The Psychophysiology of Stress – What The Wellness Coach Needs To Know

Easier Said Then Done

Stress gets blamed for most everything, and much of time deserves the accusation (60 percent to 90 percent of health-care professional visits are stress-related – https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/10/relaxation.aspx ). Wellness and health coaching clients inevitably recognize that excess stress in their lives is affecting their quality of life, performance at work, and their very health in negative ways. Finding a way to deal more effectively with stress becomes part of most client’s Wellness Plan.

Wellness coaches all too often approach stress by working with their clients to strategically attack the sources of stress in their client’s lives. While there may be some specific gains made by that approach, all too often the result is temporary and band-aid-like, as yet another source of stress emerges. Solution-seeking as a stress management strategy is like flirting with infinity.

For over twenty-five years I worked as a psychologist and devoted much of my focus to helping people with stress-related disorders. I was an early adopter of the use of biofeedback and relaxation training methods. Combining those modalities with psychotherapy, my work was able to be of great value to clients suffering from muscle-tension and migraine headaches, a wide variety of gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, Raynaud’s Disease, and many more issues. I delivered hundreds of stress management workshops and became so involved in the field that I eventually became President of The Ohio Society For Behavioral Health and Biofeedback.

Both my clinical work and my years of coaching showed me that ‘managing stress’ requires the clinician or coach to understand the mechanisms of stress, its psychophysiology. I use the term psycho-physiology here because, perhaps nowhere else is there such a demonstration of how our thoughts and emotions have direct effect on our body. This is the center of the mind-body connection. Just thinking about taxes, a strained love relationship, a scary health condition, etc., can immediately result in an increase in blood pressure, the secretion of stomach acid, the constriction of blood vessels in our extremities, the release of cortisol into our bloodstream, and more. Understanding the psychophysiology of stress is vital to being able to develop coaching approaches that will allow our clients to recognize stress, recover from it, and develop the resiliency that they need to live their best possible lives.

The Psychophysiology of Stress

The human body operates on an amazing system grounded in the principal of homeostasis. This self-correcting process allows us to bring ourselves back into balance whenever it is required. When we overheat, we sweat and cool down. When our blood becomes too thick, mechanisms bring more water from our cells and thin our blood down to its proper viscosity. When we are under stress this homeostatic principal seeks to bring us back into balance. Let’s take a look at how our nervous system operates this.

 

From this graphic, focus upon the Autonomic Nervous System. You will see that it is composed of two parts, the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. When we are under threat, or stress, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicks in and arouses us to either fight, flee or freeze. This is the classic Fight or Flight Response.

When we are under real threat, like a stranger jumping out of van and confronting us as we approach our car in an isolated parking lot, this response may be vital to our survival. Suddenly our heart rate goes up, our adrenal glands release adrenalin and noradrenalin, cortisol and other stress hormones enter our bloodstream, our eyes dilate (allowing us to see better in low light), blood leaves our extremities and pools to our body core (minimizing bleeding in case our arms or legs are cut, and protecting our vital organs), our digestion shuts down (we need our energy elsewhere), the bronchi dilate increasing our ability to take in oxygen, and more glucose is made available to the blood to provide a supply of instant energy for both cognitive and physical purposes. So, you can see that this remarkable response does a fantastic job of equipping us to deal with muggers, Saber-toothed Tigers (back in our days in the cave), and other acute threats.

Unfortunately, in our modern-day world, we often trigger SNS arousal to a greater or lesser degree, by what might be called ‘false alarm states’.

 

As any wellness coach can recognize, these false alarm states are often the drivers of the very issues that bring our clients to coaching. Stress has a tremendous effect upon these and many more health challenges. When we are in a chronic state of SNS arousal we will see more headaches, insomnia, difficulty managing chronic pain, more tendency towards unhealthy coping mechanisms (including addictive behaviors), and difficulty managing anxiety, anger and our emotions. It’s easy to see how a client with weight issues might have improved eating and exercise/movement but is still struggling losing weight as they continue to live a high-stress life. Thus, while we are wired to handle acute stress in a potentially adaptive way, chronic stress is our nemesis.

The Relaxation Response

Back to the all-ruling principal of homeostasis. The nervous system’s answer to Sympathetic Nervous System arousal is to counter-balance it with Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) arousal. To counteract all of this activation for action we need a way to slow down the heart rate, reduce the blood pressure, calm the breathing, bring blood back into the extremities, quiet down the release of stress hormones, get the digestive system back online, and essentially bring us back to our baseline level of tension/arousal, or even dip below it. In contrast to ‘fight or fight’, this response is sometimes referred to as ‘rest and digest’.

For thousands of years people have found ways to bring about this PNS arousal. Methods of meditation, breathing, movement, prayer, chanting, etc. all have the potential to bring about this state of profound relaxation. Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, coined the term ‘Relaxation Response’, and his groundbreaking 1975 book by that title created a whole new way to approach dealing with stress. His research since then has continued to demonstrate the profound utility of bringing out this quieting response through mind-body practices. Benson managed to demystify meditation and to distinguish it from religious practices. In more recent times, Jon Kabat Zinn has done the same with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques. Bringing out the Relaxation Response allows us to recover from stress. I will be delving into how to coach clients to do this in my next blog posting.

 

Actions of The Relaxation Response

 

Stress And Distress

Coaches often encounter a client who will claim to “thrive on stress”.
We actually do require a certain level of stress to bring out our best performance. Think of how some of the greatest performances in music and sports have occurred in the most high-stress moments. We look to experience ‘optimal stress’, or what is called Eustress.

There is, of course, a point where the stress becomes excessive and this is where we see this positive stress become Distress. This is where one’s stress related disorder may kick in. The headache comes on, the difficulty sleeping begins, the gastrointestinal problems start, the skin reacts, etc. Practicing some kind of method that brings out our Relaxation Response on a regular basis may, however, bring our baseline level of stress down enough for us to remain in eustress longer and perhaps not cause us to cross over into distress. Thus, the wellness coach may work with a client to help them find a way to integrate some kind of regular practice that brings out the Relaxation Response. Performing such practice could be an activity the client keeps track of and sets up accountability agreements about with the coach.

Caution Coaching With The Relaxation Response

As a wellness coach working with a client who has chosen to practice some form of relaxation training or meditative practice, you need to inquire about your client’s health concerns and all forms of medical treatment that they may be under. The chief concern is that as a client develops more competency with bringing out their Relaxation Response, it may alter their psychophysiology in a positive way, but in a way that must be accounted for with potential medical adjustments. Specifically, if your client is, for example, taking medication for hypertension, such practices may reduce their need to this medication and the dosage may need to be adjusted. Have your client inform their treatment team of their practices that may affect their medication needs. The Wellness Plan always supports the Treatment Plan. Make sure your efforts are coordinated with your client’s treatment team.

In two subsequent blogs I will be addressing how we can coach around the need to recover from stress, and how we can build greater resiliency to stress.

Resources

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/10/relaxation.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11822639

https://www.britannica.com/science/fight-or-flight-response/media/206576/207822

Benson, Herbert and Klipper, Miriam. The Relaxation Response. William Morrow Paperbacks; Updated & Expanded ed. edition (February 8, 2000)

Real Balance Free Monthly Webinars: “Stress! Recovery & Resilience: How The Wellness Coach Can Help”.  http://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources

For the very best in wellness and health coach training look to REAL BALANCE GLOBAL WELLNESS SERVICES, INC.  Over 10,000 wellness & health coaches trained worldwide.  http://www.realbalance.com 

 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.   https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml

and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml 

Make Contact With Nature Part of Your Wellness Plan

Photo by M. Arloski (all rights reserved)

Here in Colorado we have one of the ultimate places for outdoor activity and opportunity. Yet, it is easy for many of us to stay so busy that we rarely take advantage of the healthful benefits of contact with the natural world.

We experientially know that our stress levels go down when we spend more time in nature. We feel rejuvenated and refreshed after we take a walk through a park or out along a bike path. We feel more grounded and relaxed after a weekend camping and hiking. Now we know from scientific research that our intuition is right.

Dr. Eeva Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute summarized such research, stating that just being out in forests and other natural, green settings “can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system…Many studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of “stress hormones” all decrease faster in natural settings. Depression, anger and aggressiveness are reduced in green environments and ADHD symptoms in children reduce when they play in green settings.” There has even been research showing that exercising outdoors results in greater physiological benefits than exercising indoors.
In one study over 600 people were asked why they visited the National Forests in the U.S. 92% said they did so to “relax and gain peace of mind”. Perhaps our best “wellness centers” are in the outdoors.

The Environmental Dimension of Wellness has many faces to it that we are much more aware of today. We realize that our behavior affects the world around us in many ways. Our choice to purchase whole and natural foods sends a message all the way to the farmers who decide what to plant and how to care for it. Our choice of vehicles either minimizes our impact on the earth or contributes to it’s ecological misery. However the effect that contact with the natural world can have upon us is huge in it’s potential to help us to heal our frazzled nerves and our troubled soul. Our connectedness to the world around us is often overlooked as a way of healing, yet, when we reach back to that older way of being it seems to always give us just what we need.

Photo by M. Arlosk (all rights reserved)

On Memorial Day I got out on a hike after far too long away from the foothills and mountains. After hiking past white violets and columbine in bloom I found the remains of an off-trail campsite and took a mid-day break for lunch and contemplation. The quiet was what I found myself cherishing. No city noise, only bird song and wind in the pines and aspen. I opened my copy of Sigurd Olson’s Reflections From The North Country and immediately found these lines. “When man feels tension as though he were being pulled out of his ancient mold, it is his divorcement from silence that is often responsible, silence built into the fabric of this mind. He may not know what is wrong, but he has only to find it again to restore his equilibrium.”

“Mountains give you strength, but water speaks to your soul.” Sigurd Olson. Photo by M. Arlosk (all rights reserved)

Being healthy and well seems always about restoring balance in our lives on all levels. Until we slow down and reconnect with nature we may not, as Olson reminds us, even realize how out of balance our lives may have become.
There are thirteen weekends in June, July and August. Getting outdoors can be as easy as a spontaneous walk in a park, but consciously setting aside time to get out hiking, camping, etc., like so many wellness activities, is about planning and putting it on the calendar. We know that Labor Day Weekend will be here before we know it.

Top Ten Wellness Strategies for The Self-Employed

It’s lonely at the top, especially when you are the whole mountain!

Profitable corporations have embraced wellness programs as a way to effectively hold down healthcare costs, boost productivity, creativity and reduce absenteeism and turnover rates. If you are one of the more than sixteen million self-employed people out there, what’s your wellness program look like? When you are self-employed and you become really ill, it’s like Hewlett Packard locking the gate and turning off the lights…you’re out of business! Making conscious investment in your company’s biggest asset, you and your health, is critical.

About one out of every nine people in the American workforce is self-employed and 90% actually chose to become so. Corporate-culture refugees are often happier on their own, but this new territory comes with it’s own particular stresses and challenges. Nobody tells you to stop working for the day. There is no schedule other than the one you make yourself. Couples who have their own business together must become communication experts with each other. There is tremendous freedom and potentially tremendous pressure.

There is certainly an upside though…many of them in fact. When you see that the temperature at noon will be in the nineties, you can get your walk or run in at 9:00 am and work through your noon hour. You may commute just across the hallway. There is no pay-scale, and no glass ceiling.

The big challenge is work-life balance. How does the self-employed person achieve a wellness lifestyle and one that is both personally and financially rewarding? How do we really apply the old adage “work smarter, not harder”?

Let’s look at the Top Ten Wellness Strategies for The Self-Employed.

1. Identity. Realize that you are not your work. Your business is something you own, not vise-versa. The key is to “have a life” and to, in fact, nurture a well-rounded, full and meaningful life. Meaning and purpose in both work and life ensure motivation to be well and to be successful. When your work is in alignment with your values and beliefs conflict and stress are minimized and energy emerges to get the job done.
2. Boundaries and flexibility. The old joke that being self-employed is only half-time work…you can work whatever 12 hrs./day you want to work, is much too real. It’s a double-edged sword you want to take conscious command of and have it cut for you instead of against you. Track your work hours by writing them down if need be. Set alarms. Give yourself days off. When things pop into your head, jot them down for discussion later and then return to being back in the present moment. Make agreements with partners to create some hours each day and some times each week when business is not discussed.
3. Confidence. Overcome the fears that drive you to over-work by building your confidence and belief in your ability to be successful. You do not have to be available 24/7 to be productive. Know that your skills, abilities, and investments in your work can allow you to take time off and still thrive.

“I have so much to accomplish today that I just meditate for two hours instead of one.” M.K. Gandhi

4. Self-care/Self-permission.Give yourself permission to take fantastic care of yourself. Confront outdated and fearful personal beliefs about putting yourself last on your list. It may feel strange, but practice what feels like “extreme self-care” and it will probably be about right!
5. Investment. Invest in your own wellness. Get all of your medical check-ups on time. Invest in your own physical health with regular exercise and high quality fuel (food). Invest in your own mental health by expressing your creativity and having fun with others.

6. Energy. Re-charge your energy with frequent breaks. Stretch, move, breathe every hour. Studies show that your creativity and productivity will soar (http://www.ernestrossi.com/interviews/ultradia.htm) (http://www.polarunlimited.com/2010/09/the-way-were-working-isnt-working-summary/)

7. Organization. Your to-do list won’t magically go away while you’re doing all of this wellness stuff! Your work has to be efficient, not just excessive effort. Educate yourself about what organizational systems will work for you like GTD (Getting Things Done) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done) or ZTD (Zen To Done) (http://zenhabits.net/zen-to-done-ztd-the-ultimate-simple-productivity-system/) . Experiment with HOW you work, not just working harder to find out what really catalyzes your productivity. Delegate. Repeat, delegate! Hire an IT person (even just one time) to help your technology work for you instead of bogging you down. Use the famous Urgency/Importance Matrix (easily found online) to prioritize and streamline tasks while eliminating what really doesn’t matter.

8. Self-compassion. Be kind, patient and self-forgiving. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” May sound cliché, but it’s true. Keep lifting your head from where your nose is on the grindstone and see the bigger picture of your progress and that of your business. (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/go-easy-on-yourself-a-new-wave-of-research-urges/)
9. Connection. Self-employment can be very isolating and this can boost self-doubt, depression and pessimism. Get out and connect with other professionals at organization meetings. Do some work at coffee shops and go ahead and talk with people!
10. Get a Coach. It’s lonely at the top, especially when you are the whole mountain! Invest in an ally who specializes in helping entrepreneurs and folks like you. A business/life coach may give you the support and accountability you need to create a plan for success and effectively pursue it. A wellness coach may help you find the life/work balance you are looking for, help prevent burnout, and help you find a totally sustainable way of living and working that maximizes your health and well being, allowing you to actualize more of your wonderful potential.

What’s your experience either being a self-employed person seeking wellness, or a coach who has helped people in this way?  Please leave a comment here on the blog.  Thanks!

Giving Our Lifestyle Power Away To Celebrities

If you don't know what this is, that's a good thing! (Chicken-fried steak)

The rise of celebrity chefs and food programs has been phenomenal. True, there are some excellent shows that feature healthy cuisines, and more wellness-oriented content. However the alarming trend has been for more and more shows to do what television shows have learned works for ratings: to shock and to “give the public what they want.” I’m talking gluttony and foods that have been scientifically linked over and over again to the obesity and health crisis we see in America and ever-increasingly, worldwide.

Americans watch an average of Four Hours of Television Per Day. (http://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html) This media-saturated culture allows television celebrities easy access to our awareness and affects our lifestyle decisions more than we think.

We see food programs, often posing as travel shows, glorify over-eating to a degree that is all about shock value. We tune in to programs that seem to inevitably feature consuming the most disgusting substances the host can find. Far too many programs show the host seeking out and gorging on huge quantities of the fattiest red-meat items available. Or, we indulge in a convenient fantasy that “good old home cooking” with all the butter and gravy possible won’t really hurt us. Cholesterol, calories, salt and fat content be damned! Full speed ahead!

We WANT to believe that we can eat like those folks on television and get away with it. The identification with some of these television chefs has been astonishing. What we forget is that they often become more of a corporate “brand” than a person. They represent the tip of a business iceberg that at times becomes a juggernaut of capitalistic power. When that happens it’s not about your health, it’s about making money.

Paula Deen, the television chef who made millions pushing traditional Southern cooking with a style of over-indulgent exaggeration, became “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” recently when she announced that she has come down with Type Two Diabetes. While deserving of all the compassion we would give anyone who encounters this challenge in their life, Paula lost much of such potential support by only revealing her affliction three years after her diagnosis. In the meantime she had continued to push her “brand” and all of the diabetes-engendering recipes that went with it. She also never revealed her diabetes until she had a mult-million dollar contract in place to be a spokesperson for a diabetes drug company. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/paula-deen-diabetes-announcement-celebrity-chefs-support_n_1224454.html)

When we give our power away to entertainers who may or may not have our health and best interests at heart, we lose. We often feel betrayed when some truth finally comes to the surface, whether it’s about them, or when we suffer consequences in our own health.

It’s really like reading labels. What is the real content of this product? I loved hearing Marion Nestle (no relation to the food company) (http://www.foodpolitics.com/) talk about nutrition and the food industry at The National Wellness Conference (http://www.nationalwellness.org/index.php?id_tier=90) one year. She made it clear that the big food companies are not evil, they’re not out to get us. They simply are out to make money and are really very neutral about our health. If we purchase junk, they will make and market more junk. If we purchase more healthy food, they will, as we have seen, make and market more healthy food. The same is true for TV.

I’m not out to change TV. I’m out to help people reclaim their own lives. Read the label, so to speak, on what you watch on television. Remember that your favorite celebrity may simply be putting on an infomercial and calling it a TV show. Watch consciously and be conscious of how much you watch. We can’t always trust the intention behind a show. It’s like finding a good looking website on nutrition and then digging deeper and finding out that it’s just a propaganda voice for a coalition of food industry vested interests. The charge of all of these shows is to entertain first and foremost. That’s why we find them fun and interesting. What’s wonderful is when they share recipes that are actually heart-healthy, cancer-preventing, and diabetes-preventing.

We would love to feel like celebrities are our “friends”. We all want to be connected to others. We enjoy their entertainment and we sometimes aspire to be more like them, for better or for worse. Celebrities are real people and the few I’ve met personally, like John Denver and Dennis Weaver, were as sincere and genuine as it gets. However, let’s not make them lifestyle beacons for us or give them authority they don’t deserve. It’s like a time way back in the late 1960’s when I noticed a friend of mine hanging on every word of a rock band for philosophical and political guidance. No wonder The Moody Blues put out a tune at that time entitled “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock n’ Roll Band.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqOSzkqPhbA)

Wellness Self-Quiz:
1. Have you found television food shows that emphasize wellness and healthy eating? Please share.
2. Have you found yourself recently shifting your eating habits to include more (not less) red meat dishes, more fried foods, more higher-fat content items after seeing such trends on show you watch?
3. What is one thing you can do to be a more conscious consumer of food programs on television?

Question Your To-Do List and Be Well: Coaching The Urgent/Important Matrix

Naughty, Nice, and TOO MUCH TO DO!

Despite our best efforts to avoid “holiday stress” it always seems to arrive as reliably as Santa himself. The “to do list” seems impossible and we pay the price physically and emotionally when the stress is too much.

The way to tackle a “to-do list” is not to whittle away at it, it’s more like running it through a filter or processor and determining priorities and what really needs to be done and what just doesn’t. That filter is the Urgent/Important Matrix made famous by former president Eisenhower and Dr. Stephen Covey. When we squeeze everything on our to-do list through this matrix it comes out in one of four quadrants: 1)Urgent/Not Important; 2)Urgent and Important; 3)Not Urgent/Not important; and 4)Not Urgent/Important. Sounds easy enough but this simple matrix requires a lot of clarity about our values, priorities and beliefs.

A simple tools that brings up larger questions!

Today’s information driven world can push us to believe that everything on our list is Urgent and Important. This can drive you to the edge of your “stress cliff”, feeling overwhelmed and out of control. There truly is more on your to-do list than one can possibly do.

Try running your to-do list through this filter and you suddenly realize that you are requiring yourself to get very clear about your values and priorities. You realize that some of what you thought was urgent actually isn’t, and that “importance” requires some serious self-reflection.

Coaching Questions for The Matrix


Question your to-do list. Here are some great coaching questions to have your client ask themselves that can help them prioritize each item on their to-do list. The result will be less stress and more wellness.

Important: “Does completing this lead towards the achievement of my goals?” “How does this serve me, others and the world around me?” “Is this an expression of who I am?” “Am I being true to myself?” “Does this affect my family, employment or health?” “Does this add joy to my life?” We may choose at times to put our own needs aside, but we must do so consciously not habitually.

Urgent: “Will failing to complete this task in a timely manner result in: anyone getting hurt; a loss of business/profit; a performance penalty?” “Is the urgency more about my own anxiety than reality?” “Is my anxiety exacerbated by poor wellness practices, e.g. not enough sleep, to much caffeine?” “Am I clear about what other people expect?” “Have I set myself up by “over promising” and thereby increasing my chances of “under-delivering” ?” “Am I personalizing something that is not personal?” “Am I trying to “please” others?” “Who is setting the dead line and can it wait?” ”Can someone else do the task?”

For more ideas on how to coach with this matrix take a good look at this MindTools article (http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm).

What drives urgency?

As you coach your client through this process you may find that the coaching becomes about values clarification, operating on true priorities, even meaning and purpose in life! However, what you also may encounter is more in the realm of the Urgent dimension. An exploration of this area was initiated for me by a coaching colleague who asked what an example of Not Urgent and Not Important could be. The quick answer was items on your list that are the kind of time-wasting distractions that keep us from getting the more important items done. Are we crowding our to-do list with items that have very little to do with our real goals? Are we deceiving ourselves into believing it really is important to rearrange our sock drawer?

Then the question got me thinking: In today’s world with it’s heightened expectations in workplaces, families and in society, it is important to be more conscious about what you value and to become a savvy list manager. It’s more important than ever not let your “to do list” rule your life. Does everything really have to feel urgent?

We often refer to this as “a sense of urgency”. That very phrase attributes the urgency to inside of us. Sure, we have demands from others, but what’s new about that? Whether you were a 11th Century peasant or a 1950’s steel mill worker there have always been systems and bosses making demands that were excessive. Yet today’s technology pushes the illusion that we can perform beyond human capacity and emulate machine capacity. The external pressure is, in fact, greater, but it is the internal pressure that we can readily do something about. This is what Stephen Covey referred to as “responding” instead of “reacting” to external demands.

A coach’s job is to remind people that they do have choices. All of our technological devices have a built-in stress management device. It’s called the off-on switch. How “accessible” do we really need to be? How driven by fear is that need for accessibility? As a coach you can help your client distinguish what is a realistic fear or concern, and what is an irrational, unrealistic fear.

Coaches can also help people with their stress management by helping them live according to their own values, their own vision of living the good life. This is in contrast to living a life of continual striving to meet the expectations of others. How can we help our clients find within themselves the courage to set boundaries and take charge of their own lives? What ends up on the to-do list are items that enhance one’s life instead of just stressing it out.

Please add your comments about how this topic affects your own life and/or your coaching with others.

Ten Ways To Coach Through Barriers To Change – Part Two – Inner Barriers To Lifestyle Improvement – II by Dr. Michael Arloski.

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." Sir Edmund Hillary (Photo by M. Arloski - all rights reserved)

6. Practice Extreme Self-Care

Many times coaches and clients co-create a wonderful set of self-care action steps that the client knows will help them to be healthier and well. Then, on the next coaching appointment, the client confesses that they held back from doing almost all of the actions agreed upon. The coaching conversation then reveals that the client would not give themselves permission to engage in such self-oriented behaviors. Another belief system item that wellness coaches, especially, deal with all the time is a lack of self-permission and way too much self-denial. Stemming back to a lifetime of learning such beliefs create guilt and the misperception that taking time and doing anything good for oneself is “selfish” and wrong. Even though your client may say and believe (intellectually) that taking time to exercise, get more sleep, and eat well are critically important, they may find themselves reluctant to actually follow through and do these behaviors because they just don’t feel right at a deeper level. Many terrific wellness plans fail right here.

We can help our clients to increase self-permission by helping them examine these beliefs and how they adopted them. We can help them look at how realistic they really are, especially in light of the client’s whole life. Are they valuing self-denial to the point where it is harming their health? It may feel “extreme” for them to begin to do even the smallest things for themselves, but we can support and acknowledge their efforts at even small steps for self-care.

Recovery and self-care can take many forms.

7. Regenerate Through Recovery

A number one challenge wellness coaching clients continually face is having enough time for wellness. Often their attempts at “time management” go nowhere. Perhaps it’s time to think in terms of “energy management”. In books like The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working and The Power of Full Engagement (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-schwartz/the-way-were-working-isnt_b_574039.html) we find a reaffirmation that pushing people to work too long with not enough sleep and with insufficient resources is not sustainable or even profitable. Once again, we recognize the need for balance, for what these authors call “sufficient volume and intensity of recovery” from the stress we are under. Hopefully such books will encourage work environments to wake up and restore some sense of balance to the workplace but until then it begins within the individual. Often out of fear, our clients push continually in totally unsustainable fashion and end up being less productive, and less well. Another internal barrier here can be irrational beliefs that they are only worthwhile and Okay as a human being when they are being productive.

Working with self-permission, helping our clients to break through their fears and realize that the person who has more recovery time is, in fact, more productive, efficient and creative, we can help them create sustainable ways to attain work/life balance.

8. Progress With A Plan

When wellness coaching proceeds without a co-created wellness plan the tendency is to throw together a cluster of goals and attempt to follow through on them. The danger is that a lack of structure can lead to confusion, inconsistency, wandering off on tangents, and a loss of momentum and motivation. Internal barriers to the whole coaching process can arise out of a sense of confusion, uncertainty, lack of clarity about direction, progress and roles. Lasting lifestyle change is not just a bunch of goal setting and pumping up will-power. Proceed with a plan.

9. Acknowledge And Affirm

Client motivation often suffers from a perceived lack of progress, yet clients often do not give themselves adequate credit for what they have actually achieved. Recognize and acknowledge progress of any kind and any size. You are not so much praising your client as you are encouraging them to praise themselves and acknowledge their progress. Acknowledge the actions and the aspects of their character that “showed up” to bring that action forward. They may even benefit from an exercise of writing down three self-acknowledgments a day. Don’t downplay the level of challenge a client may be facing. Affirm their reality and their experience. Yet keep the responsibility for change on the client. When they speak of barriers (either internal or external) that came up, ask them “How did you allow that to hold you back?”

10. Make It Mindfull

Many internal barriers come from a state of internal anxiety, stress, fear, and confusion. Whatever calms the body/mind/spirit is going to help us lower those barriers. Encouraging our clients to include practices that help them become more centered, more calm, and more focused will help lead them to greater peace within. Most decisions are made on an emotional rather than strictly logical basis (some say 60%). If we are anxious, stressed, worried, and even physically tight, we can misinterpret what our body is telling us and decide not to be active, eat well or connect with others when it is exactly what we need the most. Honoring the values and culture of our clients we can help them explore ways of relaxing and centering that are congruent for them.

A 30 min. recording of a free monthly webinar on this topic can be found at http://realbalance.com/

Please share your comments, ideas, and questions. Help us explore the very best ways to coach people to be well.

The Wellness Traveler: Healthy and Well on the Move! General Well Travel Tips – Part Three

Newfound friends from Italy and the UK dance the night away being well!

Wellness is a way of living to take with you wherever you go. Living well can also help you get there and make the most of it!

It was three o’clock in the morning and I was just getting to bed at a spa in Europe with a wonderful grin on my face. I had danced with newfound friends from around the world and hadn’t quit until the band (finally) went home! I thought I had lived life to the fullest, when I heard noise outside the resort hotel. Laughing and splashing down in the pool were some of my previous partying companions, still going strong!

Well Travel Tip #6
Live a life in balance so you can get a little “out of balance” and be glad you did!

One of the greatest reasons to live a life in balance, a healthy wellness lifestyle, is so you can have the health and vitality to “go for it” when the opportunity is there.

Wellness is not a worried existence atop a balance beam! It’s not a Spartan lifestyle of self-denial and depravation all in the name of health. Most of us can say “Yes!” to an opportunity to have fun, indulge, explore or adventure and not lose any ground in our pursuit of our wellness plans. Living healthy and well the other 97% of the time allows us to do just that.

How wonderful to say “Yes!” to that Italian pastry (and not kid ourselves how often we do that!). How lovely to stay up into the wee hours of the morning studying the stars as you paddle across a quiet and calm lake. How fantastic to be able “push” when you want to, to have “something left in the tank” when an arduous travel day requires extra stamina. All that healthy living can now pay dividends.

Well Travel Tip #7
Eat like your trip depends upon it…it does!

Now that I’ve urged you to “Go for it!” (with consciousness!), I’ll advise some consistency and common sense in the world of nutrition and eating. You can find almost endless online resources with lots of good suggestions, but as usual, I want to take a different tact here. First an ethical obligation to urge health and wellness through good ol’ basics:
• Drink more water, lots more water. Airplanes suck the moisture right out of you, so do new climates and elevation changes. Dehydration can affect you negatively in so many ways it would make your head spin (and I think that’s on the list of effects too). Hold on to the water you take in better. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and other diuretics!
• Pack your own food. As much as possible. Stay in charge of your own food supply. Buy locally, eat fresh!
• Eat a good breakfast. Best nutritional punch of the day. Even the French and Italians are starting to question their traditional white flour, sugar and caffeine breakfasts.
• Have fun at restaurants, but eat with real awareness! Don’t’ kid yourself on how much, how often, how many, or what! Eat like you know something about wellness!

Here’s a couple of simple list type resources with good ideas for eating better on the road:

http://fatherhood.about.com/od/workingfathers/a/healthy_road.htm

http://businesstravel.about.com/od/healthsafety/tp/diet_tips_for_business_travel.htm

http://healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=627943

Now for some Wellness Traveler thoughts on how to eat like your trip depends up on it.

• Eat to maintain energy and vitality. You want to be able to enjoy a whole day of walking through a beautiful part of the world, or hike all the way to that secluded waterfall and make it back! Balance your food intake so you have slow-burning energy from protein and fats (good fats) as well as the quicker burning carbs. Remember it’s like a good campfire, tinder+kindling+firewood, not just burning one wad of newspapers after another. Lots of food easily available to travelers is loaded with nothing but carbs and sugars.
• Be smart about food sources, but definitely be adventurous! Avoid the risky looking street vendor food, but order that new-to-you food at the restaurant. Like me you may hate canned anchovies, but you would not believe how fantastic the fresh ones that I had in Italy were!
• Eat mindfully. As much as possible find food that is close to the source, and partake of it with gratitude and grace. Mindful eating is even better for your digestion!
Honor the culture you are in and connect with it. When in Rome…don’t order a #&*@! Hamburger!  People express themselves and their geography through food so be a part of it. Try the homemade (not instant!) grits in the Southern part of the U.S. Try the civiche in coastal Mexico. Try those crazy snails in France! Bon appetite!

I certainly don’t pretend to tell you how to eat or what to do, but if you’ll give these ideas some thoughts you may find that what you eat enhances more than just your nutrition when you’re on the move. It may feed your soul, if you let it.

Peruvian/Asian Fusion Sushi in Miami Beach

Simply Centered

You may not be a martial artist, a trained mediator, or a practitioner of Tai Chi. You may not be a trained athlete whose performance depends on how balanced they are on a ski slope or an ice rink. You may not be a professional dancer whose moves reflect what appears to be effortless grace. So, you may not be familiar with the term “CENTERING”.

“Be centered.” “Center yourself.” “Come from center.” “Move from center.” “Return to center.” “Centering practice.” Unless you are watching Kung Fu movies (and actually listening to the soundtrack), or remember what Obie Wan Kanobi was saying about “The Force” so long ago in Star Wars, you might not hear phrases like this. Yet this concept, once understood and applied, can dramatically improve your life.

You have been speaking prose all along, but didn’t know it. You have experienced what I am referring to here as being centered. When you made a decision, without anxiety, that was true to yourself, that was being centered. When you sank a long putt, a three-point shot, hit a solid line drive or threw the third strike exactly where you wanted to, that was being centered. When you twirled on the dance floor beautifully, carved your best run on a snowboard, or made the perfect cast with your fishing rod, that was being centered. You were “in the zone”. When you found a poem or piece of expressive writing just flowing out of you like liquid, that was experiencing a centered state. When you ended a relationship, not to relieve anxiety or fear, but because you knew, with calm certainty, that it was the best and right thing to do, that too was being centered.

Think of how different you life can be if you realize that becoming centered is always an option you have in every situation. Think of the effectiveness of decision-making and creativity of effort that can result from operating more from a centered state! Choose to be centered!

How do we “become” centered? Instead of it being a magical and elusive state that is hard to create again (that 15 foot putt was just luck, right?), what if centering was a skill that you developed and practiced? What if knowing how to center yourself was always accessible information that you could draw upon in conflict, leadership situations, in emergencies, and opportunities that demand peak performance?

A centered body centers the mind. Centering has a physical aspect to it, and a mental/emotional aspect. They affect each other and you can start in either domain.

Quieting your thoughts will relax your body. Nervous and fearful internal self-talk can produce muscle tension, increased heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid production, and more. Quieting the internal chatter and soothing yourself with more positive and calm self-talk, or enhancing it with mental images of tranquil and safe, even idyllic settings has just the opposite effect on the body.

Physically you can center yourself by focusing on your breath, changing your posture, lowering your center of gravity and movement, broadening your stance, becoming more in balance. Breathe slower on each breath, and a little deeper. Close your eyes for a moment, perhaps. Sit up straight, or stand with your feet further apart, your knees slightly bent, your weight equally distributed on both feet. As you do this, especially the breathing, you’ll notice that your mind is slowing down and you are focusing more on the present moment.

Move from center. Place your right index finger in your naval…yes, your belly button! Now take your first three fingers of your left hand and place them across your belly right below your right index finger. At that level on your belly where the third finger rests imagine the point that is half-way between your belly and the skin on your back. That spot right in the “center” of you is what the Chinese call “Tan Tien”. The Japanese call it the “Hara” center. Imagine that this is where your body moves from, not up higher somewhere.

Stand like you have just mounted an invisible horse. This is the “horse riding stance” that you see all of those martial artists assume in the Kung Fu movies or in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Keep your back relaxed but nice and straight. Look straight ahead. Now flex your knees and shift your weight back and forth from one leg to the other while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Feel very connected to the ground you are standing on. Take small steps with one foot while leaving the other one “planted”. Move so “Tan Tien” is just floating at the same level all the time.

The “horse-riding stance” is one you can feel very solid in. Someone who is centered in this stance is no “push over”! It is a stance you can move quickly from and be very flexible in. Solid, quick, flexible. Sounds like a good way to be in a conflict or a high performance situation.

The next time you are out in public and need to make an important decision, or deal with a challenging situation, just adopt this stance. When the others around you stop laughing the conflict will be over. Yes, I am kidding! Getting yourself centered physically can really help though, so try more surreptitious methods like the following.

Breathe. A good, long, slow, deep breath can do wonders. It cues your mind to come out of a tendency toward overwhelm or panic, and allows you to take in more immediate information about the situation. Sit up or stand very straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor or ground.

Now the mental part! Think of this “Tan Tien” center in your body and adopt the ancient Samurai notion of “expect nothing, be prepared for anything.” Be aware of everything around you where you are, right here and right now in the present moment. Let the past and future evaporate. Focus on the present.

Bring your thoughts to an observation of the present situation without letting your past prejudices influence it. Take what the moment brings you without judgment. Then from that calm, centered place make a distinction between your choices, based on the values that are true to you.

Do the things that “center” you in your life. There are probably favorite activities that you like to do that produce in you this experience of centering. They are usually activities that are very healthy, that give you perspective, that refresh you and renew your soul. Do them. Do them more often. They may be as formal and consciously designed to develop your sense of center, such as the practice of Tai Chi, Yoga or meditation. They may be as simple as a walk in the park, a hike in someplace a bit “wild”, throwing pottery, gardening, or just getting together with good friends with no agenda or expectations. Do what “centers” you more often and you will have more access to “center” when you really need it!