Strengthening Mental Wellness During Difficult Times: How Wellness Coaching Can Help
Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, CHHC, Namaste Integrative Wellness Advisor
Reviewed by: Julie Wald, MSW, RYT, CEO, Founder and Chief Wellness Officer of Namaste Wellness
To say we are navigating difficult times is truly an understatement. The pandemic, social and political unrest, racial injustice, record unemployment, financial hardship, and fear and grief are contributing to elevated levels of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and despair in the US. The American Psychological Association has warned that the negative mental health effects of the pandemic will be serious and long-lasting. Stress levels are significantly higher now than in years past, yet coping strategies that have served us before might either be unavailable or insufficient.
New strategies and resources are needed that help bring people from a state of distress (headed toward true mental illness) toward the cultivation of mental wellness. This is a term we rarely hear, but one that will likely become more popular over time. It suggests that a healthy mind is not synonymous with the absence of mental disease. Rather, a healthy mind requires conscious cultivation of healthy physical and mental habits that support overall thriving.
Developing a lifestyle that supports mental wellbeing is not necessarily simple or easy, especially when we face numerous external obstacles. This is where the role of the Wellness Coach comes in.
What is a Wellness Coach?
Wellness Coaches work in partnership with clients to identify and work toward personally meaningful goals related to health and wellness. For some clients, this might involve improving fitness and eating habits, while for others it could involve addressing sleep hygiene or implementing new stress management strategies. Coaching can also focus on cultivating a deepened sense of spirituality or engaging in personal reflection to create purpose-driven work in the world.
Once the client sets goals, the coach helps facilitate the process toward achieving those goals, addressing obstacles and holding the client accountable along the way.
Did you know:
Coaches do not impose their beliefs or opinions on clients. They embrace the wisdom of self-determination theory, which asserts that individuals thrive best when they feel in control of their own lives, actions, and decisions.
Wellness Coaches are trained to be good active listeners, creating an empathic “container” for witnessing, reflecting upon, and being present with a person’s challenges and related goals. The coach creates a confidential and safe space built on trust and respect. While coaching is not a substitute for therapy or counseling, the unique nature of the relationship has healing value.
Wellness Coaches help clients get out of their own way. They help clients face their own ambivalence and resistance to change. When discrepancies between highest intentions and current actions are identified, that’s when internal obstacles can be addressed and overcome.
Coaches avoid instructing. Instead, they encourage clients to brainstorm resources and experiment with new practices in daily life.
Wellness Coaches are oriented toward harnessing and enhancing the client’s existing strengths and resources.
Wellness Coaches approach their work holistically and acknowledge the interconnected nature of mind, body and spirit. They understand that how we treat our bodies directly impacts our mental health, and how and what we think impacts our physical health. A Wellness Coach will recognize when one part of life is out of balance, preventing you from thriving in other domains.
In a pre-Covid world, when a client would reach out to see a health or wellness coach, they were typically seeking assistance with goals relating to health habits, overall wellness, fitness and exercise, weight management, healthy eating, stress management, or specific health issues that involve a lifestyle management component (Jordan & Livingstone, 2013).
Today, Wellness Coaches still address those domains but there’s an added urgency around building lifestyle habits that protect against chronic disease, weight gain, and infectious disease through optimized nutrition, stress management and movement practices. Many people want to shed the weight they gained during lockdown, and they want to know how to build a stronger immune system to better weather a viral storm. Many want to alleviate emotional or mental distress.
How can Wellness Coaches address the current mental health crisis?
Since health, sleep, nutrition, fitness, and stress are known to have a bearing on mood, anxiety, self-image and outlook, it makes sense that people have been seeking support from Wellness Coaches during this challenging time. In particular:
Wellness Coaches can help facilitate the development of stress management skills, including the use of guided imagery, meditation techniques, mindfulness, yoga, breathwork, and other evidence-based tools.
Wellness Coaches can help clients design (or rebuild) lifestyles that promote emotional health. Throughout the course of the pandemic, fitness resources and routines have been lost, eating habits have become dysregulated, and sleep schedules have become erratic. Wellness Coaches can guide clients back to a new normal that is health-promoting and stress-reducing. Exercise, good nutrition, adequate rest and sleep, and social connections are all essential to emotional health. Even small improvements in these areas can translate to measurable changes in feelings of anxiety and low mood.
Wellness Coaches can help clients identify a new sense of direction and purpose when their lives have been turned upside down. With careers derailed, schools cancelled and priorities overturned, it can be confusing and overwhelming to know where to turn and what to do. Wellness Coaches help clients to identify and articulate a “wellness vision” that addresses all dimensions of life, including new professional paths. Having a sense of direction and purpose improves health and longevity, which is why it is essential to a comprehensive wellness approach.
Wellness Coaches can help clients improve mindset using Positive Psychology. Techniques involving gratitude, savoring, service to others, and the identification and cultivation of personal strengths all have a dramatic impact on emotional wellbeing and one’s ability to bounce back after adversity.
How is coaching different from licensed mental health disciplines?
While there is considerable overlap between the fields of coaching and therapy or counseling, Wellness Coaches are not doctors, therapists or counselors and they do not diagnose or treat disease. (In fact, Wellness Coaches are ethically required to refer clients for additional professional support if they observe that a client is experiencing serious mental or emotional distress or that they may pose a threat to the safety or wellbeing of self or others.) The most important similarity is that “health coaches and psychotherapists both work with the art and science of facilitating change in their patients and clients” (Jordan & Livingstone, 2013, p. 20). However, there are many ways in which therapy and coaching are often characterized as different. For example:
Coaching focuses more on the future, whereas therapy often focuses on the past (i.e. traumas, difficult relationships, etc.) and how negative experiences have contributed to current challenges;
Coaching focuses on helping relatively healthy clients get stronger, whereas therapy focuses on alleviating suffering and addressing dysfunctional behavior;
Coaching focuses on the here-and-now, concrete action, and conscious thought, whereas therapy often dives into unconscious or subconscious influences and healing past wounds;
Coaching employs a partnership between equals, whereas therapists are often viewed as experts there to heal the client’s presenting problem.
Finding the right fit is important. At Namaste, Wellness Coaches are trained social workers and credentialed wellness providers, which helps to ensure that the coaching is delivered with a thorough understanding of human behavior and wellness practices and resources, as well as a commitment to ethical practice.
Conclusion: Coaching your way through tricky times
While wellness coaching is not a substitute for mental health intervention, wellness coaching can create a supportive relationship that promotes resilience and thriving. Many of us are struggling to feel well and strong amidst the pandemic and related tumultuous times. We must get creative, build skills, draw upon new resources, and find support when needed.
If you are finding it hard to navigate these times alone, wellness coaching may help you move forward when feeling stuck or get focused when feeling lost or confused. It can help you get clear on your priorities so you can take the steps needed to meet your goals. It will not make the problems of the external world go away, but it can help you navigate these challenging times with greater ease, resources, and confidence.