Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D., founder and CEO, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, Inc.
From American Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, many people suddenly find their calendars overflowing with holiday events — some optional, some mandatory (often work-related), some… tacitly obligatory (so as not to incur the wrath of Great-Aunt Thelma). While these events can be a lot of fun, they can also trigger certain stressors, especially for people with family relationship issues, seasonal affective disorders and other mental health issues, and food and alcohol use, to name a few.
For health coaches, the holiday season can be an especially active and busy time as they seek to support clients navigating a minefield of stressors that have the potential to impact mental and physical health. The good news is that by positioning themselves as a resource and guide during this joyous but sometimes challenging period, health coaches have the opportunity to help clients identify patterns that will have a positive effect throughout the rest of the year.
Creating sustainable habits around food and drink
Health coaches who work with clients struggling with weight management, obesity, binge eating, blood sugar regulation, or high blood pressure, as well as those who work with clients recovering from alcoholism, know the potential pitfalls of holiday parties: their clients suddenly find themselves in situations where an overabundance of (not particularly healthy) food and alcoholic beverages is offered, often with a side dish of social expectation. Clients can be put in uncomfortable positions where willpower is severely tested and abstinence may come at a social cost.
In these situations, clients especially need the support and empathy of their health coaches, who can attest to the incredible difficulty of navigating these food-and-drink-filled situations in a way that doesn’t undermine health work the rest of the time. the year. Health coaches must then work with clients to devise sustainable and realistic strategies for dealing with these confrontations between parties – both to be able to participate in, attend and actively enjoy these events without drastically undermining their own progress, and also to make graceful exits if/when these situations become unhealthy or otherwise unsustainable.
Maintain mental health
The holiday season puts a lot of pressure on clients dealing with mental health issues, both through the long hours of darkness that plunge many people into seasonal affective disorder, and by luring them into social situations where they may be forced to socialize with family members or acquaintances. with whom they have toxic relationships.
It is critical to acknowledge the mental and emotional toll of these events. While it is important to note that health coaches are not a substitute for psychologists or psychiatrists, they can do much meaningful work as empathetic and supportive guides, helping their clients mentally prepare for the consequences of these situations and taking steps to prevent harmful consequences. for their health. emotional health.
Coaches can help clients develop strategies to maintain and protect their emotional health during this time. These can range from simple adjustments (get a SAD lamp, make sure you work in rooms that get a lot of sunlight), to more complex long-term strategies around levels of involvement (or disengagement) with individuals or situations that are historically problematic.
Harness the power of exercise
For many health coaching clients, establishing good exercise habits is either a main part of their plan or an important complementary element to the work they do with their coach. Alas, during the holiday season, folks exercise habits overwhelmingly fall by the wayside, due to various factors such as early sunsets, cold weather and busy schedules. The downward trend in exercise is particularly problematic in a season when many people eat and drink excessively and suffer from various mental health stressors.
Health coaches may not see their role during this period as an exercise whip-cracker, but as a cheerleader of sorts to clients, encouraging them to stay on track with predetermined exercise habits, praising them warmly as they maintain those habits, and working with them to find strategic ways to incorporate exercise into their schedule, even if it is difficult for a number of reasons.
Sometimes clients just need accountability, or they need a brainstorming partner to come up with new ways they can get moving when both internal and external circumstances make it challenging to do so. A health coach is well positioned to work with them on all of these issues and create exercise habits that work not only during the holiday season, but in any crisis period when time and circumstances are under pressure.
A season when everything is evergreen
Like the iconic conifers of the holiday season, the lessons, strategies, and habits that health coaches help their clients develop during the holiday season are evergreen. They apply all year round and indefinitely.
Certainly, the holidays bring many unique challenges. But health coaches will discover that they also offer opportunities: Clients who can weather these holiday storms (snow and others) will be equipped with skills they can apply to all types of internal and external challenges, improving their emotional and physical health at critical moments in life. their life.