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Health-Based Coaching: The Many Dimensions

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Negative stress is defined as anything that poses a sustained challenge or threat to our well-being. Conversely, positive stress is defined as anything that poses a sustained challenge which leads to new learning, excitement or an ultimate release of tension. For instance, we can find the climbing of a rock face to be challenging, but also exciting and highly rewarding—just as learning and mastering a difficult piano score can be a source of initial anxiety and later a source of personal pride. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this state of positive stress as a threshold between anxiety and boredom—and provides a label (“flow”) for the remarkable experience associated with the state when we are navigating the rock face or music score.

Of greatest importance for the health-based coach is the role played by positive stressors as motivators for change and guides for movement towards a more harmonic state of wellness. We recognize while on the rock face that some time each week needs to be set aside for exercise and outdoor experience—whether it is climbing the rock face or running five miles. While playing the piano, we come to recognize that it is important for us to take care of our health if we are to continue enjoying the music. We seek out “flow” and recognize that life is worth living in health. We want to frequently find flow in our work, our family and our time of re-creation—so we try to remain healthy.

As health-based coaches we can offer an even more expansive framework regarding stress. While stress is often referred to as a negative factor, it is an essential part of our life. Without any stress, our lives would be boring and would probably feel pointless. We would be living at one end of Csikszentmihalyi’s spectrum: boredom (and stagnation). However, stress that undermines both our mental and physical health resides at the other end of Csikszentmihalyi’s spectrum: anxiety (and overwhelm). Anxiety-filled stress is considered negative, while flow-filled stress is considered positive – an important discrimination to be made by a health-care coach when helping their client “manage his ‘stress’.”.

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