What is a Health Coach?
Health Coaches work with clients to help them achieve health-related goals, overcome obstacles, and make changes or shifts in their lives by providing guidance, tools, and accountability along the way. Stress can impact any area of our lives, and Health Coaches can work with clients to manage stress effectively so it doesn’t get in the way of their goals – whether working to improve relationships, start new careers, or improve financial well-being.
Stress is something everyone experiences, and it’s completely normal to experience periods of higher stress. But when stress becomes long-term or chronic, it affects health and well-being. Health Coaches are well-equipped to help clients break down the causes of stress and find solutions. So how do Health Coaches help, and when is it time to refer clients to see a medical professional?
How Health Coaches can help
Providing a safe space to talk
Whether a client is expressing concerns about relationships, talking through job issues, or working through frustrations with their health journey, coaches can relieve stress by simply listening. Health Coaches are trained to provide a supportive environment that’s nonjudgmental and unbiased, allowing clients the space to talk out their issues. This often helps clients realize the answers to their own questions and allows them perspective to see more clearly.
Identifying unhealthy habits
Unhealthy habits can lead to weight gain and increased blood pressure, as well as depression and anxiety – and all these things affect stress levels. The American Psychological Association asserts that stress increases unhealthy behaviors, and unhealthy behaviors increase stress levels – thus creating a vicious cycle.
Health Coaches are a great resource for people looking to break away from these unhealthy behaviors and replace them with healthier ones. Coaches identify where their clients can make improvements, such as in their diet, physical activity, or relationships, and provide clients with guidance on how they can make such improvements. Most importantly, Health Coaches keep clients on track so they can efficiently reach their goals and in turn decrease stress.
Being mindful isn’t just practicing yoga or deep breathing exercises, though these are often involved. Mindfulness can be applied to all aspects of life and can be incorporated into clients’ goals, whether or not they are related to mental health. Health Coaches help clients practice mindfulness by having them reflect on behaviors that are or are not working for them – this is the IIN core concept of bio-individuality in action: finding what works for the unique client! Practicing mindfulness has also been shown to decrease stress levels and heart rate.
How Health Coaches support clients to manage stress
It’s important to note that coaches are not therapists and are not a valid replacement for a therapist, especially if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or dealing with more serious mental health issues. However, Health Coaches are valuable resources for clients navigating stress that’s related to a specific cause, particularly if it is health and wellness focused.
For example, if a client is stressed because they are not meeting their projected exercise goals, Health Coaches can work with them to adjust expectations, encourage them to experiment with different types of workouts, or improve their nutrition before and after workouts.
Unlike Health Coaches, therapists treat mental health conditions and help people work through trauma and other issues. While working with a Health Coach may help clients deal with unresolved or underlying issues, they do not diagnose or treat mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or any other mental health conditions. Psychiatrists can legally write prescriptions for mood-altering and mood-stabilizing medications; Health Coaches cannot.
As a Health Coach, working with clients to achieve their goals is why you’re there – so how do you help clients work through the stress they’re experiencing? And how do you know when it’s time to refer your clients to a mental health professional? Below are three scenarios you may experience as a Health Coach.
Your client is experiencing high levels of job stress. They were recently passed over for a promotion they knew they deserved and now report to someone with less experience. Previously, they’d been very satisfied with their job.
As their Health Coach, you could offer several options on how to reduce stress as well as conflict in their professional life. You can offer conflict resolution strategies and work to improve your client’s communication skills. For their stress levels, introducing stress-relieving exercises and breathing techniques can lower their heart rate as well as relieve any other anxiety-related symptoms they may experience.
Your client has come to you seeking solutions for sleep problems. They’ve never really had an easy time falling asleep, and lately they’ve been suffering from insomnia that’s affecting their personal life and work performance.
As their Health Coach, you can first identify why they’re having trouble sleeping. Is their environment optimized for sleep? Do they use a phone or computer late into the night, interrupting their circadian rhythm? Work with your client to find out why they’re having trouble sleeping; then you can help implement better sleep hygiene to promote healthier sleep habits.
As you continue working with them, you can assess whether your client needs to check in with their doctor about sleep troubles.
Your client is going through a rough patch in a relationship and has come to you for advice. You can see they’re withdrawn and no longer seem to enjoy things they previously did. They don’t seem to be showering and have expressed dark thoughts.
As their Health Coach, you should recognize that these are all signs of depression. This is an instance to refer a client to a mental health professional. Working with clients on implementing self-care strategies for periods of stress is one thing, but dealing with the complexities and nuances of depression and how it presents should be left to a mental health professional.
The value of seeing a Health Coach
Periods of stress in our lives are completely normal. However, chronic stress can be damaging to health, and that’s where Health Coaches come in. Health Coaches work with clients to find the best ways to relieve stress from their lives, including implementing breathing exercises, improving and shifting their mind-set, and recommending self-care strategies. While Health Coaches can improve clients’ lives and are valuable members of the greater healthcare team, they shouldn’t be a substitute for mental health professionals; it’s beneficial for coaches to learn to recognize when a client should be referred to one.