted to help participants focus on the positive side of this topic and share with us what they do to relieve stress. To do this we asked them to think about what they do to find relief and then pick a category that correlates to their activity. The four categories were: 

  • Be around people 
  • Turn off brain
  • Consume
  • Redirect brain 

After writing their stress relief activities on post-its we placed them on a visual display that grew as the day went on and colorfully represented how our community de-stresses.


Here’s a broad view of how the CTSI community prefers to relieve stress, using our four categories: 

You can see that participants identified with the category “Redirect Brain” the most while the other three categories were evenly represented. 

We found 15 smaller and more specific sub-categories that were identified as stress relievers. One thing we found interesting at this step was that the same activity was frequently included in various categories, reflecting that similar activities were perceived to relieve stress in different ways. As an example, stress relief provided by a screen (“Watching Netflix” or “Scrolling Instagram”) was placed into three different categories (Redirect Brain, Consume, Turn Off Brain). Here’s a list of the 15 sub-categories of stress relief and what broad categories they were placed in by participants. 

During the event and our activity we talked with participants about their stress and stress relief. One interesting theme we noticed in those conversations and in the data was that people were divided over the “Be Around People” category. Many participants were turned off by the idea of being around people to de-stress, while a large number found stress relief by being around friends or family. 

People we speak with always have interesting ideas and tips to share and this event was no different. One participant introduced us to a cool annual festival in New Mexico called Zozobra that involves burning stressors. Another participant talked with us about making a “Stress-O-Meter,” which he envisioned as a way to measure personal stress levels. He also shared that some stress is helpful (eustress) as it can drive and motivate us, but there is a point when the stress goes from eustress to distress (or stress with negative effects). What’s important is to recognize the signs that you’re reaching your personal tipping point. If you can understand and monitor your own stress levels, you can leverage eustress to drive performance while combatting distress to reduce its negative effects.

Of course, distress is an inevitable part of the human condition, but there are resources out there and there are simple activities you might not be considering that can help relieve your distress. If you are in need of stress relief ideas for yourself or a friend, zoom into the picture to see what others in the CTSI community do to relieve their stress. Members of the IU community may want to check out resources for students or for employees. (LINK to and employee wellness). There are also national resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Health.


Finally, as promised, we set fire to your stressors and shot a video of the burn to complete the stress cleanse. Watch. Enjoy. Breathe in deeply. Exhale fully. See and feel your stress disappear.

Contact Research Jam if you’re looking for a solution to your patient and community engagement stressors. We use human centered design research methods to engage people in activities that empower them to share their experiences, thoughts, desires, and ideas in an effort to improve research, health services, and quality of life.

2 Thoughts on “Fired Up About Stress

  1. judrisco

    This post was as interesting as your activity and learning about your program was. Thank you for helping us learn creative ways to look and problems and generate new perspectives.

  2. Sarah Wiehe

    I am so proud to be a part of this vibrant and endlessly creative team! It is therapeutic to see the burning notes accompanied by Julian’s lovely music.

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