Updated 10/2/23 (originally published April 02, 2020)
Developing positive self-care habits can help you and your clients to better manage stress and improve overall well-being. So, what is self-care? Stated simply, self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve your own health. It can come in countless forms, from meditation and yoga practice to physical activity or even carving out time to read a good book. Here, we’ll explore the importance of mindfulness, sleep and social connectedness to stress reduction and offer some strategies for you to put into practice or share with your clients—or both.
Mindfulness practices may offer a host of physical, psychological and social benefits that can lead to decreases in perceived stress, improved self-efficacy, enhanced emotional regulation and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Relaxation counters the short-term effects of stress by decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate and muscle tension. Over the long-term, relaxation can mitigate certain health issues, including hypertension, anxiety and even cancer, in addition to improving overall health and healing.
Here are some mindful practices that you and your clients might want to try:
Mindful movement, such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, walking or cycling: Your clients might be surprised to learn that one of the two common aspects of practices that elicit relaxation is repetition, as is experienced during exercises like walking and cycling.
Meditation: This can include any of a number of types of meditation, which you may encourage your clients to research. While some people thrive with an ongoing transcendental meditation practice, others may simply want a way to get 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time or prayer during a stressful period. This is where the second aspect of practices that elicit relaxation comes in—a passive disregard of thoughts as they arise.
Breathing exercises: Again, there are a number of breathing exercises that clients can explore, including diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing. Check out these 6 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress
If you want to learn more about the connection between breathing practices and meditation, check out this video from ACE expert Carrie Myers: Breath and Meditation.
Sleep disordersare common in modern society, with one in three U.S. adults reporting that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Improving sleep patterns can be part of every healthy behavior-change program. Sleep deficiency has been linked to a variety of chronic health risks, including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.
Share the following tips with your clients to help them get a good night’s sleep:
Create a relaxing sleep environment.
Follow a consistent sleep schedule.
Follow a soothing bedtime routine.
Limit exposure to bright light, especially blue light.
Try to be exposed to natural light early in the day.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Avoid eating a large meal too close to bedtime.
The importance of social connectedness cannot be overstated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Social connectedness influences our minds, bodies, and behaviors—all of which influence our health and life expectancy.”
As a health coach or exercise professional, one of the best things you can do to help alleviate a client’s feelings of loneliness, anxiousness or depression is to provide a positive experience each time you interact with them. Also, encourage your clients to find workout partners, join healthy cooking classes or simply get out and hang out with friends.
If you are interested in learning more about how nutrition, physical activity, sleep, breathing and social connections impact mental health, check out this continuing education course from ACE: A Holistic Approach to Mental Health (worth 0.5 ACE CECs).