Mental health is a cornerstone of overall health. Since the coronavirus started sweeping across the world, fear, worry, and uncertainty have dominated the emotions of people of all ages and backgrounds.
While some health and wellness coaches may have a tendency to focus on what actions we can take to improve the physical signs of health, mental health is also an important aspect of overall well-being that health coaches need to consider.
Based on recent data, it is likely that many of your clients are likely experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. While you should always refer serious cases of mental health to licensed mental health professionals, it is important to be prepared to integrate a focus on mental health within your teachings and programs.
To get you started, here are five ways you can help your clients with COVID-19-related anxiety.
The Role of Mental Health in Overall Health
According to the World Health Organization, health cannot be defined by the absence of illness; instead, health is defined as a state where a person has complete physical, mental, and social well-being.
As health and wellness coaches, you live this out daily.
What Can Health and Wellness Coaches Do to Support Their Clients’ Mental Health?
Health and wellness coaches have a unique opportunity to be a support to their clients during
stressful times. The time you spend with your client may be the only time in the day they have set aside specifically to think of and talk about their health.
If you are coaching clients during a pandemic, it is not unlikely that you are coming across clients who express feeling stress, anxious, or depressed more often than you had in pre-pandemic times. Moderate levels of stress and anxiety are normal, and, in most cases, they are manageable.
The Health and Wellness Coach Toolbox for Fighting Stress and Anxiety
In no way should coaches take the place of mental health professionals. They should, however, keep in mind that their coaching methods and knowledge make up a toolbox that can help clients cope, manage, and reduce moderate levels of stress and anxiety.
- Grounding them in the now: Your holistic vision of health gives weight and importance to their lived experiences. Remind them that many of the emotions they are feeling are normal responses to a pandemic and help support them to cope with these feelings.
- Goal setting and motivation: These give your clients something to look forward to and to get excited about, which can help break up the monotony of social distancing and sheltering in place.
- A sense of achievement: In the midst of uncertainty and restrictions, many people are grieving lost experiences, canceled events and vacations, and, potentially, a loss of income. When you congratulate your client for doing things around the house amidst challenges (doing the laundry, replying to emails, taking time off for self-care, and even taking steps toward their health goals), it can offer your client a sense of achievement.
- Concrete stress-fighting tools: As health, nutrition, fitness, and wellness coaches, you have the knowledge coupled with concrete lifestyle tools that could help clients fight off stress and anxiety.
- Exercise: Research shows that people who carry out regular exercise and physical activity are less likely to experience chronic stress.
- Mindfulness practice: Activities like tai chi, yoga, and meditation are all clinically proven to help people manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Diet: A balanced diet and a healthy weight are both correlated with lower levels of chronic stress.
- Rest and Recovery: Getting enough sleep and taking time to decompress are equally important to actively doing the things mentioned above.
AFPA has created an entire guide to helping your clients cope with COVID-19. You can download the free coach guide here.
5 Ways to Help Clients Fight COVID-19-Related Anxiety
Here are some concrete ways you can help your client fight the stress and anxiety they might be feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remind Clients that Stress Is a Normal and Healthy Response to a Pandemic
As health and wellness coaches, it is important to remind your clients that stress, anxiety, and sadness are a normal response to a health crisis like the pandemic.
Not only is anxiety a normal response, it can even be healthy. From a biological perspective, stress is required for us to adapt, develop, and respond appropriately to new situations.
If your clients didn’t feel stress or anxiety about the risk of developing the coronavirus, they wouldn’t feel the need to adapt their behavior to protect themselves.
In other words, they wouldn’t feel the need to follow CDC guidelines to keep social distance, wear masks, wash their hands frequently, and avoid touching their face. As a result, they would be much more at risk of catching COVID and passing it along to others—which is clearly not healthy.
However, stress is productive and part of the human adaptive response only up to a certain point. When it starts to affect your clients’ ability to be productive, negatively affects their immune system, and stops them from being adaptive, it is a good opportunity for you to step in and offer resources.
The curve below is a visual representation of what is called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. To use it in your coaching practice, follow these suggestions:
- Use it as a tool to help clients bring a sense of awareness to their feelings and emotions as a result of the pandemic or anything else.
- Explain how stress is healthy up to a certain point and can even improve performance.
- Point out also that, even past the “peak performance point,” those feelings are normal and expected responses to intense and traumatic experiences that result from a pandemic or other situations.
- In most cases, acknowledging their emotions and actively working to cope with those emotions can be beneficial.
- Use the knowledge you have built up in your coaching toolbox to help your clients cope with stress.
As health coaches, you can help offer tools that will help them cope with manageable symptoms before they reach burnout and breakdown.
Important note: Don’t expect your clients’ feelings of stress to disappear after exercising, meditating, or eating healthy. The pandemic is ongoing, and the near future continues to be uncertain. The most important thing is for you to help your clients acknowledge their feelings and for you to be a healthly support to your clients..
Offer Tools to Help Clients Take Care of Their Bodies
As a health, wellness, and nutrition coach, offering tools to help your clients take care of their bodies is your specialty. Here are some ideas for how to get started:
- Help clients create a plan to exercise regularly. Remember that shorter workouts and plans that allow for flexibility can be just as effective as structured workouts.
- Build a meal plan that includes foods that are easy to prepare and store-bought to help clients eat healthy, balanced meals that are rich in nutrients and won’t add to stress.
- Devise a strategy that will allow them to get plenty of sleep and downtime.
- Remind them to be mindful of alcohol intake and substance abuse and to seek help when necessary.
Teach Them Techniques for How to Combat Stress and Anxiety in the Moment
If your client has moments of feeling overwhelmed, they can try research-backed techniques, including breathing techniques, physical exercises, visualization, and meditation.
We’ve developed a guide for how to reduce stress levels in two minutes. It combines breathing techniques and physical exercises and has an accompanying infographic, which you can use with your client as a guide.
Stay Up-To-Date with the Facts
As a health and wellness coach, you are part of your client’s primary health support team. They may come to you with concerns and questions about COVID-19. Being able to give your clients answers can help combat some of the uncertainty that can aggravate stress and anxiety.
That being said, coaches, as well as clients, should set boundaries with how much time is spent consuming information about COVID-19. If you feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you are taking in, and if it is contributing to your own levels of stress, set clearer boundaries regarding how much time you are spending reading the news.
Know Where and How to Get Professional Mental Health Support
Your client’s mental health needs may extend beyond your expertise. If your client has expressed an extreme lack of motivation, has shown signs of self-harm, or has trouble carrying out daily tasks, talk to your client about seeing a mental health specialist.
Remember that seeking support from therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists is still a taboo for some people. So, it is important to communicate to clients that seeking support is a healthy step to work toward a sense of well-being.
Refer to the AFPA Coach COVID-19 Resource Guide to help build your knowledge on this subject.
If you want to dig even deeper into how you can be a good support to your clients, here is some more information about how to help your clients cope with stress.
By getting certified in yoga through AFPA, you can gain a deep understanding of the principles and practices of yoga, as well as the practical skills needed to teach and lead classes with confidence and competence.