Dear Willow: How to Help a Stressed Client?

This week an instructor asks how to help a client deal with stress. Willow gives us ideas on how first to identify the stress then tools for alleviating it.

Dear Willow,

What do you recommend as basics for a personal training client who has difficulty managing stress? The client I’m thinking of is very Type-A, has a lot of responsibilities, loves his work, but does recognizes that he is stressed and has had issues with blood pressure (which he takes medication for regularly). I’ve suggested breathing exercises along with his regular training, such as counting sets of ten abdominal breaths throughout his day. Do you have any suggestions?


RVA Trainer

Dear RVA Trainer,

What a great service you are providing for your client by tending to his deeper needs. It sounds as though he trusts you enough to acknowledge his stress and inform you of his specific coping strategies.

First, I have a few questions for you to help better understand how to meet his needs:

1. How does he know that he is stressed?

You are helping him understand the pattern that he equates as stress. He may be able to list off his specific symptoms and this will tell you his stress strategy.

2. Does he want to have less stress in his life?

To help him, you might get to know his background and what is driving his current level of activity. Sometimes people want the high energy and responsiveness that comes with responsibilities and daily tasks. He may be young and ambitious and in a time where he needs to bring in as much financial stability as possible, or he may be at a turning point in his life and more willing to change. It is important to learn about his ecology.

3. What is he willing to do to change?

Some clients find that creating a list of what they are willing to do to change has been helpful. Ultimately, the more they are willing to change, the greater success they will experience in doing so. You are gaining leverage and they are able to see areas in their life that are not working as they were expecting.

Great coaches don’t simply tell their clients what to do; they get interested in why and how they are doing what they do. For instance, if I told my teacher I was stressed and she replied, “Well, you need more _____ in your life,” I might be reluctant to heed her advice. Most people don’t like being told what to do and will have a natural resistance, and either build a dependency or break rapport with their trainer/coach/doctor/spouse. As humans, we feel stronger and empowered when we get clear as to how to address our own needs. Become interested and ask questions to help him get to the root of what he is focusing on that is causing him to feel stress.

Dismantle the old patterns and offer clients choices on other more serving strategies or patterns. Do they chronically hurry or race to get tasks accomplished? This may be the result and here you can help them choose more effective patterns allowing them to see the value in slowing processes down. Ultimately, though, to really help the client change, you need to get them at the cause of why they are stressed.

Options to help client ease and change their response to why they are stressed:

When we take time to learn more about the clients’ strategies, patterns, and psychology, we can gain greater leverage with them and assist them from a more advantageous place.

In our country, there is a lot of cultural pressure on having more, doing more, and being more. Ease his subconscious and remind him he is an amazing person because of who he is, not what he thinks he should be. This alone may help his stress and blood pressure decrease.

Please keep me posted and I would love to see your response. If you have additional questions or want to clarify, reply to the comments below.



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