Many clients turn to health coaching to fix unhealthy nutrition patterns and to rejuvenate their sedentary lifestyle habits. However, after an initial consult it may become clear that underlying chronic stress is also having a detrimental impact on your client’s health.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a natural, healthy reaction that is triggered when we encounter a perceived threat, such as a surprise encounter with a large spider, or when we have a heated discussion with a frustrating work colleague. This perceived threat triggers a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which is known as the fight or flight response.
The fight or flight response primes us to combat our perceived threat with optimal efficiency. Adrenaline heightens our senses, and increases our heart rate, whilst cortisol mobilizes glucose into our bloodstream.
Cortisol also suppresses nonessential bodily functions that are not required to battle an immediate threat. For example, digestion is slowed, and our immune system is curbed. Cortisol can also effect mood, motivation and fear.
Natural, healthy stress triggers an acute fight or flight response that dissipates after the perceived threat has been removed.
What Are the Triggers of Chronic Stress?
Modern life brings about different stressful triggers to those experienced by our ancestors. Over-working, over-exercising, financial pressures, inadequate sleep, and excessive screen time can all trigger chronically high levels of cortisol within our body; leaving many of us in a perpetual and chronic fight or flight response.
As health coaches, we understand the implications chronic stress plays within our body. It wreaks havoc with hormonal balance, which can lead to increased appetite, weight gain, insomnia, increased susceptibility to illness and burnout.
Whilst cortisol has been an absolute life-saver throughout evolution, the exposure to modern day stress triggers a pattern of chronic cortisol release, and as our bodies are not designed to be in a constant state of fight or flight for any sustained length of time, this can have huge implications on our health and well-being.
In this post, we’re going to discuss some helpful tips on how to help reduce chronic stress patterns in your clients’ lives.
1. Provide a Calming Environment for Your Health Coaching Sessions
It’s imperative as health coaches that we provide a calm and welcoming coaching environment for our clients, as we want our clients to associate their time with us with feelings of positivity and comfort.
Providing a calming environment for your clients will help initiate their relaxation response, and in turn reduce their stress.
Here are four tips to help you make your time with client interactions as relaxing as possible.
1. Be Punctual
Whether your sessions are online, over the phone or face-to-face, it’s essential to be punctual.
It’s not uncommon for a client to feel a little anxious about their sessions with you, especially if it’s their first. Being on time and prepared for your session will help relieve some of the tension they may be feeling.
2. Remove Clutter
For face-to-face client meetings, it’s important to choose a space that is tidy and free of any distracting clutter. Make sure you’ve filed away any loose paperwork and if you work from home, make sure that all non-work related material has been removed from the space.
3. Natural Light
We have a natural attraction to daylight; it calms and soothes us.
Exposure to natural daylight has been shown to increase productivity and improve health and well-being (PDF).
Help you clients feel at ease during face-to-face appointments by providing a space that yields maximum exposure to natural daylight.
4. Listen to Your Client
Having someone’s undivided attention is sometimes all it takes to relieve stress and feel more at ease. Make sure you engage in active listening with your clients. It will help with your coaching, and will make your client feel important.
2. Avoid Chronic Behavior
Modern day life is stressful, there’s no denying it. However, as health coaches, it’s our job to help identify and reduce the stressful triggers in our clients’ lives.
Some common stress triggers you’re likely to come across in your patients may include chronic work patterns, chronic exercising and family commitments.
1. Chronic Work Patterns
Chronic work patterns can manifest in several ways.
Your client may be working long hours with very little rest between shifts. They may also be overwhelmed by their workload.
Help your clients break their unhealthy chronic work patterns with techniques such as improved time management, being strict on leaving work on time, making the time to schedule “fun” activities into their week, or setting a defined early bedtime.
2. Chronic Exercising
Educate your clients on how we should exercise to restore hormonal balance, rather than to burn calories.
Explain how they can improve overall fitness, by performing strength training twice a week and sprinting once in a while.
Make your clients aware that they can control their blood sugar levels by walking for 15 minutes after a meal.
By helping your clients redefine healthy exercise you can greatly reduce their chronic stress and cortisol levels.
3. Stressful Family Commitments
Caring for loved ones, whether it be your children, grandchildren or elderly relatives, can become an all-consuming responsibility that can lead to chronic stress.
Of course you’re not going to suggest that your client step away from their responsibilities, but rather, help your clients understand the importance of making their own health and well-being a priority.
A great way to do this is to suggest that they designate time for themselves each week. This time can be spent performing an activity that they love, whether it be a nature hike, sitting down with a good book, or cooking a new recipe—whatever brings your client enjoyment and a sense of relaxation.
Help your client see that if they are rundown they cannot possible care for their loved ones to the best of their ability.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
We live in a world where it’s tempting to avoid sleep and rest. Work deadlines, social activities and instant access to the web can all eat into our essential sleep time.
Sleep is essential for optimal physical and mental health. When we sleep our bodies are hard at work repairing our blood vessels and our muscles, consolidating our memories, restoring hormonal balance and so much more.
Inadequate sleep can be hugely detrimental and can contribute to chronic stress.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Adequate sleep is required for our bodies to function optimally. The number of hours we need varies depending on the individual, but for most people it’s somewhere between 7 and 9 hours per night.
Blue Light Overexposure
Blue light is essential for our health, as it regulates the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
In the absence of blue light, melatonin production increases and we feel sleepy.
Conversely, the presence of blue light inhibits the production of melatonin, and hence we stay alert and awake.
Many digital devices emit blue light, therefore their use in the evening before or while we’re lying in bed, can actually inhibit the production of melatonin and can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
If your client is having problems going to sleep at night, explain to them how overexposure to blue light at bed time can negatively impact on their ability to sleep.
A useful coaching tip is to suggest that they read a book instead of watching Netflix on their smartphone before falling asleep.
A 10 minute nap is all you need to boost your energy levels and is a handy tip to pass on to your clients especially if they’re shift-workers.
Napping in the afternoon aligns with our natural circadian rhythm and is much healthier than having a sleep-in in the morning.
4. Improve Time Management
Highly stressed people can often feel a little out of control. They may overcommit and double book appointments, and often feel like there’s never enough hours in the day.
If you’re working with a client that suffers from poor time management, helping them organize their lives more effectively will go a long way towards relieving stress in their lives.
You can suggest that they use a diary or an online calendar such as Google Calendar to stay on top of their commitments.
5. Connect with Nature
Going outside and being one with nature is a great way to restore the relaxation response within our bodies.
If you’re working with a client that hardly ever ventures outside, suggest that they go for a hike, or spend time in the water, either swimming, paddling or surfing.
If your client simply goes for a walk in their local neighborhood, this can help relieve their stress.
Play, for many adults is a lost art, but it’s one of the best ways to relieve stress and is instrumental to our health and well-being.
If you have a workaholic client, then it’s time to emphasize the importance of play. Get them to brainstorm activities that bring them joy. Cycling, playing with their children or grandchildren are all examples of play.
Once they have identified their ideal play activity, it’s your job as their health coach to help them implement play into their lives.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Being mindful and aware of your actions is a skill that not many people have mastered. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing and not to become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
For example, when you eat a meal at the dinner table, you’re more likely to be mindful of the sensation of the knife slicing into the food, or the sound of your fork hitting the plate. However, if you eat your meal in front of the T.V., you’re not going to be aware of these sensations, and thus, may be more likely to overeat.
Being present in your everyday actions is a great way to avoid stress as you’re present in the moment and focusing on the task you’re completing, rather than becoming overwhelmed by what needs to be done in the future.
As a health coach, you can help your clients learn the skill of mindfulness by getting them to focus on mundane simple tasks that occur throughout the day, such as opening a door, or turning on a tap.
In this post we have suggested seven tips to help you destress your health coaching clients, and they are:
- Provide a calming environment for your health coaching sessions
- Avoid chronic behavior
- Get adequate sleep
- Improve time management
- Connect with nature
- Practice mindfulness
In summary, stress is an underrated factor when it comes to health and well-being. As health coaches, it’s our job to identify and reduce the stressful triggers in the lives of our clients so they can be the best version of themselves.