Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

How to be resilient in uncertain and stressful times




Health and Wellness Coach and WCA graduate, Jason Nikakis from Vital Lifestyle Coaching shares his strategies on increasing self care and managing resilience in this current health climate.

As a health and wellbeing coach I help people build their physical, mental and emotional resources to meet life challenges. Over the last month I have been deploying all that I have learnt in the last 30 years of working in health and fitness. This has been identifying what is within my circle of control, taking action and calling on those resources that have me be as resilient as I can, in the face of uncertainty.

Some of you may already know that I have been amidst a family health crisis, with both parents currently in hospital, a wife that has a chronic health condition (reliant on immune suppressing medication) and the emerging uncertainty of COVID 19. I have had a few sleepless nights to say the least! I have also made it a non negotiable, to maintain and indeed increase my self- care behaviour, that has me be the most effective and resilient in these eventful times. 

Here I would like to share my top 6 strategies.

Keeping up my exercise has been essential.  I know that activity is my best prescription for managing stress. When in “fight and flight” having an outlet for my adrenalin and cortisol is essential from turning and acute event into a chronic health issue. We know keeping up exercise and a healthy lifestyle is key for managing chronic stress and it’s negative effect on our immune system. It also help me mange my mood, and allows me to think more clearly and stay solution focused. 

Maintaining “healthful” eating. Choosing foods that both nourish me and maintain health- whole foods, especially fruit and vegetables. When extremely stressed my tendency is to miss meals. Fortunately for me, my wife has been supporting me in maintaining energy and sustenance.

Mindfullness practice has been something that I have previously struggled with. Over the last 5 months I have made a conscious effort to develop a routine around mediation. What has worked for me is starting small and attaching the habit to an already existing routine. First thing in the morning when preparing my percolating coffee, I sit on my meditation stool and listen to a 10 minute guided meditation. My other strategy is to punctuate my day with a few deep belly breaths. I have also tried to link this to daily rituals, like brushing my teeth, washing my hands, or waiting for a traffic light. The benefit is that I can create some space between racing thoughts or tumultuous emotional states. This space helps me chose actions that are more in alignment with my values and gives me a sense of calm when sailing in a metaphorical stormy sea.

Maintain good sleep and restorative processes. During uncertain times keeping a routine is critical. Having good sleep hygiene and maintaining a constant bedtime and awake time is one thing I can control. Having some soothing activities that help calm a stressed and aroused state, has been important for me when trying to fall asleep. This is sometimes a hot shower, essential oils, white noise, guided mediation,  or an audio book/  podcast that takes me to a happier place.  

Do something that gives you joy. I am lucky to have an energetic and creative 4 ½ year old. There is nothing more delightful that seeing the world through his eyes. Lately building a rocket ship (photo) out of boxes and completing a jigsaw puzzle has helped me focus on other aspects of my life that are not filled with angst. If you don’t have a young child, try an activity or hobby that helps you reach a state of flow. I love to be in nature, however getting away is challenging at present. I am currently getting my nature fix by walking in the park, gardening and lying under my gum tree.

Connecting with loved ones and community. Even if you are unable to do this in person, getting on the phone or using technology like facetime or skype to share, all that is important and going on in your life. This is critical for all of us physically, mentally and emotionally. It also helps us remember that we are all in this “life experience” together and are part of a greater community.
 
Finally I always come back to this….
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”
 
One thing that is within my circle of control is choosing actions that are in alignment with my values.

At this time I stand for being: compassionate, caring, accepting, calm and healthy J

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

Barriers to Change - Stress...the biggie



By now everyone will be back into their regular routine I would imagine with work/home/personal/professional obligations rearing their heads after a more relaxed holiday time for some. And with this comes the start of that inevitable, if occasional, feeling of STRESS. At Wellness Coaching Australia we are often asked what we do. And of course, our main service is to teach health and fitness professionals how to use coaching skills to help people with behavior change that will get them closer to where they would like to be.  In many cases – the change they want can be life changing.  Better quality sleep may sound pretty unambitious but if someone can achieve this, it could well improve every other area of their life!  

As we reveal the “model” we use to help clients, we soon come face to face with the fact that  there are barriers to people getting what they want.  (This can be a slow journey as it may take some time and energy to help some individuals work out exactly what it is they do want!)  There are many different barriers to change but one that is mentioned increasingly often is stress.  So we have decided to develop progams that will help our coaches firstly help clients identify and overcome the common barriers (our BUSTING BARRIERS program soon to be launched) and secondly, have devoted a great deal of time in creating  a program focused on understanding what stress is really all about.  You see it’s not enough to simply address ways of “managing” stress.  Without knowing why we are experiencing it, where it comes from, what it’s all about, we really can’t manage it.   

There are many tools and publications out there to help manage stress. We’ve tried to approach it in a different way, recognising that stress, like anxiety, is not a one size fits all condition!  What stresses one person may not bother another, what works to reduce stress for someone may have little or no effect on another. So we’ve asked both coaches and clients to join us on a journey of ”Understanding Stress”. This is a self-paced distance program that includes a study guide and an audio version of the same which is listened to while watching key points on your device.  We ask you to do some exercises to explore each topic further with the aim of helping everyone come out with a much greater understanding of stress overall, and their personal experience of it.  It’s new territory for us but we are excited and satisfied to be addressing a “barrier” that in itself can be debilitating and certainly prevent many people from achieving true wellbeing.

find out more about the understand stress 6 week e-course

Stress is not the enemy


I have recently been writing a lot on the topic of stress for our new coach training module on Stress Management. I have poured through textbooks and articles for more information to present that will help us really understand what stress is all about, what causes it, where it comes from and how we react to it – and the damage it can do!  As always, we find that the more we learn, the more we find we need to learn about any topic under the sun. And I discovered something about stress that was – well mind blowing! This is it.

An extensive research project showed that when 30,000 adults were followed for 8 years and two things were measured;

  1. How much stress they experienced; and
  2. Whether they thought that stress was really harmful to their health.
The results showed something amazing. Stress was closely related to higher death rate – BUT ONLY if the people believed that stress was harmful to their health!  If they believed that it wasn't harmful, they actually had lower death rates than those people who experienced little stress!  

Like I said – mind blowing. And it is because it is all about what goes on in our minds. The simple explanation follows.

The stress response causes increased heart rate, breathing and constricted blood vessels – for those people who felt it was harmful. For those people who saw it as a positive challenge, the blood vessels were not constricted.

A stress hormone called oxytocin is released in times of stress. This hormone leads us to seek out others, to connect with those we love and to support other people who may need our support.  It makes us social!  For a reason. These are old survival adaptations when you think of it.

Oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from stress-induced damage. It strengthens your heart.

The more we reach out and connect with others, the more oxytocin we produce and  the more we will act with compassion and seek out others.

Stress isn't killing us. It is the belief that stress can kill us that is!  If we focused more on changing our thinking to believe that stress was a good thing instead of a bad thing and we would reduce the incidence of stress-related illness and premature death!

Stress is not the enemy. Our thoughts about stress are!


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