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

Can We Really Change How Happy We Are?


I have often pondered the question of whether happiness comes purely from within.  Not that I believe that we can find joy in life by focusing purely on external “things”,  but I have recently been convinced that happiness comes from both within and without – internal and external factors.

We now know that our genes play a part in how happy we are.  We have a genetic predisposition to look at things in a positive light or a negative light, or somewhere in the middle. We have a default level of happiness.  A landmark and often- quoted study found that people who won the lottery and those who became paraplegic within a year, on average, returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness. 

The reason for this is the “Adaptation Principle” which states that humans are susceptible to changes in certain life conditions, but not to their absolute levels.  To explain - a person who suddenly has an increase in wealth will be excited by the change, but in time will become used to having a bigger house, more expensive car and other luxuries which have become the new “norm”.  

Now the notion of increased life satisfaction is of course more complex than this.  Gerald Haidt, in his “Happiness Hypothesis” proposes that: 

H = S+C+V.

Happiness (H) is a sum of our genetic set point (S), certain conditions (C) of our life that are relatively stable (ie level of wealth) and those voluntary activities (V) that we choose to do that we know will increase our levels of wellbeing.

But what is interesting is the fact that there are exceptions to the “Adaptation Principle” which again, suggests that we will adjust and become used to certain conditions that are relatively fixed in our lives. For example, living in a cold climate, having physical disability or a level of power, are things that we simply get used to and adapt to.  They do not continue to influence our levels of life satisfaction.

Interestingly though, Haidt states that there are five changes you can make that are not subject to the adaptation principles and may well make you happier in the long term.  These are:

Living with noise – people generally do not adapt to chronic noise – particularly if it is intermittent or variable. 

Commuting – traffic causes stress hormones and they do not reduce with time.

Lack of control – the human drive to be self-determining is extremely powerful and we do not adapt well to having it removed or reduced.

Shame in appearance – a person’s appearance may seem trivial in the happiness stakes, however, it has been shown that plastic surgery or other changes that make a person less self conscious or somehow deficient can lead to increases in self confidence and wellbeing.

Quality of relationships  - we never adapt to interpersonal conflict and it will eat away at our life satisfaction every day.

So it might be worth considering what voluntary activities we do that make us happier and also whether there are certain “conditions” of our lives that might be worth reviewing.  
Voluntary activities are many and varied and include things like exercise, mindfulness, spending time with loved ones, any time that positive emotions are experienced and things that really give us a sense of purpose of meaning.  And of course, the cream of the crop, those that give us a sense of flow.  

So our genetic make up does play a part, however, with study in epigenetics receiving more attention, who knows, perhaps we can also change our genetic make up and find ourselves looking at life with more of a positive frame!

Worth a thought?
  

A New Slant on Goal Setting


We always encourage coaches to work with clients to create positive goals that take them in the direction of what they want!  This fits with the idea of running towards, rather than away from things in life.  

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who had been at a conference on death and dying, with one of the speakers raising the idea of having a “Reverse Bucket List”. A very strange notion I thought - where does that go?  

The “Reverse Bucket List” consists of things that a person no longer wants to do!! Now that might mean saying “no” to a number of onerous tasks that drain energy and take precious time away from doing what we do want to do.  

It also might encourage our clients to take a good hard look at what they spend their time on - believing that they enjoy it and yet we come to the realisation that we don’t enjoy it any more!  

This type of “bucket list” can actually be very empowering!  Yes, it might be more meaningful to us as we get older and realise the value of the years left to us, but I think it's worth considering and playing around with. It’s really no different from asking, “What do we want more of?”, and “What do we want less of?” Try asking it of yourself and see what comes up! 

Happy culling of unwanted and unrewarding activities!


Two Words


The new year is well and truly on us and before we know it, we are into the swing of things and are now wondering where the holiday went. But most of us take some time, if only a moment or two, to ponder what lies ahead. What do we want for 2017?  Do we have new directions to travel in? New challenges to enjoy?  Notice I have not once said the word “goal”... Not that there is anything wrong with having goals, as long as we don’t get caught up in a mad rush to achieve them.  

What I prefer to do each year is to find two words that I can focus on that mean something significant to me at this point in time.  And I let those words “colour” my  plans and way of living.  So, for example, my two words for this year are, “Balance” and “Freedom”.  I won’t indulge myself by explaining what they mean to me, but I think you’ll get the general idea. 

So why am I sharing this?  Because I think it is just another creative way of working with clients at a time when most of them are busy, they've set new years’ resolutions (that often are broken by now) and planning to make major changes in their lives, which suggests that things are really not going well.  The reality is, we have all spent the last year growing, learning and experiencing a variety of things.  Hopefully, we have ended up with more information about what we want, what we don’t want and are feeling fairly clear after a nice rest and reset that Xmas and New Year can often give us.  Choosing two words keeps it nice and simple, creates a feeling of control and gives us clarity around what we need most. 

What are your two words?  How do they apply to your life?  How can you bring more of those two elements into your world?  Share this with your clients.  Have fun with them as you invite them to do the same. Spend time talking about what those words mean for your clients.  Coaching does not always have to be delving into the dark stuff.  There is always room for laughter and lightness; for fun and anticipation; for a sense of the unknown whilst feeling grounded in who we are and what we stand for. 

Go lightly into the rest of 2017 and make it a wonderful year. 

Why Measure Happiness?



We often use the terms wellbeing and life satisfaction in favour of the sometimes wrongly interpreted label of “happiness”, yet there is no getting away from the fact that happier people do better in life – on many fronts! But first, how do we measure happiness? There are two commons ways of measuring “happiness” – firstly, subjective wellbeing – people are asked about the degree of life satisfaction they experience and this is matched with a high level of positive emotions and a low level of negative emotions. This is more about a snapshot at any one time. The second way is of a more enduring measure – how much fulfillment we are getting from our relationships, how much meaning we are experiencing in our life and whether we feel we are developing as a person. 

So when we have this “score” what correlating relationships do we then look for?  Well, research has shown that happier people experience the following:

  • Greater productivity at work;
  • Greater creativity;
  • Higher earning and better jobs;
  • More likely to be leaders;
  • More satisfying relationships;
  • Better overall health;
  • More likely to be helpful and generous.
Sonja Lyubomirsky presented at a Coaching conference in September this year and emphasised that the research also showed that happier people tend to be more focused on others, and sadder people more focused on self.  We might question which comes first, for example, if we are not experiencing good health, then surely we will be unhappier.  However, Sonja described a study which exposed people to the cold virus (after measuring their happiness levels).  The virus was actually injected into their nasal passages. And guess what? The happier people were less likely to develop a cold. This gives weight to the notion that happiness is the cause rather than the effect of all these other positive factors.  

So we know that around 40% of our overall happiness can be influenced by the activities we do.  (The other 60% is either genetically determined – 50%, or linked to our circumstances.)  What are those activities?   Well there are many but here are a few tried and tested:

  • Express gratitude;
  • Be physically active;
  • Be mindful and savour experiences;
  • Practice forgiveness;
  • Set life goals;
  • Perform acts of kindness (make someone else happier).
The important thing also to note is that the activity needs to be a good “fit” for the individual. It needs to fit your personality, culture, and even strengths and what might work well for one person may not work for another. We need to remember this when working with clients and at times help them find the source of their unhappiness and come up with an activity that will counteract this.

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

Breaking dependencies by reframing the way we think about them!


Many people, when asked what barriers stand in the way to their wellness goals, mention things they do regularly, that have an addictive nature. Their language will often give away a sense of guilt, frustration or even shame. And as we know, when we feel this way, we are unlikely to experience readiness to change. 

If we looked at the two components – importance and confidence -  both might be low. Importance might be low as people tend to make their thinking fit their beliefs. (eg “I can’t change so therefore I don’t want to") and confidence will follow along with it. Some people may feel it is important to change but don’t feel they can do it – enter the guilt!

So what kind of behavior are we talking about here? 
Some common ones are smoking, drinking, eating, shopping (yes, shopping) and computer games. Smoking has been well documented and there are lots of programs and support groups for anyone who has decided to quit. Alcohol is the same. People frequently feel that they need alcohol in their lives, so much that they must be an alcoholic. Which then means they have to go to AA meetings and live their life without something that they really do enjoy. Now this might be the right decision for people whose way of using alcohol is slowly destroying their lives and potentially the lives of others. There are plenty of functioning alcoholics out there.  

But there are another group of people who feel that they rely on alcohol more than they would like to and have a sense of dependency which may not sit well with how they see themselves. We know these people. We hear about it in our client sessions and even in our workshops. “I would just like to drink less.”

We were very impressed when we came across Georgia Foster’s “Drink Less Mind Program” simply because she brought out into the open something that is often discreetly ignored.  
A lifestyle habit that can be controlled and enormous relief and freedom to so many people.  Georgia is a clinical hypnotherapist who has written a wonderful relatively low cost program that combines practical information, worksheets and recorded talks, with a series of meditative hypnotherapy sessions that help people explore how they can go about reducing their alcohol intake painlessly and quickly. And regain control.  And one of the most powerful elements of her program is that she helps people let go of how they see their habit, as not so much an addiction, but something they have the power and the choice to change! Simple.  

We felt that this program was so useful to deal with one of today’s increasing lifestyle issues that we have made it available to purchase on our website.

Whether you are a coach looking for ways of supporting your clients, or someone who would like to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink regularly, you will find Georgia’s program very helpful!  As coaches we use many tools to support our clients in lifestyle change and to improve the quality of their lives. This is one such tool.

click here to find out more about the The Drink Less Mind 7 Day Online Program where you can register and get started straight away!


Reflections on being a "Well" Being


Having just spent a wonderful weekend at the Noosa Sports Festival recently I feel inspired to write a few lines about the experience. 

You see the weekend was all about physical effort and challenge. I went along entered into one of the two cycling events, feeling a little concerned about whether I was really up for it!  Not that I was worried I wouldn’t finish, but I just didn’t feel I had the killer instinct that is so important to “do your best”. So my friend and I decided that we’d do it “for fun”.  And fun we had. 

Surprisingly, after comfortably riding our way over the 85k distance, stopping when we felt like it and having the odd conversation with people along the way, we still earned a respectable place in the finishers.

But what really struck me was that the focus on the physical effort and competition side of things was almost secondary to the mental satisfaction of the whole weekend. Once again, this idea of physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing merged together in my mind.

Whilst the effect of the (relatively small) amount of training we did for the race no doubt had a positive effect on cardiovascular fitness, the biggest buzz came from the mental and emotional benefits of the weekend. Enter our good friend Seligman with his definition of what makes a good life:

P ositive emotions. Yes we experienced plenty of those. Excitement, humour, awe at the scenery, elation and pride at the finish line.

E ngagement. No doubt about that. Focusing on covering the distance produced plenty of flow – the sense of absorption and absence of thought.

R elationships were strengthened with the people we went away with, the people we met up with and of course, the people we competed with.

M eaning. What was it all about? What value did I place on the event? Much more than I had anticipated. I had forgotten how joining in a community event like this creates such a strong sense of camaraderie and a statement about how physical fitness is such a wonderful thing to have.  Being outdoors and experiencing scenes of nature that I might not have seen otherwise, was another bonus. Testing myself to the small degree I did reminded me of the satisfaction that comes from having something to strive for.

chievement – no doubt about that feeling. It didn’t matter how many people were in front of us, there were plenty behind. And yes, passing riders felt much better than begin passed. The sense of satisfaction at having completed the distance, but more than that, having met my goal of having fun and not feeling wrecked at the end, were all immensely satisfying.

Just another example of how physical and mental wellbeing can be and should be completely inseparable.

Pleasure and Purpose


Well another year gone and where did it go? This is the time of year when stop to catch our breath and often look back to see what we did with our time, what major events occurred, what challenges we met and how we met them, plus do a quick glimpse at what the next year might hold. 

For my final comment for 2014 I feel compelled to revisit the concept of pleasure versus purpose orientations that Chris Skellett so cleverly defines.

In this last week, I have had the personal task of moving to a new house. (I still believe that moving is like childbirth and we only go back again as our minds have cleverly wiped the painful memories, thus allowing the human race to continue and the Government to collect revenue from stamp duty!) But back to the point. I woke to my new home and reveled in the amount of positive emotions I was experiencing in its comfort, location, outlook, size etc. and started to feel worried that this feeling might be temporary and quickly fade into complacency.

I recognised that this was the “pleasure” aspect of Skellett’s theory and how some people seek it out more than others. I then shifted my thinking to how much work there was still to do on the house and how much I was looking forward to the planning, designing and even the labour involved, and recognised that this was of course the balancing side of “purpose” that made “pleasure” easier to accept!

It really struck me then asked myself whether it was wrong to have to always balance out the two drives and realised that for me personally, the answer was probably yes, and that if I had a tendency to lean towards one more than the other, it would be towards purpose. Of course this can have a dark side when we forget how to unwind and forge on, intent on accomplishment  without taking the time to stop and savour the moment. 

I believe that moving to our new home has given me the gift of more opportunities to experience pleasure in terms of connection with nature, beautiful places to sit, and a relaxing environment and my aim will be to take full advantage of this privilege in coming months.  

At the end of the day, the equation is easy to see:

Pleasure + Purpose = Life Satisfaction (wellbeing)

And that’s what Wellness Coaching is all about. How balanced is your equation?  

Mood Tracking Aps: Support or Crutch?



In my own life, and in my coaching, I am a proponent of the importance of mindfulness of emotions in cultivating overall wellness. I often encourage my clients to practice awareness of their emotional states by checking in various times throughout the day to what they are feeling. In a recent session, a client challenged me with “there MUST be an app that can help with this”. Now perhaps I am a bit slow on the technology front- but I had no idea how MANY apps already exist for mood & habit tracking. So many, in fact, that I needed to seek out a good blog that would compare them all, and tell me which one was best for what. 

I came across a useful blog- cleverly entitled “The Quantified Soul” and after reading a breakdown of the pros and cons of each app, I decided to download one to try it out myself! Now to be honest, I have mixed feelings about the idea that one can create a state of mindfulness and wellness through responding to a prompt on one’s phone (or computer).  To me, mindfulness is something that takes a level of commitment to take the time to be present and tune into oneself, not a simple tick off of a long to-do list.  However, after having an app on my phone for several weeks now, which prompts me several times a day by asking “How are you feeling?”, I can say that it can be a useful reminder to take time out of the busy-ness of the day to notice what I’m feeling.   

The technology can only be as mindful as its user of course; it can also be easy to tune it out altogether, or to give a one-word answer without truly being present. Alas there is still no magic bullet for mindfulness. However, for someone who is genuinely wanting to begin the process of practicing mindfulness, and finds difficulty getting into the habit of awareness, it could be a useful tool. Or perhaps the traditionalists would say it’s a crutch of technology….I’m interested to know your thoughts….?



Lucine Eusani
MA & MPhil Conflict Resolution, RYT




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