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!


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.

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


Ways to Achieve Mental Wellbeing


Today we celebrate World Mental Health Day, bringing greater public awareness to mental health education, awareness and advocacy. In the world of Wellness, if we believe wellness is the combination of physical and mental well being, then we need to address both to really live life to the full. 

There is a great deal of information out there on how to be physically well. We know that we have to eat correctly, exercise regularly, keep stress to manageable levels, get sufficient good quality sleep and hydrate.  Simple? Perhaps. Of course it’s never that simple because knowing what we have to do, is not the same as actually doing it. But at least we have an idea.

But what contributes to mental well being? 
The positive psychology movement with Dr Martin Seligman at its helm is all about answering that very question.  Five elements of well being have been identified and they include:

  1. Positive emotions – we need to experience at least 3:1 positive to negative emotions in day to experience a sense of well being and ward off the black dog.
  2. Engagement – we are engaged in whatever we do in our lives – be it personal or professional activities. Ie not bored or switched off or disengaged.
  3. Relationships – the most important factor in good mental health is having supportive, positive relationships in our lives.
  4. Meaning – we understand why we do what we do and have a sense of meaning around our daily routine
  5. Achievement – everyone gets pleasure and satisfaction from occasionally achieving something. No matter how small the achievement, it adds to our mental well being.
If you read that list above, how do you score on each factor?  It can be such a great awareness tool to do a “stock-take” and see if anything comes up for us that says “improvement needed here”! 

Barriers to Change - Achieving good health and wellness


I have always maintained that nearly everyone values good health and would love to have an increased sense of well being in their life.  Health is easy to define – perhaps absence of disease is the base level but adequate fitness and optimal energy are possibly the most representative of good health.  Simplistic I realise but indisputable.  

Wellness, however is something else.  For the purpose of this short article, let’s call it high life satisfaction on a daily basis, and good resilience, or the ability to deal with and bounce back from inevitable setbacks.  We also know that meaningful relationships, engagement in our work, positive emotions and a sense of achievement contribute greatly to this ideal of “wellness”.  Much of my work focuses on helping coaches to work with people to create a “vision” of what they want.  Ie to help them with the first step of imagining what their life could be like if they were to make changes.  This is valuable work and really the first step towards positive change. 

But then we have to look closely at the things that stop people from getting what they want.  The obstacles or barriers to change which come in all shapes and sizes but often are described as a “lack” of something.  So the next step is to work out how we can get more of the element that is missing – be it time, money, knowledge, motivation.  And this is where the work of coaching comes in.  I love the energy that comes out of bringing a group of people together and discussing the “Things that get in the Way” and watching their ability to brainstorm solutions.  A great coach or facilitator can witness this process and know that - provided the person who wishes to make the change is still in the driving seat – the support of others can spur that person on to action and positive belief in themselves.  I believe that addressing the barriers to change is the crucial and sometimes difficult part of any change journey.

I would love to hear what you feel are your barriers to positive change in your life?

Wellness and Wellbeing - What is this all about?


I frequently quote Dr Martin Seligman as his work is so closely aligned with that of wellness coaches, even though we approach our clients' well being often from a physical perspective. We are all trying to help them achieve the same thing - ultimately life satisfaction. 

If a client of ours managed to regain physical health, or achieve great fitness, although this would be a sign of progress, we would not feel that our real work was over if that person was dissatisfied with their life. So we cross from physical to mental to emotional all the time which often makes reflection on the new definition that Seligman has developed for Well being, or shall we say optional "flourishing". He refers to the five constituents of well being: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment/achievement (PERMA). Each one, he says, can be increased and improved on; each one is measurable and all can be taught.

PERMA is the acronym that is used. I would like to respectfully propose that this acronym be extended to PERMAP with the P representing the physical dimension. Now this is not to say that everyone needs to be in perfect health to be happy. This would be unrealistic. It is more about the need to focus on improving our health (and fitness) to be the best it can be under our given circumstances so that our energy is optimised. This would be more representative of what Wellness Coaches set out to support their clients in attaining. And at the same time, knowing the five constituents that Seligman has proposed are equally as important.

Am I perhaps stepping out of line and confusing the issue?  We'd love to hear anyone else's view.

Reflections on a recent visit to Boston


Coaching in Medicine and Leadership” was the title of this year’s conference in Boston. I headed over - spurred on my memories of my last visit two years ago when I came away fired up with new ideas and learning. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my last experience could be topped but I was about to be surprised.

After an informal catch up with the Wellcoaches fraternity I settled in for two days of intense listening and I wasn’t disappointed with the new insights the sessions gave me. Not only does the conference attract some of the best minds in  the fields of both coaching and leadership, but also the interesting thing was the way each session seemed to link into the others. 

You would think that by their very nature/definition, information on “leadership” might be somewhat different to information on “coaching.”  There is a long held belief that leaders are in charge and play a different role form an empowering, collaborative coach. Yet it was clear that times are changing and leadership in today’s world is different from what it was ten years ago.

The main reason for this seems to be the degree of uncertainty surrounding us all – not only in the economic climate but in the speed with which things are changing and developing across all industries. “The rules of the game are changing while the game is still being played” was one memorable comment made. 

So although I hope to draw on many of the wonderful sessions I attended and pass on some concepts – or my interpretation of them – in future newsletters, I will summarise what I feel were the main points presented at the conference.

  1. The models for leadership have undergone major re-modeling to take into account the business world of today. The four keystones of sense making, visioning relating and inventing, as presented by  Dr. Deborah Ancona  were strongly aligned to coaching terminology and indeed, principles.

  1. The importance of emotional intelligence in both coaching and in leadership were emphasized by Daniel Goleman (until now a name that I was familiar with from literature on EQ and whose ground-breaking ideas have long been respected by anyone working with people in coaching and counselling). He presented research that showed that EQ (emotional intelligence – put simply the ability to relate to people) rated far above “skills and knowledge” in making a good leader, an exceptional leader.

  1. The need for, and growing body of, research in health and wellness coaching is central to its growth yet the outcome measures of reduced morbidity will come after a long process of measuring things like confidence level, new behaviours, attainment of individual goals and life satisfaction.

  1. The frightening yet eloquent presentation by David Katz on just how bad the health of the US (and globe  brought the room to silence and then to its feet.  He brought it home to everyone that there was no such thing as “public”, just you and I and the other individuals affected by the lifestyle illnesses that abound.  He gave us hope that we could “sandbag the flood” and eventually turn the tide but it would take enormous and collective effort in changing culture. His speech should have been given for a presidential election campaign.  He would have won.  The issue he spoke of was one of the biggest problems the USA (and Australia) face.

  2. Neuroscience was a hot topic - not for its own sake but for the information it is giving us about the human brain.  The fact that our thinking brain and our feeling brain are so closely intertwined came up time  and again as did the notion that we are “wired for empathy” as our motor neurons fire in synch with the people we connect with.  And again, those many reminders that the body and how we fuel it, are inextricably linked with better brain power.

  1. The coaching “dance” is now being measured by comparing arousal of the sympathetic nervous system between coach and client as the session takes place. The clients that had the most parallel response to their coach, in physiological response, reported feelings of greater rapport.

  2. So many other great topics and speakers.  I came away,  if not feeling wiser and more effective by my attendance, with a feeling that I am so very lucky to work in a field that is gradually infiltrating many of the key professional areas.  Let’s face it,  if the key people in Leadership and Medicine are listening, who else could be?

Attending this conference also concreted my belief and understanding of  why the area of wellness coaching is suddenly getting greater attention from the corporate world.  In today’s environment, you simply cannot be a good leader without a) learning to coach,  and  b) taking a long, hard  look at your own personal wellness.  Gone are the days when the top people managed to ignore growing stress levels and enlarging girth measures; where work ruled and relationships came second.   We are all finally speaking the same language.

Open ears, Open hearts Open minds


We speak a lot about the future opportunity that Wellness Coaching has to offer Australians. In September, I was given the opportunity of speaking at the Australian Integrative Medicine (AIM) Conference last Saturday and it was an opportunity to take a close look at how tangible this opportunity really is.

The theme of the conference was “Bridging the Gap” and the aim of the AIM Association is to recognize and bring together health practitioners who use varied disciplines and methodologies to treat their patients. 

I have to admit I was expecting a fairly cool and possibly hostile reception - after all, wellness coaching is a new and unaccredited profession and the medical fraternity can have strong views on who is qualified to “help”.  Instead, I met a lot of people who really did have open hearts and open minds.

 

The very strong message that came across was that a change in public health would come by taking a united approach. Rather than working in silos we could (and should) work as a team to help people in a variety of ways– whether it was to manage pain, to end their lives with dignity, to stay well or simply to enjoy what they had. The shift is in the belief that there has to be a better way of doing these things than the old, cold professional approach that was more about control and delivering “prescriptions”.  Instead, creating rapport, showing empathy and focusing on the relationship as much as the outcomes were as important as the techniques and advice we were trained to give.

These are key principles that underpin wellness coaching and I felt very at home and thoroughly enjoyed my presentation to a room full of people who perhaps knew little about what we did but took only minutes to “get it”.

I spent the limited time I had there listening to people referring to naturopathy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine and many other “alternative” therapies  (known as CAM – Complementary Alternative Medicine) as being legitimate treatment methods.

Far from downplaying the need for evidenced based research and the need for continued growth in this area, the focus was on not so much fixing illness, but perhaps preventing it. As Dr Tim Sharp put it, “If we could cure the population of sickness in the world, would that be enough?”  I think not.   Yes we need to cure illness, but simultaneously we need to promote wellbeing.  Once again, there was recognition that the physical and mental dimensions are inextricably linked.

So how do we do this?  First, we start with an open heart.

To lay aside our professional status and expert knowledge that sometimes defines us takes courage.  Accepting that we don’t really have all the answers take humility.  I have worked with a lot of people now in wellness coaching workshops and love my work so much as the training predominantly attracts people with open hearts and open minds.  And who are humble.  I talk to a lot of very clever people. Clever in different ways. But the ones who embrace the coaching model have without exception a degree of emotional intelligence.

Now our training is accredited with ESSA, we will be seeing more AEPs (Accredited Exercise Physiologists). I look forward to working with this group of people and to helping them help others make positive changes in their lifestyle by using a collaborative, coaching approach. And when I am back in Melbourne in October, I also look forward to having other attendees of the conference in our workshop who wishes to learn more about what we do.  The ball is rolling and we momentum growing and together we are building a tribe.   I love to think that Wellness Coaching is part of the movement that will change the world by breaking down our barriers and helping us support each other through caring, better communication and above all, relationship.

If we can all open our hearts, open our minds and open our ears and take a similar approach to AIMA we would make a bigger difference in healthcare. 

If we can listen to the ideas of others and accept that there is much to learn, we would gain power in using the strength of many. 

If we could empower our clients to take responsibility for change by working with them as coaches, instead of doling out advice, we would truly help them.

If I could provide my trainees with a T shirt it would say, “I don’t have all the answers but I have some really good questions.” 

And above all, we can learn to listen to the answers. 



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