Navigating Where Health Coaches Fit into the Equation
Certainly, the pandemic has given rise to many clinical challenges in wellness. From a holistic health coach perspective, it can be hard to separate themes to offer expert support in and themes to relegate to trained clinicians. After compiling several months of community shares, there are group wellness issues that can certainly be mitigated from an integrative approach. Health coaches also productively contribute to aftercare in helping clients to feel comfortable in their healing process.
Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that one of the most successful prevention and recovery relationships is when health coaches and medical experts work together. This article will provide avenues for health coaches to be even more important in these pandemic times while also acknowledging it is an incredibly responsible move to identify when health coaches should either liaise with clinicians or hand the question entirely to them.
One way to identify what is within the means of health coach proficiency is to assess the patient for signs and symptoms. Similar to the stages of burnout, here are some of the key indicators that a condition is still within reach of health coach-generated solutions:
- Is the wellness challenge anticipatory or predictive? Are there counterproductive behaviors to try and avoid the potentially inevitable condition?
- Is there heightened evidence of the wellness challenge that is affecting the client’s ability to focus or show up?
- Is the wellness challenge becoming regular/chronic enough that medical attention is required in addition to holistic care?
Should support be needed beyond steps 1-3, such as with severe mental health issues and/or a complete overtaking of the client’s life, it makes sense in these phases of ascending intensity to refer out, too.
5 Common Wellness-Related Themes During the Pandemic
You’ll want to run these categories through the three aforementioned questions to see the degree in which they’re showing up in your client’s life and health. Based on the degree of intensity, you can choose your level of involvement:
Anxiety and Depression Caused By Pandemic Stress
In “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” Nirmita Plancha et al. (2021) report how “During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019.” More specifically, much of that anxiety and depression is related to worrying about COVID-19 itself (regardless of whether someone has had it or not). Doing an intake interview with your client to get a better understanding of what particularly worries them and how they experience it in their bodies and minds is a solid starting point. Further, there are natural ways to reduce anxiety as well as methods to strategically target and heal anxiety about COVID-19.
High Levels of Isolation
Isolation on any normal day or period of life can feel debilitating. In fact, “Hawkley points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life” in “Perceived social isolation, evolutionary fitness and health outcomes: a lifespan approach” (Hawkley, 2015). Subsequently, that isolation that is so prevalent, difficult, and potentially life-threatening already has become our societal norm in large amounts with the responsibility to staying safe from COVID-19. The net effect is a sort of compound isolation that may endure past the body and mind’s capacity to integrate it.
The human body has adapted and changed as best it can to deal with the pandemic. Fitness consequences include difficulty gaining or losing weight as well as feeling nutritionally satiated and absorbing proper nutrients. The American Psychological Association detailed how “61% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight change since the pandemic began” and prompted pieces such as our very own “8 Ways Personal Trainers May Design Healthier Post-Pandemic Weight Loss Programs.” Adapted from “How Stress Depletes Essential Nutrients, and What You Can Do About It,” the following is a list of nutrients depleted by stress that can influence fitness results:
- B-Complex Vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc
A Special Note to Mothers and Other Disproportionately Affected Populations
According to NPR and countless other sources, “Increased household responsibilities have forced many working mothers—and especially Black and Latinx mothers—to scale back on their hours or leave the workforce entirely during the pandemic, further widening economic and racial disparities.” This finding really encapsulates the larger picture that the wellness of not only mothers but also certain cultural and socioeconomic groups is even more challenged by the pandemic. As definitions, signs, and symptoms of wellness and its practices can vary across genders, cultures, etc., it is a more important time than ever for holistic health coaches to make themselves aware of diverse populations and the spectrum that is health itself.
Putting Health Coaching into “Pandemic Practice”
As noted before, the importance of assessing client needs and comparing them to your level of involvement is crucial for success. A simple intake interview may suffice to accomplish this or using any of the below AFPA resources can assist health coaches as they navigate this juncture:
- 6 Email Templates to Encourage and Check-In With Your Clients
- 11 Apps to Improve Communication with Clients
- Client Interviewing Forms and Techniques Learned in the Holistic Nutrition Course
Perhaps via the above communication, a holistic health coach identifies anxiety and depression caused by pandemic stress and wants to know whether or not to address it from a holistic standpoint. Answering the guiding questions may look something like this:
- Client shows some signs of stress, such as lacking boundaries at work, that prevents exercise and pre-planned nutritional choices from taking priority.
- Client also speaks of more anxiety and depression than before, with some influence on their sleep pattern. Specifically, client keeps waking up early “for no reason” and is unable to fall back to sleep despite being tired.
- No chronic evidence is displayed. Client reports their experience as happening 1-2 times per month.
In the above sample, there’s no question a health coach can have a significant impact and likely does not yet have to make a clinical referral (though decisions made on that are case by case). The holistic health coach can help their client here to sleep better and eat better as a start.
Alternatively, if the anxiety and depression are soon-to-reach or have already reached feelings of hopelessness, chronic sleep disturbances, apathy, agitation, despair, unexplained physical problems, and even suicidal ideation, the health coach would bring in additional medical assistance or offer referrals. Illustrating the difference between the levels of intensity within the question schema revolving around wellness challenges particularly arising alongside the pandemic will prove substantially helpful.
Health coaches play an integral role in client wellness and, with an eye for particular wellness challenges during the pandemic, can be a huge support system. There is also a level of discernment required that this article details. In addition to the description of Module 1 of the Holistic Health Coach Course which states, “Exploring the many facets of personal health and self-responsibility, while focusing on the basic principles of physical, mental, and spiritual health. You’ll learn the tools you need to make informed health decisions that promote lifelong wellness for yourself, your family, and your clients. The lessons encourage personal responsibility to health-related behaviors and outline how to improve overall health through nutrition, fitness, stress management, and the maintenance of an all-encompassing healthy lifestyle,” another way to describe the health coach role is listed on our website for further clarity as follows:
- Coach and educate clients on how to achieve and sustain healthy habits as part of a daily routine that includes eating healthy, exercising, managing triggers and eliminating stress, maintaining healthy relationships, and more.
- Empower your clients to achieve optimal and lasting health by addressing any imbalances caused by improper nutrition, a stressful lifestyle, poor sleep quality, a lack of exercise, and more.
- Educate clients on how to identify and change any sources of ill health.
- Create strategies for identifying healthy environments and start a support program to help clients in reaching their personal wellness objectives.
- Recognize when it is necessary to refer clients to their primary care physicians for treatments and/or diagnoses and learn how to communicate this to your client.
With the right alignment of goals, skills, and outcomes, health coaches contribute to areas of healing that no one else can, inclusive of this pandemic era.