Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Can Stress Become a Postive Force in our Lives?


Stress is generally seen as the bad guy in today’s busy world.  The belief that we have not got the resources to handle what is on our plate, creates stress!  Note – the belief.  Stress can make certain health problems worse and there are many downsides of prolonged, untreated stress.  But let’s get back to this idea of “belief.”

Stress is very personal.  What creates pressure and anxiety for one person might be the minimum level of responsibility needed to motivate someone else to get out of bed in the morning!  We are different by nature, experience and genetic make up, but understanding more about what causes stress and how we can control it is a great step to harnessing the energy we can get from this powerful “force”.  And it is a force – the fight or flight response that is created from being under stress also creates energy.  Perhaps it appears as negative energy, but can we turn it into something positive?  How can we make ourselves more “stress-hardy”?  Perhaps by understanding the positive that can come out of the stress response.  The fight or flight response is not the only one that can be activated.

At times, the tend and befriend response comes about with the production of certain hormones such as oxytocin that can be released in situations when we feel the need to reach out to loved ones, or strangers, to comfort them and increase our social contacts. This is often seen after tragic events have hit a community and this very connection reduces stress and can assist in recovery.

But we don’t need extreme events to try and turn our mindsets to believe that we are able to handle stress and in fact, can benefit from it.  Some of the following are useful exercises for us to try out:

  • When we notice our heart rate increase before a stressful event, realize that this is happening so that we have more energy to complete the task and use this energy to perform.
  • Ask yourself, “Are nerves caused by the fact that what you are about to do is really important to you?”  Does this situation have value in your life and therefore provide meaning?
  • When stress rears its head, acknowledge it then turn your focus to the task at hand.
  • Is your stress due to the fact that you are setting unrealistic expectations around what you can complete in a set time (day/week etc.)?  Change your deadlines and to-do list so that they are more realistic and you can think clearly about one or two things instead of feeling overwhelmed by an undoable list.
  • Switch your attention to someone else. Do something kind for another to get out of your head.  You will feel differently about your workload.
  • Ensure that you have good social networks.  Communities support each other and caring creates resilience.
  • If small events stress you, like having to wait on the phone for someone, remind yourself why you are doing this – is there a larger purpose?  Are you gaining information for something that has importance in your life?  
  • Question why you are feeling stress and look for positive aspects.   Is it making you stronger, are you feeling energized?  Are you connecting with others?  Are you feeling alive?
Once we start to see stress as merely a challenge that can help us grow, then we can learn to view it a different way and do just that – grow from it!

If you want to learn more about this interesting area, we have a full module of learning with comprehensive information and tools to use. To learn more about our Understanding Stress for you and your Clients course, CLICK HERE.

References: Healthbeat, October 2017 Harvard Medical School
The Upside of Stress, 2016, Kelly McGonigal

When Positivity Doesn't Fit with Wellness Coaching




As Wellness Coaches we work with our clients using principles of positive psychology as often as we can. Yet there are times when asking clients to “look on the bright side” is inappropriate and it is of more value to help them explore the not so pleasant emotions they may be feeling.  There is a phrase known as “the tyranny of happiness”,  which is referring to the potentially harmful habit of always assuming that positive thinking should be the end goal, which may cause us to enter into a trap that ignores the reality of life.   Instead, Susan David encourages us to develop emotional agility, which she defines as “the process of being with the fullness of human emotions”.  It is anticipated that by 2030, depression will be ranked number one in the list of illnesses.  It is essential that we take preventative measures by learning how to manage the sad parts of life. 

When faced with dealing with negative emotions it is important to remember that our thoughts and the stories that we tell ourselves, are just that –they are not facts and not who we are.  
To help our clients work with their more distressing feelings, we might follow these steps:

SHOW UP

Drop the “should” and “shouldn’t” suggestions about our emotions.  We often fall into the trap of thinking, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”, which adds more pressure and layers further negativity on the situation!  Instead, don’t push them away and don’t judge them.  Accept them for what they are.  Think of them as “data” not “directions”.  

STEP OUT 
Move away from the emotion itself and step outside, observing them from a distance. Finding a name to describe the feeling is a great way to start this process.  Notice what you are feeling and separate them from your sense of self.   “I am noticing that …. “, “I am having the thought that….”  Hone in on the exact feeling and perhaps look for alternative ways of describing it.  Is it stress?  Is it frustration?  Is it disappointment?  

So rather than ruminate on their sadness/anger/distress, we can help our clients to work in a more productive and less destructive way when bad things happen -  which is inevitable.

We sometimes talk of counseling as following “the trail of tears” whereas coaching follows “the trail of dreams”.  Yet, tears are as important as joy and laughter and can teach us a lot about ourselves.  


Reference:  Susan David, Emotional Agility

The Tail of a Wild Dog


It's February!  How did that  happen we ask ourselves?  Weren't we just looking at the first page of our fresh and new diary, thinking what a glorious feeling it was that the year had yet to unfold and what possibilities lay ahead?


Then suddenly, it's February.  I asked a colleague how her week was going the other day.  She responded with, "I feel like I'm hanging on to the tail of a wild dog!" That made me smile as I recognised the feeling.  And I know for a fact that I am not alone.


So why is this one of the most often cited reasons for people feeling, well, less than perfectly in control?  This sense that life races ahead and unless we hang on tight, we get left behind. I have two Labradors. On our morning walk to the park, they are also like wild dogs. After a run, they are calm, well-behaved and willing to be gently led to the next activity.  I want my life to look like that. Calm, obedient, good looking and satisfying!


We could list the many reasons why life today is this chaotic and demanding.  Technology; expectations (our own and others), distractions and multiple roles to mention a few. We need to manage time better. Or do we? Perhaps managing priorities and even our energy is a better place to start?  

Priority Management

How often do people say, "I have no time to exercise"?  Of course, they do.  It's just that exercise is a lower priority than the other things in their life.  And we all have that choice.  If we ask ourselves the simple questions:

What do I want more of?

What do I want less of?

The answers will be revealing.  The things that get in the way will be competing priorities.  What counts is  how much you want that missing aspect of your life.  How  much do you value it?  Worth spending some time thinking about that.


Energy Management

Then there's this question of exhaustion, or simply feeling too flat to be bothered. Try asking:

  • What gives me energy and what drains me?

    When am I at my best? 

With a bit of careful planning it is possible to organise our day so that we play to our strengths. If you do you best thinking in the early morning make sure you have a way to record your ideas. If your energy is low in the mid afternoon, perhaps plan to do mundane tasks that don't require much thought. Or find a way of boosting it by slotting in exercise at a time that gives a flow on effect. Don't leave the things you hate doing for the time you feel the least motivation to do anything! Take time out to work out how your natural energy flows.


Time Management
We can't make 24 hours any longer than it is.  But what we can do is ensure that we get the maximum result from the time we spend on a task/project.

Mind Management


To do this we have to organise our mind rather than live to the clock.  Margaret Moore writes of the six Rules of Order in her latest book "Organising your Mind, Organising your Life" and she stresses the need for developing the ability to focus and cut out distractions at appropriate times.  On the flip side, we also need to cultivate the ability to switch tasks without getting flustered and annoyed.  Very often our emotional state prevents us from being at our best and neuroscience shows that our thoughts can in fact calm the pre-frontal cortex - the part of our brain that  produces emotions that can sweep us along in a positive, or sometimes negative way.  Panic, anxiety, frustration all work against our working in a  relaxed steady state.  If we can start to recognise what patterns we fall into that make that dog run (the one we are trying to hold onto), we can then begin to retrain our brains and regain control.

Wellness Coaching is a rapidly growing field


Contrary to what people think, poor lifestyle habits do not stop at what we ingest, whether we move enough and what tine we go to bed.   Instead we are working with people at a deeper level to help them be more better performers, have more peace of mind, improve the quality of their relationships etc.  Together we set not only physical goals, but mental ones as well.  Exercise, nutrition, managing thoughts and emotions become the tools to create change and much of our work focuses on helping people work out what they want and why they want it and then understanding  why it is difficult to achieve.


This realisation is spreading through the health, fitness and wellness industries and very quickly into the corporate world where the main measure of success has always been financial return on investment.  What is happening now is that companies are recognising that what goes into creating this success is a multitude of factors, many of them concerning the people who work in the organisation and their level of satisfaction or "wellness".  



The Purpose and Pleasure Principle


Are you driven by Purpose or Pleasure?

We constantly refer to “wellness” or “wellbeing” as being something more holistic to strive towards than simply “happiness”

If we ask people what “wellness” means to them we will often hear terms such as “physical health”, “mental health” or “balance” in their response.  Let’s assume that optimal mental and physical health is a desirable state to work towards.  So how do we achieve that? 

If we look at physical health, it somehow seems easier to identify the changes we need to make.  After all, we can all tell when we are “unwell”.  Improvements in strength, fitness, flexibility and body fat levels are all frequently cited as being good areas for focus if we are to become more physically “well”

But what about mental wellness - closely aligned or some might say interchangeable with “emotional wellness”?  Now that’s more difficult to define. Apart from the more serious and debilitating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety that so many people struggle with these days, there are less severe levels of “disquiet” or “discontent” that we might experience that are often hard to put a cause to, other than the fact that our lifestyle seems to be out of “balance”. 

So what needs to be balanced better?  A few places to look might be:

  • Time we spend at work and at home
  • Time we give to others and time for ourselves

A closer look at these two might reveal some discrepancies between what we value and what we do.  There are many ways of categorizing where our issues arrive and a common one is Work/Life balance. (Interesting that the phrase implies that Work is the opposite to Life!) So here’s another slant - Does our orientation lie closer to seeking purpose or pleasure?  I recently came across a book by Chris Skillett called “When Happiness is not Enough” in which he puts forward the idea that very often, our lack of satisfaction with life is our inability to achieve a balance between the drive for pleasure and the drive for satisfaction. Let’s look at this more closely.

The purpose versus pleasure driver

We would all agree that experiencing pleasure on one hand and then experiencing satisfaction of achievement both contribute to feelings of wellbeing.   However, an excess of one over the other can lead to problems. Striking a balance between the two is the way to achieving a fulfilling life.  Think about it.  If we lean towards seeking pleasure continually we may well be drawn to a life of excess and lifestyle problems.   However, an excessive focus on achievement will create a different type of problem typified by the over achieving individuals who burn themselves out with huge working hours and a constant feeling of pressure to go after the next goal. 

But this potential imbalance can be experienced in other areas of life. 

What will dictate which side we lean towards is our value system.  When we can identify which our biggest driver is, we will soon understand what shapes our behavior.

Ask  yourself –

  1. When considering your overall life, do you tend to value the drive to achieve or the experience of pleasure?
  2. What does “personal growth” mean to you?  Is it about “knowing yourself better” or striving to be a better person.

We are often obliged to make decisions based on this balance between pleasure and achievement and we will find that we have a preferred style.

Consider these four lifestyles:

  1. The driven lifestyle – high achievement, low pleasure
  2. The stagnant lifestyle – low achievement, low pleasure
  3. The indulgent lifestyle – low achievement, high pleasure
  4. The fulfilled lifestyle – high achievement, high pleasure

Various stages of our life may steer us more towards one of the quadrants listed above more than the other. When we are younger the need to achieve may be more important - to set ourselves up and create a place in society.  As we age, our focus may shift towards enjoying the moment and the simple daily pleasures of life.

Ideally we will have balance of both of these in our leisure, our work and our relationships.  It is also easy to see how incompatibility issues may arise if we choose to share our lives with someone who has a very different driver from us.  The weekends may involve a constant battle between the desire of one, to “get things done” and the other “to relax and chill out”.  Sound familiar?

A workplace can also be geared more towards one than the other.  Does your organisation focus purely on KPI’s and achieving goals, or does the happiness and enjoyment factor of its employees figure into the equation?  Different industries may require different focus and different leaders may create different environments to suit their drive.

The important thing is to recognize how the two drivers influence our life at any time and to attempt to find a balance that works for us at any given point in time.   If we feel that our “wellness” is not at its best, perhaps a quick review of whether we are experiencing enough pleasure and satisfaction in all areas of our life would be a good place to start fixing things.  



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