The holidays can be a time to look forward to for many people, but they can also be a cause of stress for those with complicated health issues, including autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, PCOS, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus.
Changes in regular schedules and routines, traveling, and attending holiday events and parties can make people with autoimmune diseases worry about forgetting to take medication, eating things that cause disease dysregulation, and experiencing stress that causes their symptoms to flare up.
At the same time, health coaches may not see their clients on a regular schedule during the holidays. Without their coach, an important element of their support system for health behavior change, they may be more likely to relapse.
What ways can health coaches support their clients with autoimmune diseases over the holidays? This article provides some concrete ideas for continuing to support clients when sessions are not as regular and your clients may benefit from some extra support.
Have an open conversation with them about potential holiday stressors
As the holidays get closer, talk to your client about what their holidays look like for them. If they feel comfortable, engage them in a conversation about the challenges they foresee with regard to managing their symptoms.
If they haven’t thought about it but have demonstrated interest in exploring how the holidays could change their current symptom management habits, you can bring up some topics. Consider the following:
- Remembering to take medication
- Remembering to monitor blood glucose (if your client has diabetes)
- Having difficulty continuing to follow a diet, such as an anti-inflammatory diet, that helps manage symptoms
- Not being able to exercise regularly
- Increased stress levels
Provide them with tools to manage the changes during the holidays
Once you have talked through potential ways the holidays could change how your client manages their autoimmune disease symptoms, you can suggest tools to help support them. These could include books, blogs, handbooks, inspiring movies and documentaries, journaling, and finding an accountability partner.
There is no limit to the sort of tools you can provide. The key is that the tools should be a source of support for your client, already be within their interests or skillset, and be readily accessible. For example, if your client likes reading blogs and articles, you can send them some article links about specific disease management techniques in between sessions.
Rather than overwhelming them with a long list of tools, aim to suggest one or two that they are most likely to use.
Suggest alternative ways to check in during the holidays
Whether it is due to time limitations, travel, or other reasons, your weekly sessions with your client might be out of the question during the holidays.
However, if it is within your bandwidth and coaching program design, you may suggest other ways to check in briefly over the holidays. That could mean a text exchange once a week, an email with a tool or resource link, or even a check-in phone call.
If your client feels that their well-being is truly important to you with short but genuine communications, they are more likely to remember their sessions with you and their commitment to health behavior change.
Take the stress off progress during the holidays and instead, focus on stability
It can be tempting to suggest making progress toward health behavior change goals during the holidays. It is important to remember, however, that for many people, the holidays are marked by an irregular routine. It can be much harder to establish new habits when your clients are eating meals out of their homes, traveling, on vacation, or, depending on their job, working more hours than usual.
Instead, speak with your client about doing their best to maintain the progress made thus far during the holidays, especially with habits that have the greatest impact on their symptoms. Unlike for clients who do not have complex health conditions, a significant relapse in health behaviors could also mean a significant regression in autoimmune disease management. Therefore, taking the pressure off making progress and instead focusing on maintaining the progress made thus far until the holidays are over can help relieve stress.
Schedule a post-holiday session
If your client has communicated that it will likely be difficult to stay on your regular meeting schedule during the holidays, set a post-holiday session. While it is up to you and your specific coaching process, leaving it to the client to communicate with you when the holidays are over can be risky. There is a chance they may lose momentum and not communicate with you at all, especially if they feel you might be disappointed in them for changes that have occurred over the holidays.
If you set a date and time for after the holiday season, your client will not have to think about reaching out to schedule. Instead, you can set a clear plan for the weeks you will not be meeting and pick up where you left off.
Go over their emergency plan
The coach is just one piece of your client’s healthcare support team. If your client is experiencing an emergency, such as a hypoglycemic event (if they have diabetes) or debilitating pain (if they have arthritis), go over the emergency plan, including what to do (such as taking a special medication), who to contact, and how to contact them.
For people with autoimmune diseases, the holiday season may be particularly challenging. For your clients with AD, a regression with regard to health behavior change progress may mean experiencing a resurgence of symptoms. Not only is this uncomfortable for clients, but it can also be dangerous to their immediate health and well-being.
Working with your clients and finding ways to support them over the holidays can help to prevent relapses and give them the confidence to make good decisions for their health.