How Health Coaching Can Help Your Mental Health
Until recently, I’d been under the mistaken impression that health coaching was reserved for people who wanted to lose weight. The words 'health coach' conjured up images of hard-knocks boot camps with sweaty exhausted people trying to climb over wooden logs only to be rewarded with green-gunge smoothies afterwards.
But when my meditation teacher Ryan Glassmoyer (pictured) announced that she’d been on a health coaching course, I was intrigued. She assured me that health coaching wouldn’t require me to jump over logs or drink smoothies (unless I really wanted to) and all that would be required is that I speak to her via Skype for an hour twice a month. No sweaty handbands needed – excellent. Even though I'm based here in Britain and Ryan is over the other side of the world in San Francisco in America, I found the Skype sessions worked brilliantly with the time difference as she could do them in the evenings when I had more time.
To be honest, I’d been trying to get a handle on my health for a while. I had managed to kick my binge eating disorder after quitting sugar a few years previously, but I still found it hard to work up the motivation to exercise. I’d noticed that since passing the mid-40s point, my body had begun to hold onto the fat a little more stubbornly than it once had. And I’d also noticed that I was beginning to fret about the inside of my body more than the outside – what the hell were years of a severe salt and vinegar crisp addiction, a love of buttery fry-ups and a penchant for take-away food doing to my arteries and organs?
But it wasn’t the fear of getting porky or clogging up my body, it was the need to sort my health out for my mental wellbeing that gave me the impetus to sign up for 12 sessions.
Since working on developing the LightHearts UK mental wellbeing course with Liz Axham, a senior NHS psychiatric nurse, she’d made me realise the importance of exercise on mental health. Just as little as 30 minutes a day can significantly help ease symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression by increasing the levels of dopamine and serotonin in our bodies. These affect our ability to experience pleasure and help promote sleep, appetite, mood and social behaviour. Exercise also releases hormones called endorphins that are similar to pain killers and sedatives, so you feel more comfortable in your body and calmer in your mind. (For more information on how physical exercise can affect our mental health, you can read all about it by clicking here on Week 9 of our FREE 10-week mental wellbeing course.)
On my first session with Ryan, we made exercise one of my top priority goals – that by the end of six months I’d be able to manage at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. The great thing about Ryan’s coaching was that she made my goals achievable. She didn’t expect me to run headlong into it, instead it was about stating my ultimate wish and then making small steps throughout the six months to achieve it. So I added a few other things to the list – that I’d like to be able to make time to meditate, do some yoga, drink more water and eat more healthily.
Related article: How a Free Meditation App Changed My Life
After six months, I’d achieved all those things. But it wasn't under duress at all. I now look forward to taking my daily walk or doing my daily youtube yoga session purely because the healthy habits Ryan helped me create make me feel so good it's really not worth me NOT doing them. And they make me feel happy too.
Also, knowing I had a Skype with Ryan coming up meant I’d make more of an effort to complete those goals so that I’d have something positive to feed back to her on our session. Having someone there to give you encouragement, to give helpful suggestions and – most importantly – never to judge when you fall off the wagon, was the motivation I needed to make some of the biggest changes I’d ever made in my life for my personal wellbeing. I felt calmer, less stressed, less anxious and I was actually managing to sleep better.
So to give you an insight into what health coaching is all about, I did a little Q & A with Ryan which goes into more depth about the different elements of coaching practice.
LightHearts: What are the main mental health issues people come to you for help with?
Ryan: Stress, wanting to lose weight or gain control over emotional eating, currently working more than enjoying life, fatigue, keeping goals/keeping inspired.
LightHearts: Why does coaching help? What are the factors that work when you have a coach?
Ryan: #1 Accountability. #2 Honesty. #3 Love. Coaching helps because the person is able to be called out on contradictions they are currently living which are obstructing their path forward. They are unable to see themselves 360 degrees, but when talking with me I can see where they are tripping themselves up. Also, my particular coaching works a lot with self-love. Usually a person come to the coach because they see that there is something wrong with themselves or their current state. I help them re-frame their view of themselves and their life so that can start to get the peace and the success they want from the inside-out and from that very moment in the session, rather than needing to change and wait for the solution to come. Things usually lighten up quickly and then bigger changes happen than the person was even originally hoping for.
LightHearts: How many sessions do people normally have?
Ryan: It's most effective to see me either weekly or every-other-week, with a minimum of 3 months so that the deeper changes and realizations can come. Coaching is truly a process because it helps the individual go into their psyche around issues which are generally interrelated to other things. It's a holistic healing process so it takes some time. I'd say the ideal program is over 6 months long, but it depends on the person.
LightHearts: What specific techniques do you use?
Ryan: Meditation, reflection (repeating what the person said point-blank for them to really analyse and hear what they're saying), re-framing (like reflecting but instead of point-blank repetition of what they said, I'll say the same information in a way that helps them see it from a different angle which will help them move in a more positive direction), non-judgement (lessening the seriousness and the shame of whatever the person is going through), heart-centering (leaving the head and honouring the heart more), helping people honour who they are, finding the solution inside rather than outside, not fitting into moulds, but discovering the individualized solution and self-respect/self-love.
LightHearts: What are the main pieces of advice you would give to someone who is struggling with mental health issues?
Ryan: Make much smaller goals. In coaching the client is moved along bit by bit because at the end of the session the coach and client agree upon small goals which are attainable within the period between coaching sessions. This builds accountability, but also faith in oneself when small goals are met, self-confidence grows and so does a practice (like meditation, diet, etc.) Commitment meets flexibility. It's important to make commitments to new goals, but also to pay attention to how we are feeling and not pushing into goals in a black-and-white fashion so if it's not working, slowing down or stepping back to really see why. Usually there are deeper lying psychological issues, which coaching helps to shed healing light on. Always set and attempt goals, WITHIN the energy of love, especially love to oneself.
LightHearts: How did you get into coaching?
Ryan: I have been working on myself for a long time (as in healing and creating the life I want in a conscious, and often strenuous manner), I also love people, plus have training and work experience in language. Listening, restructuring words and ideas, growing and gaining higher perspectives are what coaching is all about so it's a profession that really sums up various parts of myself. I had been teaching meditation for years and also English as a Second Language, in both situations I saw how I was able to provide caring support for my clients which is one of the biggest things a coach does; be a safe cheerleader and teacher for someone who is serious about making big moves forward on their goals.
LightHearts: What benefits have you found with your own mental health since doing coaching? Have you found you have learnt from your clients too?
Ryan: Becoming a coach has taught me the true meaning of that saying "practice what you preach." Everything I teach my clients is something I'm already doing 95% of the time. Occasionally I'll share a tip I've read about, but always with the aside for them to try it out and let me know how it went. Generally, I am reading a lot and practicing new techniques for healing. I have almost completely recovered from an eating disorder which I'd unconsciously had most of my adult life during the process of becoming a coach. Just like my clients, my entering into coaching has rapidly accelerated my rate of growth and of sustained growth. There isn't as much back-sliding on new habits. I learn new tricks from my clients too, because they get creative in between their sessions. I love seeing how our issues are humanity’s issues, and at the end of the day we are not alone in our suffering and confusion, nor our light and possibility.
LightHearts: What has coaching taught you about the human condition?
Ryan: I see that human beings really do have what science calls "the negativity bias," which is that bad thoughts stick while positive ones slide away. We used to have to run from tigers, which today are only "paper." We really have to work for our place in the sun, mentally speaking. All my clients blow things out of proportion, in a negative sense, especially about themselves; I do too. I have seen that people are more creative when they are at peace. Clients can see this so much differently at the end of a session after they've unloaded the junk they've been collecting in their head over the week, seen it in a better light, let it go or whatever; at the end of the session they are joyful and ready to create rather than defend. I see that this point to something I already believe, that peace in the world must come from within. That if we pacify ourselves we then have a different capacity to see solutions in our environments: families, workplaces, countries, etc. Coaching is very empowering. It makes people more solid within themselves. Gives them the grounding and the self-respect that they no longer see obstacles as threats, but as a way to express their true self and overcome.
If you want to know what Ryan's like to speak to, I've included one of her videos below which gives you an idea of Ryan's wonderfully positive approach to the world. And if you like what you’ve heard from Ryan, she’s offering a special price for 2018 – CLICK HERE for more details.
So if you couple the health coaching with the LightHearts UK free mental wellbeing course for stress, anxiety or depression, you could really make a huge difference to your life. However you manage it, honouring yourself with time to look after your body and mind is really the key to reaching some of those life goals you once felt impossible. So to all of you out there, take very good care of yourselves….
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