Stress

Feeling stressed is something we all experience from time to time. Perhaps a situation or event is causing stress, or maybe it’s our reaction to something that’s making us feel overwhelmed. Whatever the reason, stress affects us all.

For some of us, however, it’s a recurring problem that, over time, can seriously impact our health and well-being. There are lots of ways we can learn to cope with stress better, including developing emotional resilience and introducing more rest and relaxation into our routines, but sometimes we need support.

Here we’ll talk about how a coach can help with stress management, offering guidance and insight to help you cope with stress better. But first, let’s take a closer look at what stress is.

Understanding stress

Sometimes it’s easy for us to know when we’re stressed, but other times we may not even recognise that we’re stressed. This is because stress can manifest in different ways, often affecting us both physically and emotionally.

When we feel stressed, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline (types of hormones). This is how the body reacts to a threat and prepares us to be able to fight, run away or freeze (called the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response). In the past, humans relied on this response to deal with threats such as sabre-toothed tigers and other life or death situations.

These days, we tend to experience less life-threatening moments day-to-day but are instead faced with less tangible threats such as a bulging inbox. While our threats have changed and evolved, our brain’s response has not. This means the stress hormones still get released and we feel the effects, even if we’re not in a life and death situation.

If anything, our brains have become more sensitive to perceived threats and can go into overdrive. This can lead to chronic stress and conditions like anxiety.  

To help identify whether or not you’re stressed, look out for the following stress symptoms:

  • a sense of overwhelm
  • racing thoughts
  • anxious
  • difficulty sleeping
  • a change in appetite
  • snapping at people
  • difficulty making decisions
  • feeling tearful
  • shallow breathing
  • headaches
  • digestive issues
  • chest pain
  • feeling dizzy
  • muscle tension
  • feeling tired all the time
  • high blood pressure

Stress can affect us in different ways and the causes can vary. For some, it’s triggered by being under pressure, coping with a big change or lacking control in a situation. For someone else, a lack of things to do can cause stress or having responsibilities that feel overwhelming.

What’s stressful for one person may not necessarily be stressful to another. You may have a clear cause for your stress, or it may be a build-up of smaller things. This will all depend on our individual circumstances.

What can help?

There are lots of different ways to deal with stress and it’s important to find something that works for you. This may mean making lifestyle changes and using self-help techniques (we share some tips on this further down) or it may mean getting professional support.

There are different types of support available depending on your personal circumstances. If you’re worried about your mental health, seeking help from a mental health professional like a counsellor is recommended. If not, you may find it helpful to explore life coaching to see if this type of support is more suitable.  

How coaching can help with stress

The aim of a coach is to offer you a sense of space, reflection and clarity. When it comes to stress, the coach’s aim is to help you understand the root causes, rather than to ‘fix’ the symptoms. This is done through a series of conversations where the coach will ask questions to help you gain understanding, and offer insights or reflections you may not have considered.

Having someone unbiased and unconnected to any other areas of your life to talk to about stress can help you process your feelings in a safe environment, without judgement.

Those who offer stress coaching may also be able to help you come up with strategies and coping techniques to reduce stress and cope better with it when it arises. This may include learning relaxation skills, journaling techniques or even meditation.

Understanding what is causing you to feel stressed means you can change habits and behaviours that lead to the stress - for example, boundary setting and saying ‘no’ more. Your coach will guide you through these changes, offering support the entire way.

Sometimes, we can’t control what stressful events are going to happen to us. By working with a coach, you can develop your emotional resilience so you’re better able to cope. So often it’s not the event itself that’s stressful, but our reaction to it.

If you find the right coach, they will be able to help you deal with your anxiety or stress and feel like yourself again. Look for someone who is happy to have a chat and listen to what you have to say - rather than someone who is just trying to sell themselves. Ask how they might approach your situation.

- 'Can life coaching help with anxiety and stress?' By Rachel Coffey, BA, MA, NLP Mstr.

Coaching for stress - what to expect

Once you have found a coach you’re happy to work with, you can book in an initial consultation. This is often a meeting or call where you can outline what you’re struggling with and find out if you and your coach are a good fit.

When you’re both happy, you can start the coaching process. This will differ depending on the coach, however, typically it involves a number of conversations that either take place in-person or online. Throughout these conversations, you will work on uncovering the cause of your stress and work in ways to reduce it and manage it better.  

You may set goals for yourself and have particular areas you wish to focus on in each session. Your coach will be able to tell you more about the number of sessions you’ll have and how they’ll work.

When you come to the end of your coaching you can reflect on the progress made and make an action plan for how you’ll move forward without your coach. They may well offer thoughts and suggestions for self-help techniques you can utilise to continue the work from coaching.

I use the techniques I learnt to relax and further practise the ability to put to one-side situations which are not important - or need prioritising in order of importance. I have since become a much more content person, achieving fulfilment, self-value and restored self-confidence in my own ability.

- Read Jane's experience of coaching.

Self-help tips: How to deal with stress

Alongside and after your coaching you may be encouraged to try some self-help techniques to help reduce your stress. Here are some examples of what may be recommended.

Organise your time

Time, or the lack thereof, can often influence our stress levels. Learning how to prioritise and manage your time can help when you feel overwhelmed. Try setting clear boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no if you’re unable to attend an event or take on more work - your health should be a priority.

Ask for help

Delegating tasks and asking for support can help to lift off pressure you may be feeling. This could be at work (for example, asking your manager for support with a task) or in your personal life (for example, asking your parents to look after the kids one afternoon).

Step-up your self-care

An act of self-care is anything that involves taking care of yourself. This can be as simple as taking a shower or as extravagant as booking a five-star holiday in the Maldives. Spend some time considering what self-care practices you have in place and see if you could benefit from adding more to your routine.

Avoid too much sugar or caffeine

Having too much sugar or caffeine can lead to physical symptoms similar to anxiety (heart palpitations, feeling dizzy) and may exacerbate stress. If you’re having a particularly stressful day, try to lay off the coffee and sugar, your body will thank you for it.

Use relaxation techniques

Meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises can all help you to manage stress when it arises. There are lots of apps available to help you learn and it’s something you can come back to time and time again.

Get active

If you don’t currently do any exercise, now could be a good time to increase your activity levels. Exercise helps to reduce stress and improve overall health and well-being. The key to keeping it up is to pick an activity you really enjoy, whether that’s going for a walk or hitting the gym.

Make space for play

Try and incorporate fun into your schedule! Work and home life can feel very serious at times so it helps to inject a little laughter into your day. Watch a funny movie or plan a games night with friends.

Address your sleep routine

Lack of sleep can make stress feel more intense and difficult to deal with. Try getting more sleep by reducing screen time before bed and setting up a wind-down routine.

Take breaks

Make sure you not only take breaks throughout your day but throughout your month and year. Book in time off, schedule rest and if you can, plan some getaways. A change in routine can often feel as good as a rest.

Build a support network

Surround yourself with supportive people and turn to them when you need to. Spend time connecting with friends and family - talking about what’s worrying us can help us process how we’re feeling.

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