A coaching client approaches you with the following question: “I often feel tired and stressed come lunch time. What can I do to prevent this and finish the afternoon on a high?” As his coach, what would you suggest? Zahava Starak, LCI Master Coach, answers…
 
A good question since most of us who work in modern environments and often juggle roles of homemaker and worker can identify with this concern. It is important to consider the relationship between a person and their environment – both home and work – because an environment which is regarded as an ongoing frustrator can create a situation of chronic stress.
 
Although we are only exploring a specific time frame in which stress is a problem to the client it is still a good idea for the coach to take a holistic perspective and encourage their client to examine their lifestyle and see how aspects of it could be contributing to their lunch time fatigue.
 
A very useful way of identifying important factors in your client’s stress is called self-monitoring. This involves your client doing some careful self-observation and recording information in a notebook that can be easily carried and used. Whenever your client feels their distress level is rising, or when they have strong or prolonged bad feelings they can record the information. Information recorded covers: 

  1. Details of the situation including where you were, what you were doing and with whom;
  2. What were you thinking about the situation;
  3. How you felt physically e.g. relaxed or tense;
  4. How you felt emotionally;
  5. What you did and how it turned out.

For example, one entry in the stress log might look like this:

  1. Situation: at home in the morning, rushing to go to work, while the wife and kids have breakfast. 
  2. Self-talk: “I’m going to be late again: the boss will be sarcastic about it again and I’ll have trouble coping.
  3. Physical feelings: getting tenser by the minute, my daily headache is starting already;
  4. Emotional feelings: worried frustrated, fed up
  5. Behaviour: snapped at the kids and went off to work feeling guilty.

Once you know what the stressors are you can take action to bring about change. We are now in a preventive stage and your client can make adjustments in their physical environment, change their thinking patterns and introduce relaxation strategies. With these in place they have a good chance of combating the midday slump.
 
A change in the physical environment may be nothing more than adjusting the lighting or their chair the work space, or at home it may be a simple matter of painting the kitchen a brighter (or duller) colour and rearranging the furniture so that they don’t trip on books. With awareness of what contributes to their stress your client can take steps to change events.
 
For example referring back to the above situation, our client in this case can have everything that they need for work ready the night before – they can set their alarm fifteen minutes earlier and they can then have time to start the day with a relaxing breakfast with their family. This will contribute to eliminating their negative self talk, the headache and the guilt for being short tempered with the children. Chances are that with a less stressful start to the day they may avoid being stressed and tired by the afternoon.
 
If our client has observed that their self talk is a major contributor to their rising stress through the day, with your assistance they can learn how to change their negative self talk to more positive, healthy talk. For example your client (in this case a working mom) stressed while cooking the evening meal before she heads to work may think to herself: “He (her husband) never helps me at all. I have to do everything around the house. I’m always the responsible one.”
 
This black and white thinking can be changed to “I often do cook more meals – but he does do the cooking on the weekends and helps with the housework and garden.” This is a less emotive thought and can reduce the tension around this issue resulting in less stress.
 
To further help relieve the build-up of stress during the day you can introduce your client to physical exercises, relaxation exercises and visualisation and meditative exercises. If your client spends most of their days at a desk, phone or computer they can do periodic exercises with their hands.
 
For example they can massage them inside and out with their thumbs and fingers and then gently bend their wrists back and forth or just make a fist and open the hand a few times. They can make sure that they get up at least once an hour, even if it is just to move around the workstation and stretch so as to rebalance their body. Eye exercises can help relax tired ‘computer eyes’.
 
When on a break instead of a coffee – either at the office or at home – your client can initiate some deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. And to help your client stay balanced they can be encouraged to practice meditation and yoga postures whenever they feel distressed.
 
Additional information on stress can be found in the following articles: “Developing a Balanced Lifestyle” and “Helping a Client Combat Stress
 
To summarise the process so far the coach is identifying the client’s stressors and is introducing ways to eliminate them or to cope better with them.
 
One more step can be added – another preventive one that builds on all the strategies so far. Your client can be introduced to a self care plan. Such a plan ensures that your client has a good diet, gets enough sound sleep, exercises regularly, leads a balanced life, enjoys themselves frequently, avoids negative self talk and is on the path they want to be.
 
There is no guarantee that they won’t slump in exhaustion in the afternoon stressed by the day’s events – but chances are this will be the exception to the rule as they will have strategies to prevent this occurrence and coping skills to help reduce the effects from those unavoidable stressors.
 
Author: Zahava Starak