// Caring for your stressed clients

by Blake Worrall-Thompson

The hectic pace of 21st century lifestyles has led to a combination of high stress and anxiety. There are numerous sources of stress, from physical (over exertion, trauma, infection), environmental (heat, cold and noise) and chemical (pollution, drugs, cosmetics), to emotional (relationship stress, worry, fear) and nutritional (nutritional defi ciencies, processed and packaged foods). It is said that we are 100 times more stressed than our grandparents. Our clients are working longer hours, have higher targets to meet and, have less time for themselves and their families – and to add to that we have the global financial crisis, the rising cost of living and a higher exposure to chemicals and toxins further fuelling the downward spiral into stress.

Don’t underestimate the impact that stress can have on people’s bodies. It affects each system in a different way:
 
Nervous system: When stressed, the body will shift its energy resources to fighting off the perceived threat. The ‘fight or flight’ response, commonly known as the sympathetic state, will release adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones make the heart beat faster, raise blood pressure, change the digestive process and boost glucose levels in the bloodstream.

Musculoskeletal system
: When stressed, the muscles tighten up. If this is sustained for a lengthy period of time it can cause trigger point tightness, headaches, migraines, etc.

Respiratory system: Stress makes us breathe faster and shallower, which increases the chances of panic attacks.
Cardiovascular system: Stress increases the heart rate, which causes stronger contractions of the heart muscles. If continued over a lengthy period of time, this can lead to a heart attack.

Gastrointestinal system: Oesophagus Stress may cause an individual to eat more or less than is usual for them. Levels of drinking or smoking may also increase in a bid to combat the stress, and may contribute to heartburn or reflux. The stomach can react with ‘butterflies’, cramps or nausea. Stress can also change the permeability of the stomach lining, while the bowels can be impacted by stress through affected digestion of food and absorption of vital nutrients. This may result in either diarrhoea or constipation.

Reproductive system: Stress can affect the normal function of a man’s reproductive system and also cause impotence. Chronic stress can also lead to low levels of testosterone and a low sperm count. For females, stress can cause absent or irregular menstrual cycles or more painful periods. It can also reduce sexual desire.

So how can we help our clients overcome stress? There is no one clear answer, but the following gives you a good guide to caring for stressed clients.

LISTEN TO YOUR CLIENT: PRE-ASSESS THEIR STRESS CONDITION

A person can only maintain high levels of stress for a certain amount of time before their body shuts down and tells them to take a break. As their personal trainer, you need to assess each client as an individual. Many trainers make the mistake of not adapting their session plans according to their client’s stress condition. Most trainers will ask their clients how they are feeling at the start of the session, but won’t actually listen to the response; this is where the problem starts.

At this point a pre-exercise questionnaire comes into play. In the questionnaire you need to determine the client’s level of stress and what is causing it. For more information on such questionnaires, read Paul Chek’s How to Eat, Move and be Healthy for a basic overview of stress. Another possible way of determining a client’s stress level is for them to take a saliva test which measures levels of cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), adrenal hormones which are the body’s main means of dealing with stress. Once received, the result can help you determine where the client’s body is in terms of stress and work on ways to reduce it.

TAILOR YOUR CLIENT’S WORKOUT ACCORDING TO THEIR STRESS LEVEL

Once you have a clear understanding of their stress levels, based on their stress test and questionnaire, you can place your client into one of three categories; low, moderate and high concern.

No matter what level of stress your client is experiencing, the number one thing to remember is that exercise places a physical stress on the body. Most of the time this is benefi cial and can help people reduce their psychological stress, but if you push a stressed client too hard there is a chance you could push them over the edge and cause them to burn out. Classifying your client into low, moderate or high stress levels is a good starting point for adjusting their workouts accordingly.

LOW STRESS

Clients who are categorised as being of low stress concern should have very few restrictions and be able to work out at a high level of intensity if required. Still address any forms of stress that they are placing on their bodies.

MODERATE STRESS

Those of moderate level stress should have their stress levels addressed. As their personal trainer you can take on the challenge to sit down with them and discuss their stress, create more awareness so they themselves can work on it, and put systems in place to ensure it is reduced. Ways of reducing clients’ stress include relaxing exercise such as Pilates, yoga or meditation, implementing hobbies such as reading, gardening, walking the dog, painting, and being aware of those things that cause them particular stress and ensuring they avoid them or implement ways of staying calm during stressful times. For example, those who suff er road rage need to be aware that they are getting stressed on the roads and ensure that they are capable of relaxing and staying controlled when driving, perhaps by consciously giving themselves extra time to get to a destination. Being aware of their key causes of stress will help clients signifi cantly reduce the stress they feel in such situations.

HIGH STRESS

Those who fall into the high concern category need to be dealt with straight away to ensure they don’t get burnt out, have a breakdown or create more damage to their already stressed body. You should prescribe regular low intensity activity such as Pilates, meditation and yoga, as their main form of exercise, along with low intensity weight training and cardio. Address their lifestyle habits, eating patterns, sleep, work and relationships and put systems in place to address stresses in these areas. The more awareness you can create about stress, the more your client will analyse their own life and take control of the everyday situations that stress them out.

Stress is an increasing concern for people from all walks of life. As a personal trainer you have the opportunity to address this problem in your clients and to help increase awareness of how to reduce it.  

 

Blake Worrall-Thompson
An experienced personal trainer, Blake also runs a highly successful corporate speaking business along with a mentoring program for personal trainers looking to become world class professionals. His company, Raw Solutions, is one of the fastest growing corporate and mentoring programs in the country. For more information visit www.rawsolutions.com.au

NETWORK • AUTUMN 2009 • PP57-58