Research Paper By Jodie Jensen
(Transition Coaching, UNITED STATES)
According to the Journal of Psychiatric Research, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the US has an anxiety disorder (McLean et al., 2011). The Healthy Place reports that women are twice as likely to be afflicted as men in the areas of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Specific Phobia (Healthyplace, 2011). In women, stress and worry leads to irritability, difficulty concentrating, impaired work performance and productivity, the inability to engage with loved ones and lowers the quality of intimate relationships (Women who Worry Too Much…Hazlett-Stevens, 2005; p.21-22).
Worry may be described as thoughts that are turned over and over without seeming to have an end. These thoughts seem overwhelming, take on a life of their own, and seem to predict unmanageable outcomes. Like a hamster on a wheel, time and energy is invested in these thoughts without being productive. Anxiety accompanies worry or may even be felt before a conscious awareness of worried thoughts. In some cases, the worry is the silent partner to creating unbalance and disturbance in a woman’s body. Worry, manifesting in the body as anxiety, frequently shows up as muscle tension, churning or knotted stomachs that may lead to digestive issues, pounding or racing heart rate, shortness of breath and increased perspiration (Hazlett-Stevens,p.16-17). The worry hamster may leave the wheel to invade your body with these symptoms but make no mistake, it’s the same animal.
Clients may report that worry has helped them plan for the future, kept them or loved ones safe, or even brought out their creative side. When in worry, a client plans for many angst-ridden possible futures yet rarely creates one that is positive or accurate. She may be consumed with concern over a safety issue or riddled with an anxious, roundabout thought processes that actually inhibit true creativity. Or perhaps, they’ve been able to use a skill or technique to conquer a worry before it becomes anxiety or a major concern on their own. It is helpful to ask your client to notice this in order to discover what coping mechanisms she’s been using that is working. By working with a coach, she can capitalize on that skill set more often and apply when necessary to conquer her worry quickly and efficiently.
The research has been divided into three areas where coaching excels in facilitating results for clients. The “Mind/What” section is devoted to ways to work with a client to change, shift and clarify their thought patterns. The “Body/How” section provides tools for utilizing the body to the best advantage in order to shift the thought process. This is also the action piece. Applying action to a new thought process brings clarity, further refinement and the satisfaction of setting and completing goals. The third section is “Spirit/Why” and is devoted to prayer, meditation and tools to facilitate connectedness.
With the understanding that worry is a state of mind, coaching can provide a client the perspective and tools necessary to change negative thought patterns. A coach works with their clients to challenge limiting beliefs, develop self-awareness and reframe thought processes. Denise Marek (2007; p.151-154) has a chapter devoted to challenging limiting beliefs in her book Calm. She asks her readers to question the validity of each of their limiting beliefs by asking: “Is this fact or an opinion?”(p. 153). This is a useful tool to challenge perspective. Long held beliefs have a tendency to be perceived as fact when in reality, they are merely opinion. With that information, it is possible for the client to release the belief that is creating or holding them in a state of worry. Room is created for incorporating new information. Both new opinions and new facts now have an opportunity to take hold and develop into a revised thought process.
In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie (1984) challenges limiting beliefs by stating,
Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. (p. 243).
Ask a client to stand firmly in “the now” and assess whether her worried projections have come to pass. In so doing, clients are able to recognize a thought process that is not serving them. With this refreshed perspective, they are invited to release that limiting belief system. Women have a hormonal response to fear that reinforces an avoidant way of coping with perceived threats. (Hazlett-Stevens, 2005; p.9-10) This response leads to creating worrisome underlying beliefs about their environment, success and the safety of themselves and those around them. Fear about the future is a large component of this worry belief system. Robert Holden addresses the role fear plays in underlying beliefs when he states that,
Fear is not in things; fear is in the meaning you give things. (Holden, 2011; p.120).
By working with a client to recognize negative belief patterns about how fear is disserving her, she is liberated to adopt a new structure that serves her and the surrounding community.
Worry cycles are provided fertile ground without self-awareness. A client may need a coach to ask powerful questions to bring out what role she is playing in her worried or anxious states. “Control is healthy if it means taking responsibility for your life, choosing your thoughts and being focused” (Holden, 2011; p. 146). Realistic feedback, role playing and mirroring are also excellent tools a coach possesses to support a client in claiming her independence over worry and anxiety.
Reframing and shifting perspectives allows a client to distinguish between “what is” and the worrisome, “what if”. Both Hazlett-Stevens and Marek invite their readers to reframe their critical and worried thought process to one of curiosity. When a client is involved in a worry cycle, the coach can invite her to take a step back and view the situation differently. Is this actually true? Is this always true? What could also be true? What thoughts would you prefer to have in place of worry?
When worry and anxiety have taken hold, sometimes a coach may need to check in with their client and see if applying action to gain clarity or distance may be necessary. Just by deciding to partner with a coach, the client has already taken action toward releasing her worried stress in order to claim a successful outcome.