Recent findings have determined that here in Canada, “23 per cent of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, and that number rises to 30 per cent among the 35 to 54 age group.” (Racco, M., 2018). Among working Canadians, stress is even more common, with surveys uncovering that “73 per cent of all working adults aged 20 to 64 report at least some level of stress.” (Racco, M., 2018) Together, these figures present a troubling picture. Chronic stress has been linked with a number of negative outcomes—affecting physical as well as mental health.
Fortunately, life skills coaches are trained to provide structure and support to their clients in order to help them build appropriate problem-solving behaviour. Here are a number of reasons stress management is important, and how a life skills coach can best apply their skills when addressing this problem.
The Negative Effects of Stress and Maladaptive Behaviours
If left unchecked, high levels of stress can have profound implications on a person’s mental and physical health. According to The American Institute of Stress, it can lead to “heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, [and] immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections.” (The American Institute of Stress, n.d.) Indeed, it notes that the effects of prolonged stress are to the extent that “it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected” (The American Institute of Stress, n.d.). The effects that stress can have on mental health are also well documented, as “Many studies show a correlation between stress and the development of mood disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression.” (Maldonado, M., 2014)
However, it is important for students enrolled in a life skills certificate program to remember that the physical and mental effects of stress are only part of the equation. Unhealthy or maladaptive coping skills can also negatively impact people and lead to further problems. Unhealthy coping mechanisms involve self-medication and avoidance behaviours, such as watching endless television, overeating, or drinking alcohol (Harvard Medical School).
Helping Clients Identifying Stressors
Common maladaptive behaviours such as anxious avoidance are used to avoid confronting a feared situation, and are ultimately ineffective because the fear is negatively reinforced, meaning that although the removal of the stressor is gone, the behaviour which caused someone to avoid the situation still exists (Jacofsky, M.D. Psy.D. & Khemlani-Patel, S., P.h.D. & Neziroglu, F., Ph.D. & Santos, M.T., Psy.D.). For this reason, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to first identify stressors, and then use healthy coping mechanisms to reduce their impact.
A stressor can be an environmental condition, external stimulus, or an event which causes stress (American Institute of Stress). They can come from a variety of sources, whether financial, emotional, or otherwise. For some clients, work may be the primary cause of their stress. For others, an unhealthy relationship, recent move, or even self-esteem can all contribute to stress levels.
Promoting Effective Methods Learned in the Life Skills Certificate Program
After students become a life skills coach, there are many effective methods they can suggest to clients who need to manage feelings of stress. One integrative model indicates that clients can involve themselves in positive behavioural activities such as social interaction, healthy communication, social support, and creative pursuits (Esch, T., & Stefano, G.B., 2010). This same model also recommends physical activity, meditative techniques, relaxation, and changes in diet or nutrition.
In fact, recent studies have helped illuminate just how beneficial these approaches can be. For example, researchers have found meditation to lead to a significant drop in stress-related ACTH and inflammatory hormones, as well as an increase in subsequent positive stress management (Bui, E., & Hoge, E.A., & Johnston, J.M., & Palitz, S.A., & Pollack, M.H., & Owens, M.E., & Schwarz, N.R., & Simon, N.M., 2018).
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Statistics Canada (2017). Perceived life stress, by age group. Canadian Community Health Survey [13-10-0096-04]. Retrieved from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1310009604
American Psychological Association (n.d.). Five tips to help manage stress. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress.aspx
The American Institute of Stress (n.d.). The Holmes-Rahe stress inventory. Retrieved from: https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/
Bui, E., & Hoge, E.A., & Johnston, J.M., & Palitz, S.A., & Pollack, M.H., & Owens, M.E., & Schwarz, N.R., & Simon, N.M. (2018). The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Research, 262.
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Jacofsky, M.D. Psy.D. & Khemlani-Patel, S., P.h.D. & Neziroglu, F., Ph.D. & Santos, M.T., Psy.D. (n.d.). The maintenance of anxiety disorders: maladaptive coping strategies. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/the-maintenance-of-anxiety-disorders-maladaptive-coping-strategies/ Johnson, L. (2017). How meditation can change your body’s response to stress. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mindfulness-meditation-stress-anxiety-clinical-trial-1.4046179
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