In this essay we shall be focusing on negative stress—the kind that leads to disease. This is typically the focus of an early health-based coaching session: we start with what isn’t working or that which is threatening our well-being. Negative stress results from any challenge or threat to our homeostasis or sense of normal functioning—regardless of whether it is real or perceived. The response to this threat remains the same physiologically—whether or not the threat actually happens. Just the anticipated fear that the threat will happen is stressful.
A stress response is the body’s activation of physiological systems to provide a sense of safety and protection. Interestingly, this activation of protection can inadvertently cause the reverse effect and challenge our physiology—if it is regularly activated with intrusive threats. This activation is based in the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) and is directed toward restoration of normal functioning and eventual reduction in bodily alarm from the threat.
Chronic activation of the stress response can lead to wear and tear that eventually predisposes an individual to disease. When exposed to intense and unwelcomed stress we begin to feel powerless and inevitably vulnerable to a stress-inducing environment. We become not just stressed IN our personal life and work environment; we also become stressed ABOUT living this life and working in this environment. We believe (and feel) that we have no control over our life and our exposure to stress. In other words, we become stressed about being stressed. It is a vicious circle – a “double whammy.”
As a health-based coach we can be of great help to our client if we address two fundamental questions about stress: (1) Is stress always bad—when is stress a good thing in your life? And (2) when stress is harming you, what do you do about it? Following are some more specific questions that you, as a health-based coach, might pose to your client:
- What physical indicators tell you that you’re stressed?
- What are the primarily sources of your stress: internal (inside your head and heart) or external (family, work environment, physical environment, finances, life habits and demands, etc.)?
- What are your primary internal sources of stress: fear of failure, performance anxiety, generalized worry/fear of unknown?
- What are your primary external sources of stress: financial, relationship, family, death, moving, occupation change?
- How do you currently manage your stress?