We all know stress is bad for us, right?

It leads to depression, anxiety, burnout, and a whole host of other problems. And we all know that humanitarian work is stressful. You work in some of the most challenging places on the planet, often miles away from family and friends, and too often in tense, volatile environments exposed on a daily basis to human suffering.

So if stress is bad for you and humanitarian work is stressful, is the conclusion inevitable?

Not at all. You can thrive under stress.

Not everybody suffers under stress. Lots of people thrive in stressful situations. They're the people who come through stressful situations stronger than they were before. It's not that they don't feel stress - it's that they're not debilitated by it. They're resilient.

So how do they do it? More importantly, how can you do it?

It's all about how you think and how you act.   

Resilient people have a distinct way of approaching the world. They adapt - in mind, body, and spirit - to the challenges that life throws them. They don't view stress as something to be avoided but as an opportunity to grow. And it's this mindset - and the actions that go with it - that helps them cope with stress.

If you're reading this right now, I'm guessing you're not quite there. You're struggling to cope with the madness that is the humanitarian world. The security restrictions and bureaucratic wormholes. The cross-cultural frustrations and job insecurity. The supervisors who think shouting is a motivational tool. The day after day of watching people suffer and feeling like no matter what you do, it will never be enough.

You'd love to feel calmer, more in control, less stressed - but it's not easy to find the time (with your 80 hour work week) or the services (in the middle of the deep field) to learn how to do that.

That's exactly why I created an online course in stress management for humanitarians.

What is it?

The Stress Management Course for Humanitarians is a training I'm developing to teach humanitarians how to:

  • Control your emotions so you have more positive and less negative emotions
  • Change your thought patterns to start seeing benefits instead of drawbacks
  • Use the right coping strategies at the right time

It’s all about being resilient to stress and that means:

  • Less of that tense, pit-in-your-stomach, can’t sleep, jaw-clenched feeling
  • More joy, happiness, love and gratitude
  • Better relationships and health
  • More energy for work and the rest of your life
  • More confidence in yourself and your ability to handle stress
  • More peace of mind

How does it work?

No workshop to attend, no travel required. All you need is a computer and a (semi-) reliable internet connection. The Stress Management Course for Humanitarians (SMCH) is completely online – which means you can access it whenever you want from wherever you are. It’s self-directed so you work at your own pace. If you get lost, have a question, or just want some encouragement, we're always here for you.

What’s included?


The core modules walk you through the thoughts and actions essential to building resilience to stress. In the video lessons (with audio + transcript options for those painfully slow internet connections) we cover the why’s and how-to’s of each component. I’ll give you easy steps with tons of examples so you have a crystal clear picture of what resilience looks like in real (humanitarian) life. Then you jump right into implementation with practical action sheets designed to make sure you start building resilience right away.


I call them bonuses but really this is the stuff I couldn’t fit into the regular modules but was too good to leave out. These are the supporting players that supplement what you get in the core modules – tips on habit building, reframing stress, and enhancing good feelings. And watch this space, ‘cause there are more to come.

Want more information on the course content?

Click here for a downloadable course outline.

Sounds great. How do I sign up?

The Stress Management Course for Humanitarians is under development. Sign up below to get an email when it launches.

Meet the course creator.

I'm Dr. Rebecca Dempster, a clinical psychologist, Canadian expat, and reformed stressaholic.

My work has taken me all over the planet from a psychiatric hospital in Toronto, Canada to an IDP camp in the Rift Valley, Kenya. These days I call Beirut home, but spend most of my time on the road training humanitarians in everything from stress management to how to spot a lie (hint - it's not eye contact!).

At the beginning of every workshop, I ask participants two questions:

  1. What's the best part of your job?
  2. What's the worst part of your job?

The best parts? That's the stuff that brings me to tears - far beyond the call of duty tales from dedicated, hard-working, compassionate people.

The worst parts?

Stress. Exhaustion. Burnout. Isolation. Health problems. Nightmares. Feeling helpless. Feeling hopeless.

Too many of you are suffering.

That's what inspired me to create the Stress Management Course for Humanitarians.

As a reformed stressaholic and someone with a superhuman ability to worry about things that do.not.matter, I know how destructive stress can be. As a clinical psychologist with a wealth of knowledge about resilience and thriving, I also know that it doesn't have to be that way.

I've taken everything I know about stress and resilience (and learned a whole bunch more) to make a practical stress management course that's specifically designed for humanitarians.

This course is all about action. I'll explain what, why and how - all you have to do is practice. Let me say that again: YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE.

If you're willing do that, you're on your way to more of the best and less of the worst parts of the job.

You don't have to sacrifice yourself for your job. Let me help you with that.

Sign up below to be notified when the course goes live.

Not sure if this course is for you?

Shouldn't stress management courses be in person?

Listen, I love in-person interactions as much as the next person (probably more actually, I’m a psychologist for a reason) So yeah, it’d be great if I could do this with everyone in person. But there are too many of you in too many places for me to reach with workshops. So online it is. The good news is the evidence for e-learning is positive. People learn well in this format. And I’ve worked hard to make sure it’s engaging and interesting even though I’m not in the room with you.

Plus … (here’s your first lesson in the core resilience skill of reframing) look at it this way: an online format has all sorts of advantages. You can watch the videos whenever you want. Got 15 minutes before your next meeting? Watch a module. Can’t sleep and want to know more about hardiness? Go for it. If you like to cram, do the whole course in a week. If you like to implement as you go, stretch it out over a couple of months. You can watch and re-watch as many times as you like. Can’t remember why positive emotions are so important? Do a refresher run through. Online allows for flexibility that I could never offer in-person.

If you’re absolutely married to the idea of some live interaction, I’m considering adding a supported version that includes one or two skype sessions to supplement the material. Drop me a line if that’s something you’d like to see.

Not another stress management course! I’ve done one (or several) before and it didn’t make any difference. Why should I take this one?

I don’t know what you did before and I don’t know why it didn’t help. I can’t say if it was the course content or that you didn’t apply any of it! If you’re not sure whether this course will be different, take a look again at the course content. Do you already know all that stuff? Do you already do all those things? If so, this course is probably not for you. If not, you’ll probably find it’s not like other stress management courses. The components I cover in this course go beyond the usual stress management strategies, e.g., breathing exercises and work-life balance. Not that I have anything against breathing exercises (I use them a lot) or work-life balance (I strive for it all the time). They’re both useful strategies. But resilience research points to deeper strategies that require shifts in our mindset. And that’s what this course is about. So if you want to learn how to have a resilient mindset AND you’re willing to work hard at it, this is the right course for you.

I don’t have the time to take a course.

Well, no wonder you’re stressed! Kidding. Real answer. Yes you do. This course is not a huge time commitment. The videos are short and the homework (yes, there is homework) is practical. As in 3-5 minutes a day on top of what you’re normally doing. If your well-being is a priority, you will find the time for it.

Shouldn’t my organization pay for me to take this?

Yes! Absolutely. I believe humanitarian and development agencies have an obligation to support their staff and paying for you to take this course is one way to do that. That’s exactly why I have group pricing plans (share them with your manager). But let's face it - getting a whole team or organization on board takes time. If you want to build resilience NOW, sign up now. If your team or organization buys a group package within three months, I'll refund your investment. So you have nothing to lose.

I’m a seasoned humanitarian / tough security officer / former military type. I don’t need this course.

Well, you read all the way down here, didn’t you, seasoned humanitarian? I’m guessing there’s a reason for that.

Look, some people are naturally resilient. They don’t need training – in fact, training might even mess with a good thing. If you’re one of them, take it from me – a person who has had to build resilience from the ground up – you’re lucky. Be grateful for that. But reflect for a moment on why you’re reading this page. If you feel like everything is a-okay with you and how you respond to stress, maybe this course is not for you. But even seasoned humanitarians, tough security officers, and former military types get overwhelmed some times. Better to face that and do something about it then pretend for the sake of maintaining your (self-)image. And I promise there is a minimum of that touchy-feeling stuff you're dreading.

Humanitarians are supposed to be tough. If I’m stressed out, maybe this just isn’t the right job for me.

I don’t even want to address this one cause it is so crazy that that mindset persists in this field. But persist it does so let me address it.

If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, it’s quite possibly because you work in an industry that is stressful and overwhelming, where too little attention is paid to your well-being and too much is (often) expected of you. It takes all kinds of people to make a successful humanitarian operation – people who are “tough” and people who are "sensitive". It is true that not everyone is cut out for this kind of work and you should take time to honestly reflect on your suitability for it (or for certain aspects of it). But don’t think that getting stressed makes a person unsuitable for this work. It doesn’t. If there is something more going on - like depression, addiction, an eating disorder - it doesn't mean you shouldn't work in this field but it does mean you should consider getting more intensive help.

I’m depressed / traumatized / addicted. Will this course help me?

This is a basic course in developing resilience to stress. It’s not therapy nor is it meant to be a substitute for therapy. It doesn’t cover strategies for treating depression, trauma, eating disorders, addictions, self-harm or other more serious mental health issues. If you’re suffering from a mental health problem, please consider getting individual therapy or psychiatric care. I’ve worked with lots of depressed, anxious, and traumatized people over the years so trust me when I say there is hope and there is help. There is no reason for you to suffer. Help is out there (feel free to drop me a line if you want some advice on how to find it.) This course will be here for a long time so you can always come back to it when you feel ready.

I’m not a humanitarian / disaster / relief / development / aid worker. Should I still take the course?

Are you stressed? If you answered yes to that, it’s right back at you. Yes! I designed the course specifically with humanitarians in mind, which is why it’s online. And the examples I use are influenced by the humanitarian world. That said, the components of resilience are the same no matter who you are, where you live or how you make your living. Anyone can benefit from it as long as they’re willing to put in the work.

Sign up below to be notified when the Stress Management Course for Humanitarians goes live.