Wellness Coaching for Better Sleep, Rest and Immune System Functioning



Adequate sleep and rest are like magic. When we have enough of it our immune system is stronger, healing occurs faster, and very importantly we replenish our supply of energy that allow us to function at our best.

The Mayo Clinic tells us that “During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757) The relationship between sleep, adequate rest and our immune system is solid. We’ve all likely had the experience of catching a cold when we fell behind in our sleep.

Today with the Covid-19 Global Pandemic and its accompanying economic hardships many coaches and their clients may have lots to lose sleep over. Anxiety, fear of an uncertain future, seeing infection rates rise, and all of the stress of the ‘functional paranoia’ it takes to stay reasonably safe can all interfere with our sleep. We may also find ourselves cutting back on needed rest during the day as we juggle children at home, adapting to a new work-at-home routine, etc.

While there is no guarantee that a healthy immune system will protect us from a novel virus like Covid-19, we all need the benefits that sleep, and rest will provide. For information on increasing your probability of staying free of infection see https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public, and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html .

A Balanced Wellness Plan

Take a good look at the Wellness Plan that you and your client have co-created. Chances are it will have some fairly active components: becoming more active, eating better, expanding friendship circles, etc. Ask yourself if all the efforts your client is making to improve their lifestyle require an expenditure of energy. Does that same Wellness Plan contain elements that replenish energy? Is their Wellness Plan restorative and regenerative? Is there a balance between these active endeavors, and the more passive and relaxing ones? Essentially, is there a Yin/Yang balance? (See The Tao of Wellness Coaching: Part Two – Practical Applications https://wp.me/pUi2y-lT )

Perhaps your client would benefit from combining their more active wellness efforts with ones like relaxation training, meditation, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Yoga, or Tai Chi. They may want to include more direct efforts such as effective napping and sleep hygiene strategies.

The Beauty and Benefits of a Good Nap

What do Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Walters, Winton Churchill, Salvador Dali, Thomas Edison, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albert Einstein have in common? They are or were all confirmed nappers!

Adequate sleep and rest are important for all of us and especially for our clients with chronic health challenges. Regular napping has multiple health benefits: reducing stress, improving mood, boosting memory, improving job performance and increasing alertness. The Sleep Foundation (https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity ) suggests “If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a busy workweek or other factors, try to make up for the lost rest with naps. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.”

A key to effective napping is to set an alarm and only nap for 20-30 minutes. That way you can return to full alertness much quicker. Napping is more effective than caffeine at helping us to the same thing. In fact, clients who might have to avoid caffeine for medical reasons might especially find naps more helpful.

Clients who struggle with full-on napping might find that simply allowing their body to go from vertical to some form of horizontal for even short periods of time provides refreshing rest. ‘Putting your feet up’ and closing your eyes while slowing down and deepening breathing may allow for a rejuvenating shift in energy.

Sleep Hygiene

Our client may not know some of the sleep hygiene tips that can make getting to sleep and staying asleep much easier. You can point them in the right direction with resources and have them study these strategies on their own time, perhaps even set up some accountability around doing such homework.

Sleep Hygiene Tips from SleepEducation.org. (http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits)
Follow these tips to establish healthy sleep habits:

• Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
• Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
• Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
• If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
• Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
• Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
• Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
• Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
• Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
• Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
• Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
• Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
• Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
• Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.

Coaching for Better Sleep and Napping

Wellness coaching is about helping your client to transform what to do into how to do it in their life. Educating one’s self about the importance of sleep and rest may be the first step, but then putting strategies into action is where coaching can help. If your client sees the value in attempting some of these sleep hygiene strategies or establishing more frequent naps, we can co-create with them agreed upon Action Steps that they are willing to make a commitment to doing. Establishing a way of tracking sleep will help our clients to be consistent in their sleep practices. We can set up a system of accountability with them where they might report in about it at the next coaching session or use text or email to do so.

Once our client is practicing their sleep hygiene habits it is important to explore their experience with it. Look for ways to increase intrinsic motivation by bringing their attention to how they feel when they are practicing these habits. This exploration can also uncover barriers that arise when your client attempt to improve their sleep or get more rest.

Coaching Through the Barriers to Healthy Sleep and Rest

A great coaching technique is to anticipate barriers before they are encountered. As you and your client select sleep strategies to try, ask them if they would anticipate any things that might get in the way of practicing these strategies. Do they share a bedroom with someone else? Would that person be amenable to these new strategies? Perhaps their partner loves having a television in the bedroom and are a fan of late-night TV. The very first step may be to ask your client if they feel that a conversation with their partner about what they are trying to achieve (improved health and wellbeing) and these sleep strategies they hope to use, would be worthwhile.

Other barriers will arise as your client puts their sleep and rest improvement strategies into action. They may get support or push-back. They may discover that their situation at work or home will require some real creativity to develop strategies that can work. You and your client can then engage in some strategic thinking and possibility thinking to tackle these barriers.

Coaching Through Barriers Related to Stress

The ability to rest and sleep can obviously be interfered with by stress and anxiety. Coaching for effective stress management requires knowledge and skills that can be found in my previous blog posts (The Psychophysiology of Stress – What the Wellness Coach Needs to Know. https://wp.me/pUi2y-nJ) and in recordings of my Real Balance Monthly Webinars: 11/16/18 – Stress! Recovery & Resilience: How the Wellness Coach Can Help – Part 1, 1/19/19 – Stress! Recovery & Resilience: Recovery – Part 2 and 2/15/19 – Stress, Recovery & Resilience: Building Resilience – Part 3. (https://realbalance.com/wellness-resources)  Adequate sleep and rest help our clients to recover from stress and build resilience. Helping them reduce stress and anxiety in the first place may require some form of relaxation training or other strategies that are discussed in the above resources.

Sleep difficulties, including more severe insomnia, may need to be evaluated by more clinical resources. Since difficulty sleeping and relaxing is a major symptom of both physical and mental/emotional conditions, there may be times when your client’s challenges are more appropriate for clinical treatment than coaching.

Sleep and Rest are Keys to Wellness

Many wellness models include healthy sleep as an essential component of a healthy, well-functioning person. Certainly, it is hard to achieve much of one’s potential when sapped of energy by chronic sleep deprivation. The reality is that people in our modern world are frequently sleep-deprived. “Poor sleep health is a common problem with 25 percent of U.S. adults reporting insufficient sleep or rest at least 15 out of every 30 days.” “Adequate sleep is necessary to: Fight off infection; Support the metabolism of sugar to prevent diabetes; Perform well in school; Work effectively and safely. Sleep timing and duration affect a number of endocrine, metabolic, and neurological functions that are critical to the maintenance of individual health. If left untreated, sleep disorders and chronic short sleep are associated with an increased risk of: Heart disease; High blood pressure; Obesity; Diabetes; All-cause mortality.” (https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/sleep-health)

Making adequate sleep and rest part of a holistic Wellness Plan may make a positive difference in all of our client’s wellness goals. Think of it as energy management. With a well replenished energy supply our client can have what they need to be more fully engaged in their health and wellness.

RESOURCES

Healthy People 2020 (2020) Sleep Health. Healthypeople.gov. 2020 Topics and Objectives. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/sleep-health

Olson, Eric J. (2018) Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick? Nov. 28, 2018.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757

Sleep Foundation (2020). How Sleep Affects Your Immunity. Sleep Foundation.org. July 28, 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity

 

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 

 

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 

Stress Coaching Part II – Recovery From Stress

Time to be still...priceless!
Time to be still…priceless!

What we refer to as “stress” is quite a mystery. Ill-defined by most everyone except psychological researchers, we ascribe devastating levels of power to it, and often feel helpless to cope with it. We know that stress is linked to worsening health, greater risk of illness and the exacerbation of most any condition we find ourselves with.

Wellness and health coaches find their clients almost always struggling to manage stress. Clients often recount how they had been successful at lifestyle change, often losing weight, stopping tobacco use, etc., until…a stressful event or change occurred in their lives. Once the stress hit the weight was regained, the smoking revived and so forth.

stress-illnessWhen we experience chronically elevated levels of stress the Stress Response of the Sympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System maintains unsustainable levels of arousal in several bodily systems. This causes digestion to be inhibited, heart rate and blood pressure to remain elevated causing extra strain on the circulatory system, and higher levels stress hormones (corticosteroids) to be produced. Cortisol levels rise and research has linked this in particular to extra weight gain and more difficulty in weight loss. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html)

Medical researchers aren’t exactly sure how stress increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other health challenges, but it does. For many researchers the findings don’t always put the finger on stress per se, as we can see more directly in the case of increased hypertension, but on the resultant changes in lifestyle behavior. Under more stress people tend to engage in more unhealthy behaviors – smoking, drinking, overeating, more sedentary activity, depression, and to engage in less healthy behaviors – exercise, sleeping well, taking time to eat well. It’s felt that these shifts in lifestyle contribute to the disease processes. There is also lots of evidence that higher stress has a negative effect on the immune system. (http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Frans-Pouwer/2010/02/11/does-emotional-stress-cause-type-2-diabetes-mellitus-a-review-from-the-european-depression-in-diabetes-edid-research-consortium/) (http://www.medicinenet.com/stress_and_heart_disease/article.htm)

The Health-Challenged Client And Stress

Many, if not the majority, of clients that wellness and health coaches work with are challenged by some kind of chronic illness. For these clients stress management is a vital part of the Lifestyle Medicine approach that hopes to positively affect the course of their illness.

The wellness plan supports the treatment plan.
The wellness plan supports the treatment plan.

First of all your health challenged client must be under currently active medical care. Your work with them around stress management may have an effect – albeit positive – on their physiology. This means that your coaching efforts must be coordinated with your client’s treatment team. For example, practicing relaxation training may succeed in lowering blood pressure. A client on hypertensive medication will need to have their dosage adjusted as their blood pressure changes.

To help our clients create their own way of managing stress we need to be their ally and help them to build the self-efficacy and confidence that their stress can be successfully dealt with. On a realistic level few coaches are equipped to help a client with a complex cognitive restructuring process that is more the prowess of a counselor or psychologist. We can help our clients address barriers in their lives, but we may find that a “problem solving” approach to stress may be flirting with infinity. Another brush fire springs up not long after the last one was finally extinguished.

Instead we may want to proceed with a more holistic, lifestyle-oriented, positive approach. We could divide this approach into four components:

#1 Recovery From Stress
#2 Development Of Recovery-Enhancing Skills And Strategies
#3 Lifestyle Strategies For Reducing Stress Increasers
#4 Environmental Strategies

#1 Recovery From Stress

In our previous post (http://wp.me/pUi2y-e9) we spoke about how change today has increasingly shifted from episodic change (which we are psycho-physiologically set up to deal with) to continuous change. Despite the seemingly constant barrage of information, demands and pressures today, we are still very human creatures with a nervous system that requires recovery and repair. The alternative is having stress show up in the weakest link in our chain in the form of a stress-related disorder. These often begin with milder symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, etc., but if there is insufficient frequency and intensity of recovery we often see an increase in the severity of symptoms leading to increasingly serious stress disorders such as hypertension, gastro-intestinal disorders, and even symptoms of heart disease and more.

The body has it’s own built-in counterpart to the “stress response”. It’s called the “relaxation response” (as made famous by Harvard researcher Herbert Benson (http://www.relaxationresponse.org). Eliciting this response calms the body and mind. Heart rate and blood pressure are reduced, as is the production of stress hormones. Recovery with a “capital R” would mean bringing out the stress response in some way.

Part of recovery, however is with a “small r” and that means engaging in activities that people find “relaxing” and also getting sufficient and sound rest. Taking the time to read a novel, go for a hike, play music or your favorite sport, go fishing (often a great choice for the client resistant to anything that sounds too exotic), have a cup of coffee/tea or glass of beer/wine with friends and chat, garden, or anything that the client considers fun and relaxing fills this part of the prescription. Multiple health benefits come from such activities meeting needs on physical, intellectual, creative, social and even spiritual levels.

How To Coach #1

Ask your client to list the things that they like to do to relax. Then ask them the last time they engaged in those activities. This often brings up regret and sadness. Empathize and explore. See what they may be attracted to re-engaging in and set up support and accountability to help them succeed.images

Exploring fears and assumptions about taking the time to recover may be a necessary step. Engaging in recovery time is meaningless if you’re client has too many internal barriers in the way and won’t give themselves permission for self-care. Coach them around exploring their beliefs and assumptions about taking time for themselves. Help them identify what triggers their fears and develop a different response. Are they making any assumptions about their situation at work? How safe would it be to check these assumptions out? Can new agreements be made?

It’s not unusual for clients to discover that working on improved sleep and rest becomes an important part of their wellness plan. This may become an area of focus for them and setting up goals and action steps to work on this may contribute greatly to their stress recovery.

#2 Development Of Recovery-Enhancing Skills And Strategies

There are numerous ways that your client may choose to use, once they are aware of alternatives, to enhance their ability to recover from stress and “inoculate” themselves against further effects of excessive stress. The key is not to prescribe, but to help your client find a method that is a great fit for them. Personal values, beliefs, and even prejudices that your client holds need to be respected. One person may jump at the chance to learn Yoga or Tai Chi while another person may be repelled by the same opportunity.

How To Coach #2

Biofeedback can be simple and very effective.
Biofeedback can be simple and very effective.

Help your client to explore such options as: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/); recordings of relaxation training methods such as progressive and autogenic relaxation training; recordings of guided visualizations for relaxation; biofeedback training supplied by a qualified biofeedback therapist; meditation training; classes in Yoga, Tai Chi and Xi Gung may also be of interest to your client. Coach them through the process of finding out adequate information and following through with selection and engagement. The key is to keep coaching them and make the practice of these skills part of the coaching.

#3 Lifestyle Strategies For Reducing Stress Increasers

Too much of a good thing?
Too much of a good thing?

Some big advantages in living a healthy lifestyle are the ways in which itcontributes naturally to stress reduction. Smart wellness coaches help their clients to look at how their diet is working for or against their stress level. Excess caffeine over-stimulates and can contribute to insomnia. Too much sugar causes energy ups and downs. Excess salt causes edema, and drives hypertension. Inadequate nutrition or not following a prescribed dietary program (such a for a person with diabetes) can also contribute greatly to stress. Indeed medical noncompliance can be a terrific source of stress as medications are not able to perform adequately to maintain homeostasis or deliver proper treatment.

How To Coach #3

Help your client to examine their current lifestyle behavior and explore their potentially ambivalent feelings about making changes such as modifying their diet. Coaches can use Motivational Interviewing techniques to help resolve such ambivalence. Drawing upon all a coach knows about Readiness for Change theory (TTM) will also help the client to approach change in a stage-matched way that is more likely to succeed. Simple behavioral tracking that is combined with support and coaching accountability can often empower clients to finally make the changes they need to their diet, activity levels, and self-care behaviors.

Work with your client to examine their approach to time management and organization in their lives. It’s been astonishing how many times coaches discover that clients have not been making use of such simple tools as working with a calendar, operating off of a written (versus mentally kept) to-do list. Help your client to take charge of their life by consciously working on organization and time management.

#4 Environmental Strategies

Nothing better than a place to put your feet up!
Nothing better than a place to put your feet up!

There is such an emphasis in stress management work around cognitive approaches and relaxation methods that we often overlook the environment the client experiences every day. Home and work environments can aggravate or alleviate our stress levels.

How To Coach #4

Have your client describe a “day in the life” so to speak. That is, have them walk you through their typical day with an emphasis on where they are, not what they are doing. Does it put them in touch with stress sources? Are they facing a daunting daily commute by car in high-stress traffic? Is there neighborhood safe enough to walk and recreate in? Is there household cluttered (stressful in itself) or relaxing and peaceful?

While many of our clients are faced with economic realities that may make relocating unrealistic, other times this may be a real option. Can they move closer to work and eliminate the commute? What would it take to consciously make their home more of a relaxing haven? Could they even make one room such a refuge? Other times, through coaching, clients discover that even though moving is out of the question, there are things they can do environmentally to improve their situation and reduce sources of stress.

I love to say that “A coach’s job is to remind people that they have choices.” Sometimes under the burden of stress we forget this.

Connecting with family, friends, our greater community and the natural world also helps tremendously to relieve stress. Getting our social needs met requires…well, socializing! Exercising outdoors provides more documented benefits than exercising indoors. Spending time in nature feeds the soul.

One of the most beneficial activities a person can engage in is totally unstructured time. “Drift time” allows a person to let go of the “To Do List”, let go of expectations, roles and responsibilities. Whether it looks like hammock stretching, wandering through a shopping district on your own, fishing in a river, or whatever suits your fancy, the tension seems to fade as the day goes on.

Have A Back-Up Plan

No matter what the strategy you and your client are co-creating, have a back-up plan. Something may show up and get in the way of the best-laid plans. Coach your client to come up with an answer ahead of time to the question: “What will you do if…?” Having a fall-back strategy can allow your client to still achieve their goal. Can they modify their plans? Can they exercise for 15 min. instead of not at all? Can they go for a walk during the noon hour in their work clothes instead of a trip to the gym? Do they have food stocked in the refrigerator that will allow them to prepare a quicker meal than the one they had planned?

Maybe Stress Management Is More Simple

Pioneering Life Coach Thomas Leonard was fond of saying that “A coach’s job is help people to Eliminate Tolerations and Get Their Needs Met.” Perhaps this maxim could better guide all of us in reducing stress in our lives and being well. Coach your clients around what they are tolerating, whether it is an annoying source of aggravation like a door that sticks, or the way their colleague treats them at work. Have them list all of their tolerations and explore the list together. You’ll find that a lot of what they are tolerating often results in them not getting their needs met. Under stressful demands people often put their own needs last on the list and seldom get to them. Unmet needs lead to depression, resentment, anxiety and the experience of stress. Help your client explore this and see what they are ready to do to begin prioritizing their own health and well-being.

The Bonus Benefits Of Exercise

Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland
Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland

Harvard’s School of Public Health (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/staying-active-full-story/) is quick to tell of all the prevention advantages of exercise. We know that getting more movement and exercise into our lives can help prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. Exercise can be vital to positively affect the course of these illnesses once they are diagnosed as well. What is perhaps even more motivating is not just avoiding illness, but discovering how exercise can improve our mental functioning and improve the quality of our lives.

“Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain sparkfunction” says Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey (Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain). He and fellow neuroscientists are showing us that exercise can combat the toxic effects of stress and make us more resilient. “Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels: First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation; Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” Research is showing us that exercise can help lift depression, improve memory and mental performance, relieve insomnia, boost immunity, and even help stave off Alzheimer’s.

ExerciseAfAmBicycle
It’s always nice to get a bonus. An unexpected pay-off for some effort of ours puts a grin on our face and increases our chances of continuing that activity. Often we see people create a wellness plan and do their best to increase activity, improve their nutrition, etc., only to find that the changes they hoped to see are slow in coming. The person seeking weight loss may hit a plateau and the scales just stare back at them. Rather than sink into discouragement, we might ask “What else am I noticing?”

When people focus on the scales as the single indicator of success they set themselves up for some real motivational challenges. As we improve our wellness the scales will move in the right direction, but while we are getting there we need to fuel our motivation by noticing what bonus benefits we are gaining. When we take stock of our whole lives we start to realize that we may be sleeping much better, have more energy, feel less fatigued, be able to walk, hike or bike longer, or simply get up off the floor or out of a chair with greater ease.

YogaTaiChiBenefitsFocusing on the benefits of exercise alone, research is showing us astonishing bonuses we didn’t even anticipate. The windfall of advantages we gain can motivate us through that weight loss effort and provide incentive to the person with a slim body type who mistakenly thinks they don’t “need” to exercise.

Diversify the exercise you do. Include flexibility, strength and endurance though a variety of activities and cash your bonus checks often!

Small head cropped1The Coach’s Take Away
Convincing or persuading our clients to exercise is not an effective strategy in wellness programming, or especially in coaching. However, if your client is:

• Someone who is up for increasing their mental performance at work
• On the edge of readiness to begin exercising
• Someone with a slim body but unaware of the multitude of benefits exercise offers
• Someone with or without a “weight problem” but who needs the benefits of exercise to more positively affect the course of a chronic illness
• Someone you are coaching around stress, insomnia, etc.

Then sharing this kind of information may provide just the “tipping point” leverage they need to make some lifestyle improvement.

James Prochaska always says that people underestimate the benefits of change, especially exercise, and overestimate the costs. Help your client tip the scales in a healthy direction. And…don’t forget to be the sharpest coach around by taking advantage of these benefits of exercise yourself!

Access Excess: Always Wired Makes Us Tired and Less Productive

Access Excess!
Access Excess!

Paradox, double-edged sword, blessing and curse combined, mobile devices have made our lives easier and more stressful at the same time. I remember the feeling of relief the day I finally got my calendar synched on my work/home computer, my laptop and my smartphone. Now I could be in a conversation with someone at a conference and set an appointment seamlessly. It helped tremendously using a GPS navigating app to help find a tricky destination. I absolutely love using the travel app “Tripit” to track all my business travel arrangements. Connecting with others is easier than everWhile we can benefit from technology in so many ways, we are also seeing a “dark side” rising far too fast. The accessible anytime and anywhere nature of smartphones, wi-fi enabled tablets, etc. is causing a shift in workplace norms and, sadly, a shift in in the quality of our personal lives as well. A recent cover story in USA Today reveals how the so-called digital lifestyle and work-style may be seriously damaging our health and well-being. “Nearly two-thirds of full-time workers own smartphones, up from 48% just two years ago, according to the Pew Research Center. One-third own a tablet, up from 12%.  The exploding use of these devices — and connected employees never calling it a day — has created a workplace domino effect: If one person answers the boss’s e-mail after hours, others feel compelled to as well.”

cell-phone-stress-300x199When people are under stress for performance it is so easy to create a sense of digital vigilance that never lets down. Our notification alert signal is on full volume 24/7 so we don’t miss that opportunity that just might be calling. As we get more anxious it becomes more common to even get downright obsessive about our need to be accessible.

Some companies are realizing the price they pay in stress and health and are instituting policies to “leave it at the office”. The need for some ground rules is becoming apparent as the demands on the digitally connected worker increase. “Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees entitled to overtime pay must receive it when they work beyond a maximum number of hours, such as a 40-hour workweek. The constant technological tether to work is testing what constitutes the standard workweek, and lawsuits are challenging this new world.” Salaried employees have no such limits.

The self-employed have to set their own limits and often don’t. Fear of missing that opportunity for a sale by not responding at light speed keeps the smartphone charged and within easy grasp. The infectious sense of urgency in society is hard to be immune to.Double Cell

The whistle never blows in this world of Access Excess. There are no natural breaks. Time off has disappeared. This of course runs in total opposition to how our mind/body system works. We are wired to deal with stress, but can survive only if we also have what the authors of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working call “sufficient volume and intensity of recovery”.

Wellness coaching clients almost always list stress as a barrier to them living a healthier life in almost all dimensions of wellness. Coaches can help their clients to consciously work on their fears, communicate and create agreements at work that are healthier. We can also help our clients to determine if their work environment can be changed for the better or if looking for work in a healthier environment is final solution. We can help our clients create experiments to help them see just how digitally healthy they really can be by being less “wired”. We can help them increase awareness of how much they are allowing fear and anxiety to rule them and work consciously on this issue.

Boundary setting is so much harder when it insidiously has become weakened by cultural norms. “Access Excess” has become a norm that no one ever agreed to. Let’s create agreements at work and at home that allow us to make times to be “unplugged” and healthier!

Question?  Is the man in the picture below able to be free to be at this relaxing lake because he can still be connected, or is he there and stressed because he is allowing himself to be connected?

Lakeside Tech

Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite The New Year Now

The "New Year" is here already! Photo by M. Arloski

The ancient Celtic Calendar rings in the New Year at the very end of October with the holiday of Samhain. Looking at a Northern European year’s climate through largely agricultural eyes this makes perfect sense. The last of the harvest is done and it’s time to prepare for winter and a long rest for the land.

For the self-reflective person this is a good time to review the old year and prepare for the new. Don’t wait until the new year has already arrived! From a coaching perspective it’s a perfect time to look at what our “wins” were, to seriously acknowledge our accomplishments on all levels, personal and professional. It’s a time to give ourselves credit first, boost our self-esteem and celebrate. Let’s practice some Positive Psychology on ourselves!

We also will take a sober look at what we wanted to see happen that didn’t. Here it’s time to leave our Inner Critic or Gremlin (http://www.tamingyourgremlin.com/) out of the process, and instead get in touch with that part of ourselves that truly cares about us and tells the truth (not the lies of the Inner Critic). Did we live the year in harmony with our values, with our true priorities? Are we still spinning our wheels in a lifestyle improvement effort, or job/career, or relationship? What will it take to get some “traction” in the new year?

2012 is coming at us fast and New Year’s Day is really too late a time to begin planning for what we want in the new year. We always find truth in the old saw “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Having a plan is much different than setting the famously ineffective “New Year’s Resolutions” or just having a “bunch of goals”. A plan, whether a wellness plan for lifestyle improvement, or a plan for your career development, personal growth, or whatever needs to be an integrated plan that is based upon your values and your true priorities in your life. It needs to be entirely congruent with who you are and based upon attained clarity about what you want.

In the Northern Hemisphere the seasons right now lend themselves to this process, if we let them. We might consciously want to engage less in the franticness of “The Holidays” and instead practice both our relevant faith reflected in these holidays, and also practice a time of reflection, replenishment and personal renewal. In fact, if you are a person of faith, how better to celebrate and acknowledge these holidays than to dedicate some time to your own spiritual renewal?

Sit, sip, relax and reflect.

This is a great time for hot cups of tea and journaling. This is also an excellent time for taking stock of our selves in a mindful and conscious way. My best shorthand definition of Wellness is that it is living our lives consciously in ways that enhance our health. Perhaps this is the perfect time to take a day dedicated to no “work” and to no work around the house. Solo time allows us to look within uninterrupted. In today’s high-speed world we may actually have to work hard initially to extract ourselves from the distractions that surround us. Take a day with no cell phones, iPods or Pads, where we can get re-acquainted with an old best friend called our own souls. Have a technological Sabbath.

This can also be a wonderful time to get together with friends, not just by putting on a way-too-much-work party, but spending time together one-on-one. Our children (even adult children) thrive on this one-on-one time with us, and so do our friends. Reconnecting with these people helps us reweave the net of community that supports us, and lets us contribute to that web of support as well.

Create your own personal retreat.

Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite

Retreat

Take time for yourself however you can. Give yourself permission to. Set aside not just a couple of hours, or just one day, but instead mark your calendar for some self-reflective, get-away time more than once. Pull back from everyday obligations, asking for help to do so if need be. You may find that you even need a complete change of scenery, whether it is a local park, a coffee shop or a weekend or two in a cabin “away from it all.” Stretch, unwind, get a massage, hike in nature, breath deep. Don’t permit your “gremlin” to accompany you.

Review

Bring your old calendar, your laptop, your journal, pen and paper, or whatever works for you to look back over the old year. Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t let irrational guilt get a foothold and grow in this quiet time. Be honest with yourself and look for the SDB’s (self-defeating behaviors) that slowed you down or held you back. Look for the missed opportunities and the overlooked resources that you did not make use of. Hindsight really is 20/20, unless you let your “gremlin” do the looking for you.

Renew

Give yourself permission to recover from stress.

This can be a time for replenishment, for re-charging your worn-down batteries and resupplying your energy. In the bestseller The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-schwartz/the-way-were-working-isnt_b_574039.html) the point is continually made (and hard evidence cited to back it up) that our biggest mistake is not experiencing stress in our lives, but not allowing ourselves adequate “volume and intensity” of recovery from it! We function best with rest and renewal. This means not only adequate sleep, but also reconnecting with what renews our own spirit and sense of self. One of the greatest ways to improve self-esteem is through creative self-expression. This can be a time to reconnect with hobbies long neglected. It can also be a time for our renewal through contact with the natural world, where we are merely another creature in the ecosystem, instead of an asset pursued by a busy world.

Rewrite

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau

The time to rewrite your script is right now. Plan & coach for the new year now, not in January! Realize all the choices you truly do have. Envision the year as you would like it to unfold. Determine what has to change about the way you are living your life currently in order to actualize that vision. From that create a real plan to move forward with it.

Select areas of your life you’d like to improve, where you’d like to grow. Look at the year coming and list the opportunities that it contains. How can you make the best use of them? Look at the barriers you can already anticipate and begin looking at strategies and resources to help you find your way through them.

Avoid simply creating a gigantic “To Do” list. Building a huge list of things to accomplish is like creating an overhang of stress ready to crash down on you like an avalanche. Your tendency will be to simply stay off the mountain! In other words, when you create a daunting “list” the safest route is to avoid working on it at all. As an old friend, and stand-up comedian, once said about priorities, “If they’re priorities, there can’t be very many of them. Otherwise they’re not priorities!”

We can’t anticipate everything in the year ahead, but we can consciously plan (see “conscious calendarizing” in my book Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change (http://www.amazon.com/Wellness-Coaching-Lasting-Lifestyle-Change/dp/1570252211/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321300279&sr=8-1) to include the downtime we need. Plan to take those vacation days. Plan on days for rest and renewal, replenishment and relaxation. Include that in your list of “accomplishments” at the end of this next year, and be well!

Please add your comments, ideas, here to enhance the experience of all readers. Thank you!