Research Paper By Sarah Batiste
(Health and Wellness Coach, USA)
It’s been said that the grass is greener on the other side. There’s just no way it can be done. The deadline is Friday and you haven’t even started. Every day this week requires you to be somewhere else or attending to other things, your child came home from school feeling ill, Thursday’s dinner party got moved to your house, the office still hasn’t reimbursed you, and there are only nine days until Christmas. Talk about stress! Being stressed is a natural phenomenon that everyone experiences although everyone reacts differently depending on the circumstance. Some people use stress as a motivator, others feel overwhelmed by it and it decreases work output, and others yet experience such extreme levels of stress that they develop chronic illnesses. Robin Smith writes in her fitness blog that in reality, it is the way we react to stress that causes us pleasure or pain.1
How we react is a choice that we make either consciously or subconsciously. The good news is that we also have the choice to change how we react to stress and that choice can help us shift from negative repercussions to those that are positive. A life coach can aid in pinpointing the stress, the consequences of it, and help in taking appropriate steps to reduce it.
Research shows that stress can effect a person’s health positively, negatively, and in worse cases, critically – resulting in serious health issues. How does the body work in promoting a positive response to stress? The APA (American Psychological Association) states that this automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors [was] a way to protect them from predators and other threats. Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.2
In what ways can stress be beneficial? In Smith’s blog she talks about mental, emotional, and physical improvements1. Mentally, stress can help with creativity, intellect, goal orientation, and motivation. We see this in the effectiveness of athletes in clutch moments. The last few seconds of a basketball game sometimes fall on the shoulders of one individual as they take the last shot. Surely they feel the weight of this responsibility. Some people freeze and can’t perform, others play better under this type of pressure. Emotionally, stress can help with control of life, mood, relationships, and the experience of emotions. An example of this is how we react to emotions. As an event happens that causes the hormonal rush of stress, we can choose to let the emotion enforce us to react positively. Physically, stress can help with energy, stamina, ability to do anything, and body function. Running 21 kilometers on your own versus running in a marathon may produce different results. The stress that comes from being watched and competing give the body more energy and stamina to work harder and stronger than what might have been considered normal. As we see here, stress can be used in a way that is positive.
There are of course, many times in which stress has negative connotations. A majority of people probably put stress in this category as being the most common. Googling “symptoms of being stressed” will result in a list of symptoms taken from www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/s/hi-stress: mood swings or changes in your mood, irritability or having a short temper, an inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, a sense of loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. All resulting in negative effects. But often – like when you’re stuck in traffic – [stress] is a negative force
says the APA2. In her blog, Smith continues with how negative stress affects the body mentally, emotionally, and physically1. Mental effects include poor memory, inability to concentrate, low self-esteem, and inability to make decisions. A student taking an exam may struggle remembering the correct answers even though he was sure he knew them before after doing well on all the practice exams. Emotional effects include irritability, mood swings, problems sleeping, and ineffective use of time. Most people can relate to having problems sleeping when a stressful situation occurs. Maybe a fight with a friend or relative has them lying in bed replaying the conversation or there is a paper due that hasn’t been started. Lying in bed may be the only time the body has to relax and think about things, and since the stressful ones are priority, they keep the mind awake. Physical effects include a flushed face, rapid breathing, dry mouth, and migraines. The body reacts to stress in many ways and as these feelings come about, we can choose how to direct the feelings. Our body will produce the same hormonal shift but will we choose to push that towards positivity, will it slide to negativity, or worse yet, will it become an extreme case?
The APA says that multiple studies have shown that these sudden emotional stresses – especially anger – can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death. Although this happens mostly in people who already have heart disease, some people don’t know they have a problem until acute stress causes a heart attack or something worse.2
Other effects for extreme stress are classified into mental, physical, and emotional according to Smith. In the mental aspect, depression is experienced. The body experiences so much stress it literally shuts down into a depressive state. Physical effects are high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and ulcers. Being stressed and uptight consistently over a long period of time can indeed raise the blood pressure to a point that may lead to heart attacks. Emotional effects include being overweight, underweight, or involved with substance abuse. There are many people who turn to food when they are stressed or they stop eating all together. If they can’t control the stressful areas of their life, they take comfort in controlling what they eat. All of these are serious issues and are caused from a negative response to stress. But if how we react to stress is a choice then how can we make the choice to avoid these health issues? This is where coaching comes in to play.
A study was conducted in which a manager of a work team was coached over a six month period, inclusive of both telephone and face to face coaching. Along with many of the other benefits of coaching he experienced, upon completion of the study he reflected saying that the stress levels in the team [have] dramatically reduced and there has been very little sickness leave. This is despite the fact that 50% of the team have been dealing with significant and demanding personal life changing events that could have resulted in a serious and understandable depletion of effort and achievement.3
It is important to note that it wasn’t just the manager whose stress level decreased but those of his team as well. He also included the fact that many of them were busy with other day to day things. His work team wasn’t coached but somehow the influence of his coaching was carried across in a way that the team responded effectively to him, and better yet, with significantly less stress. I will go further to say that maybe the stress wasn’t alleviated all together but that they were able to deal with it more positively.
Coaching can help in many areas. One, and arguably the most important, is the coach can be a listener. They can be someone for the client to just talk to without needing to worry about an argument or setting up a defense. Most people have never had an opportunity in which they are the most important person and every word they say matters. Coaching offers a space for just that, and sometimes all it takes is the client speaking about what is going on and the feelings of stress begin to fade away.
Another way in which a coach can be beneficial is that they can become an accountability partner. Much of the time, people don’t feel the support they need from those around them. No one holds them accountable to anything so while the client may have a billion things going on, no one helps them stick to a plan. A coach can help the client organize those tasks, set priorities to them, and then be that accountability partner for each check point along the way. As the items get completed, the stress lightens a bit and the client realizes that success is attainable.
A lot of times we get stressed out and we are only seeing the situation one way. As mentioned previously, the way we choose to react will determine if the stress affects us negatively or positively. A coach can help a client shift their perspective in a way that they may find benefit in their circumstances. A student preparing to give a speech may find themselves nervous and stressed to a point of fear. They can be coached to acknowledge that they have something of value to say, their speech is really good, they may even practice a few times with the coach, and the perspective begins to shift as they build confidence. They still may be nervous to give their speech but the hormonal response from stress may serve as a benefit and fuel them as they speak.
There are many different things that help in causing negative stress and a client can be coached on the problem itself or how to react to the situations the problem causes. A coach comes in to the conversation without an agenda and a full toolbox. The first thing they do is listen. What is the client saying? What are they not saying? By asking questions the coach can help clarify the issue to what is causing the stress and they can identify how the client is responding to it. Then the powerful questions start as the coach guides the client on a journey to see what other perspectives there might be, all the while giving feedback and continually listening. The coach may choose to repeat back what the client has just said, which a lot of times provides an “ah ha” moment in itself. The coach may suggest a visualization exercise in which the client imagines a stress free world. What does that look like? What is different? What is the same? Who is their support? As the coach listens and learns more about the stress, they may choose to incorporate some Power Tools which offer shifts in thinking. Maybe there is an underlying belief and the client will be offered the choice of staying with this belief or picking a new one and then talking through the things that will need to be in place to support the new belief. If the old belief is chosen, then it will need to be acknowledged as a choice made. As the sessions progress, the client may become aware of the control they have over their emotions and can then choose to make significant changes which will progress them on their journey.
Stress happens to all of us and is a normal hormonal function of the body. How we choose to respond makes the differences between a positive effect, a negative effect, and an extreme effect which can cause serious harm to the body. A lot of people aren’t equipped with the tools that might be needed to make different choices than what they are accustomed to. That is where a coach comes in. Someone who cares, who supports the client, who wants the client to be successful, who guides the client on their own personal journey. Stress doesn’t need to be a bad thing, it can be a good, positive, and natural phenomenon in your life. Sometimes the grass is greener right where you’re standing.
1Smith, R. (2011, August 25). Positive and Negative Effects of Stress. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://fitnessforce.ca/2011/08/25/positive-and-negative-effects-of-stress/
2Krantz, PhD, D., Thorn, PhD, B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, J. (2013). How Stress Affects Your Health. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts.pdf
3The Ascentia (2005) Case Studies International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 3(1). Retrieved from Oxford Brookes University.