Six Strategies to Coach Anxious Brains

Six Strategies to Coach Anxious Brains

Talyaa Vardar, MA, FCPC, MCC
Talyaa Vardar, MA, FCPC, MCC
Executive Coach, Psychologist & Art Therapist

Recently one of my life coaching clients was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Until her I had no idea about how extensive we have anxiety problems amongst the people of North America.

For example, did you know that 40% of the teens population in North America has anxiety issues? Neither I did!

So, I made some research to be able to be able to keep coaching her while she is getting professional help from a psychiatrist and/or psychologist. Since we have a trust based ongoing relationship, I wanted to make sure that I am able to partner with her as her coach as she gets though this tough situation.

Anxiety is a brain condition that happens as a result of some triggering factors that we fear or worry about. When our brain gets triggered to remember some of the past worries or new ones, it generates fight, flight or freeze pattern of responding. This kind of response was first recognized by psychologist Walter Cannon (1929). According to research, our body usually respond to stress triggers in specific ways. In the 1930s, endocrinologist Hans Selye described these specific ways as the stress response. The stress response produces a predictable set of physiological changes, including increased heart rate and a sudden peak of blood flow, slowed digestion and increased perspiration. All of these responses result from release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. The fight, flight and freze response is an intense form of stress response. These responses are part of our survival system meaning that we don’t have to learn them. As these responses help us to run away from danger (or perceived danger), the stress response can not be based on higher-level thinking processes.

Though these responses are hard-wired into our brain and helped us for centuries to survive, they are not useful in responding to today’s complex issues. They are not useful when you face a conflict in the work place or at school. They are not useful to help you to pay your mortgage debt. They are not helping you to show your work at an annual presentation where 400 ears are listening to you. On the contrary, sweating, pounding or racing heart, dry mouth and other symptoms might cause you to flee or fight or freze in such situations which is not the smartest and most effective strategy to cope with our modern day challenges.

Here is a six coping strategies that you might like to know when coaching individuals through their stress response. Please note that these coping strategies do not replace therapy, they are just complimentary approaches to therapy to relax your clients and help you to coach them. They will not treat the symptoms, but they will reduce the discomfort and shorten the duration of stress response.

Grounding. When the stress response is active (rapid breathing, sweating, nausea, etc) tell the person to look around and find five things they can see, three things they can hear, two things they can smell an done thing they can maybe taste. This is called grounding.

Deep breathing. Breathing slowy will help extend the chest and diaphragm as a good start, and hopefully will decrease amygdala’s activation.

Help them to distract themselves. If we keep focusing on stress increasing symptoms, it only gets worse. Instead distracting the brain to other things will help us shifting our focus and hence shift our thinking process.

Help them let go of worries about what other people are thinking. People with anxiety are often worried about what others will think ora re thinking about them. They worry that others are watching them and judging them. Assure them that others probably do not notice any of the symptoms or they won’t care.

Coach them to be aware of their strenghts. Helping them to focus on their strengths and create mediums to express those will help indirectly those people to shift their focus to other areas in life.

Encourage them to keep a journal and note about what works. Coach them to observe what strategies work better in coping with anxiety and high stress and encourage them to find ways of increasing those.


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