Coaching with Anxiety & Depression
Embracing Trauma-Informed, Bio-Psycho-S0cial Perspectives & Pathways
What’s the best thing for you right now?
If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression right now and you’ve started searching for a coach to help you get relief and overcome it, I’d like to share some information with you to consider – some warnings and some things to give you hope.
Anxiety and depression are different but often occur together or in succession. There are different types of anxiety disorders and different types of depression. For the purpose of this page, to offer considerations for people seeking coaching at this time, they’ll be referred to as anxiety/depression.
Firstly, I feel for your suffering. I know how painful, difficult and devastating anxiety/depression can be. I’ll share a bit with you about my experiences below. But first, you.
If this is your first time with anxiety/depression, or your first time seeking some kind of outside help, you should (sorry – I hate shoulds) consider seeking help from a medical or regulated professional (if you are in Canada). Here are a couple of links to find some help and to learn more about what’s available:
- Crisis Line: https://www.crisisline.ca/
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service – http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/
- Canadian Mental Health Association – https://cmha.ca/
- Wellness Together Canada – https://www.wellnesstogether.ca/en-CA
- BounceBack Ontario – https://bouncebackontario.ca/
Most people will speak to their family doctor. Some will get a consult to a therapist or psychiatrist. Some will get a prescription for anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
Some (perhaps most) will just keep going it alone because it’s so hard for them to share that they’re in pain and to ask for help. Reasons often being centered around fear and shame.
In connection with fear and shame, since there’s less stigma around hiring a coach, some may try to seek out coaching instead of taking the more medical/therapeutic route. Perhaps that’s why you’re here.
Warning: Coaching is an unregulated field and you may in fact do more harm than help to yourself trying to ‘overcome’ or ‘beat’ anxiety and depression with a typical coaching approach. By typical, to be more specific, I mean trained, certified, experienced coaches (e.g. ICF). Be especially weary of people with no training or credentials and those who use high-pressured sales tactics.
Even if you find a highly trained, credentialed coach with years of coaching experience, and many positive testimonials, their approach and style may not be right for your needs and current state of being. You may put too much pressure on yourself to achieve results, increasing your stress, potentially feeling shame and self-blame, and it can all hurt you more than help. This is not even implying a coach did anything wrong or unethical but that can happen.
A Prudent Approach First
The prudent thing to do for yourself is to first speak with a therapeutic/medical professional – to talk about your experiences, run some tests to rule out any biological reason you may be feeling the way you feel (genes/illness/disease/diet/medications/toxins etc.), explore best options together, and decide the best course of action.
Even though seeking and asking for help feels so hard, sometimes taking that step changes things a little. You are showing yourself on a deeper level that you matter, that how you feel matters and that you are taking responsible, loving action to help yourself. It restores some hope and agency and that makes some difference.
Warning: You might be told it’s all just a chemical imbalance note in the brain and without skipping a beat, you’re handed a prescription that may be no more effective than a placebo or physical exercise but comes with real side effects. Coming off such prescriptions must be done slowly and carefully as well, as there are withdrawal effects too. Be extremely conscientious about choosing prescription meds to ‘fix’ anxiety or depression. If they are your only lifeline right now, fair enough. Please consider doing thorough research. Ask important questions and get substantive answers. Do what you feel is right for you right now. But please consider not just taking meds without some kind of therapeutic support.
Note: Of course there are chemicals involved in the brain and body – serotonin, dopamine & norepinephrine for certain, as well as others. The myth is that you’re experiencing depression only as a result of chemicals that mysteriously got out of their natural balance and that getting just one of these chemicals from a pill is all you need.
That’s all I’ll say if this is your first time with anxiety/depression with regard to coaching as a first step. I feel it’s the safest approach to start with.
We can still have a coaching exploration session. I’d love to speak with you and if I can offer any other support I will but I feel strongly that ruling out any underlying medical problem is the best first step. This is my ethical duty and I suggest it out of care and humility.
What if I’ve been around the block a few times, had meds, seen therapists and I’m seeking personal growth and help creating an authentic, meaningful life?
Perhaps then it’s time to consider a completely different paradigm. One that takes much more into account than just our genes or neurotransmitters.
I’ve worked with a fair number of people over the past 12 years who’ve had anxiety/depression multiple times, PTSD/CPTSD, and a few with Bipolar Depression. Each either already had medical/therapeutic help or were still getting help. Some were even recommended by their therapist to seek out a coach for the specific needs and desires they were expressing interest in (personal growth, a meaningful career move, identifying their strengths and values, etc.). At the time, they were ready, committed, and seeking personal growth coaching with someone who could understand where they’ve come from and who could hold a compassionate and non-judgmental space to help them in a safe way, at a pace that was best for them.
One of the things that’s different about people who’ve experienced anxiety/depression multiple times over the course of their lives is their attitude or relationship towards it. They’re much more aware of the patterns involved but they can’t seem to do anything about them. They’re not as afraid or panicked by the familiar symptoms/experiences recurring but at the same time, they can be severely disappointed and frustrated, and even feel betrayed by the body or brain – like, ‘why the fuck is this happening again?’
Today, there are many threads we can weave together to explain why it’s happening again – and many things we can do to help change our patterns over time. I share a bit about that below.
A bit about my experiences
I personally have a lifelong history with anxiety, depression, traumatic stress, and stress related illnesses/symptoms. At one point, I believed that I beat it or overcame it, only to succumb once again to relentless anxiety followed by periods of intense depression, and later in life mysterious, painful conditions. Sometimes they all happened at once.
Even after I found personal development and experienced major shifts in consciousness and understanding, and was living a richer life with many of my needs met, and many positive/beneficial practices, and even after I became a coach, I still experienced similar bouts.
To say ‘bouts’ is misleading – they sound like brief little spells – they felt more like eons. At times, I felt like a massive failure and was losing hope, but I was also learning and developing self acceptance and compassion, and was reclaiming my own inherent self worth and confidence. I had more to learn – more to unlearn and shed away rather – and still do. The recurrences forced me to keep exploring and finding new ways of explaining my experiences, and finding ways to help myself. This in fact, is the origin of HeartRich and the many ways I learned we can leverage the heart (physical and symbolic) to the benefit of our health and wellbeing and to aid us in the pursuit of an authentic, rich and fulfilling life.
Trauma-Informed, Bio-Psycho-Social/Spiritual Perspectives
This search has led me to embrace a Trauma-Informed, Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual model to health and wellbeing. I actually prefer the term Trauma-Wise because being informed is not enough – being wise means we act from our knowledge with virtues like compassion and courage.
Anxiety/depression and many other illnesses fit under this model. (See also: psychoneuroimmunology) A lot of words strung together basically meaning there are many interconnected factors that promote health and wellbeing or interfere with it. Especially when we’re talking about chronic, stress-related issues – like anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue, etc. (more info below).
Regarding anxiety and depression for instance, there are:
- Biological factors – genes, biochemistry, diseases, diet, drugs, toxins,
- Psychological factors – attitudes, beliefs, thinking patterns, emotional styles,
- Social factors – attachment style, connections, family, environment, socio-economic, cultural,
- Spiritual factors – connection to one’s essence, beliefs about life and purpose and connection to something larger than one’s self
Instead of putting all our hopes blindly into one domain – the biological – with a passive reliance or dependence on doctors/meds – we can look to other domains for answers and develop more effective approaches unique to each of us.
Pain, adversity, stress and trauma from conception on have effects on each domain – influencing our biology, our psychology, how we relate and connect with others, and how we connect to our own essence and sense of self. Each domain simultaneously affects the other domains – for better or worse. (Several resources are offered below to begin understanding this.)
What did you mean by Coaching with Anxiety & Depression?
On one hand, to be transparent, it means that I may be going through a period of anxiety/depression myself. Plain as that.
On the other hand, it means coaching someone with anxiety/depression, though I wouldn’t promote/endorse coaching to ‘beat’ or ‘overcome’ it. I wouldn’t consider working with someone who had that as their major goal. But I would say that once any threatening medical factors were ruled out, and they still felt ‘functional’ in their personal and professional lives, that we could possibly work together on many other things that will improve their experience of life while still living with anxiety/depression.
What really helps is to become more educated about anxiety/depression with the purpose of reducing fear. Fear itself is a major stressor and creates a feedback loop within the mind-body. We can help ourselves to reduce the fear and panic associated with anxiety/depression through gaining knowledge. For instance, mindfulness skills can help us detach from our experiences while maintaining compassion towards the parts of us that are suffering.
I highly encourage psychoeducation – coming to a deeper understanding and respect for what you’re experiencing and why. You will realize that you’re not alone. You will come to realize there are newer paradigms and systems that explain your experiences and provide more empowering solutions. You will build hope and optimism that you can learn important, life changing skills, ways of thinking and being, interpersonal and intrapersonal, that can dramatically alter how you live your life, for the better.
It’s still absurd to me why such skills training isn’t available to children in schools. If we are brought up learning inner leadership skills to manage our thoughts, emotions, and moods (mindfulness, self regulation, acceptance, etc.) and are taught by people who are living examples of these principles and skills, and go home to parents who are more present, attuned, and whole, society would look a lot different.
Consider watching this video. I hope your level of fear will be reduced and your interest in engaging in the personal development and inner leadership work we all need to learn and practice will increase.
Skills More Than Pills – How to recover from depression – Michael Yapko
Supporting Self Development & Self Leadership
If we are willing to do the work on the factors that help make one’s life, and how we’re living it, richer, fuller and more meaningful, while accepting that life can be painful and distressing at times, it can interestingly, over time, reduce anxiety and depression and many other difficult symptoms. Notice now I’m alluding to anxiety and depression as symptoms not as diseases.
With optimism and humility, together, we can ethically and responsibly partner to support you in addressing many of the interrelated factors that cause so much suffering, illness, disease – our disconnects and defenses.
The disconnects from our Authentic Self, our emotions, and from meeting our fundamental human needs in beneficial, life-enhancing ways. And, the defenses or adaptive protective patterns we had developed to cope and survive earlier in life, that today are causing more harm than good. Such defenses or protective programs range from personality patterns like tough inner critics, perfectionism, people-pleasing to addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, work, food, even stress, and to depression itself.
In line with helping people create rich, full and meaningful lives, this is what much of my work is about now. Helping people on their own Hero’s Journey to reconnect back to who they really are, build trust in themselves, reducing fear’s hold while increasing presence and safety, acceptance and compassion, courage and will, as they challenge themselves to get their human needs met in more beneficial ways, and build a life they love. At the very least, I offer my own presence or Self, as a ‘safe other’ to hold space for my clients to do the courageous and challenging work to be who they really are.
I’d like to end here but before I do, I have some resources you may want to consider exploring. I’ve studied, and tried, many different things over the years in search of relief. Many of them can alleviate some pain and suffering but that’s not what I want to share here. What I want to share here are bio-psycho-social(spiritual) approaches that aim to get to the root cause of our suffering, not just relieve it temporarily.
I hope this page helps you and leads you on a path of increasing wellbeing, resilience, peace, joy and love.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
One of my more recent reads – wish I had this a long time ago but most of it wasn’t known or widely accepted a long time ago. I had to find much of this myself over the years. This book does a good job of investigating and reporting on the Myth of the Chemical Imbalance, exploring the multiple causes of anxiety/depression within a biopsychosocial framework – the connections we’ve lost, and offers approaches that aim to repair those lost connections.
This is not a self-help book or a science book. It’s a kind of social reporting with the writer’s own life narratives woven throughout. There are many facts and perspectives that are valuable to consider and may change the way you feel about what you’re experiencing.
The Disconnects he refers to are:
- Disconnect from meaningful work
- Disconnect from others
- Disconnect from meaningful values
- Disconnect from our Selves due to trauma
- Disconnect from status
- Disconnect from nature
- Disconnect from a secure and hopeful future
ACT – Acceptance & Commitment Therapy/Training
An approach that makes no attempt to reduce symptoms but gets symptom reduction as a by-product. The focus is put on Mindfulness Skills Development, Clarifying and Prioritizing Values and taking Committed Action towards building a rich, full and meaningful life even if it has some pain and discomfort at times. It challenges or confronts our distinct but unfortunate ability to AVOID pain and discomfort when it is to our detriment (e.g. from procrastination to social avoidance to drug addictions and more).
Read: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
IFS – Internal Family Systems
A non-pathological, transformative, psychotherapeutic approach to restoring wholeness and wellbeing. The approach teaches that we each have an Authentic Self and multiple parts/sub-personalities. The aim is to repair the disconnect from Self and build the trust of our parts to let the true Self lead within, and without. This happens through getting to know, honor and unburden the parts of us that have taken on more extreme protective roles in our psyches that no longer serve us, and to retrieve and heal the wounded parts of us that these protectors have been working so hard to push out of our consciousness.
Read: No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz
The Human Givens Approach
A therapeutic approach asserting that we all have innate human needs (and innate resources to help us meet our needs) that if met appropriately, we won’t get mental illness. Unmet needs create stress and our adaptations to unmet needs can result in mental and physical illness. The aim is to restore our ability to get all our needs met in healthy, sustainable ways.
Read: ‘Human Givens – The Essentials’
NVC – Nonviolent Communication
Not a therapeutic approach but a model and approach addressing our human needs – their relation to our emotions and state of mind/being, and how we try (sometimes tragically and violently) to get our needs met, especially in relationship with others.
It is a model that helps us understand, respect and reclaim our own needs, develop emotional awareness and literacy, learn to compassionately and non-violently assert our needs, while also caring enough to understand and respect others’ needs and feelings, resulting in greater compassion and harmony.
Read: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg
The study and practice of optimal human functioning, the goals of which are to better understand and apply those factors that help individuals and communities to thrive and flourish. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with us, we focus on what’s strong. Restoring and building capacities and strengths such as Hope, Optimism, Positive/Expansive Emotions (not to the exclusion of feeling challenging emotions). Heavily informs my work with Meaningful Values and cultivating positive practices that are proven to change our moods, mindsets, attitudes, outlooks and how we relate with others.
Read: Flourish by Martin Seligman. Love 2.0 by Barbara Frederickson.
Polyvagal and Trauma Informed Approaches to Working with Our Nervous Systems
Some coaches use simple models to explain our experience – implying that all we have to do is change our thoughts, to change our feelings, so we can take different actions and we’ll get different results. We are not all wired the same. In fact, we are all unique. Our biography becomes our biology. We must understand and respect that the way we experience the world is highly informed/primed by our nervous system, which was conditioned by our experiences (going all the way back to the womb).
We are now experiencing a world that is filtered through a lens that drives the creation of a story that shapes how we live. To cut to the chase – we need to and can restore our sense of safety in our bodies and in relationships, which will change our experience of life on so many levels.
One practice or system that I use and train others in is HeartMath – helping people develop psychophysiological coherence (higher vagal tone or vagal efficiency / greater heart rate variability). Teaching ourselves how to use our minds, to go to our hearts, to help regulate our nervous system, to take the mindbody out of stress response, to entrain an optimal state of being (safety in the body / safe & social) that we can come back to with greater ease.
I also do, share and recommend Polyvagal Exercises for Safety & Connection, as well as Somatic/Embodied Mindfulness Training.
See: https://www.rhythmofregulation.com/resources (Polyvagal Informed approach to resolving the impact of Trauma)
Read: Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory by Deb Dana
New paradigms and approaches to healing from Chronic Pain/Illness aka Psychophysiological Disorders (PPD)
There are many physical conditions and pain symptoms in the body that develop in response to stress, trauma and other psychological factors. These mindbody symptoms can affect almost any structure, organ system or region of the body. Conditions such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines, and over 30 more documented issues many of us suffer from can be diagnosed as PPD.
Again, we look to the nervous system and our body’s own sense of safety – in most cases – due to various factors such as stress, adversity and trauma, how we (do or don’t) process emotions, our thinking styles and patterns, and unresolved attachment issues, we are unconsciously perpetuating our own suffering and there are proven ways out.
I bring this up is because it shows the inextricable link between mind/emotions/body – and how fear/stress/pain can result in not only psychological suffering but very real physical issues.
There are many tangible and practical things we can do without prescriptions or surgeries that give us back the power to transform our experience of life, which will improve our health, resilience and wellbeing.
Working The Change Triangle
The work of Hilary Jacobs Hendel, in essence redefining anxiety and depression and giving us a powerful tool and process to help us become more aware about how we’re living, encouragement to face our emotions, learning to develop the skills to tolerate uncomfortable emotions (like anxiety, guilt and shame), ultimately so we can reveal the core emotions that have been blocked preventing us from returning to the open-hearted state of the authentic self. To me, this trumps any Emotional Intelligence training I’ve ever had and why that category didn’t make it on this page.
Read: It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self by Hilary Jacobs Hendel
Trauma and the Nervous System – A Polyvagal Perspective
Gabor Mate – Psychoneuroimmunology / Biopsychosocial
Interview with the creator of Polyvagal Theory: Safety in the Body and Mental Health
Robert Sapolsky on Depression (bio-psychological model)
Richard Schwartz Interview about Anxiety & Depression
Hilary Jacobs Hendel Interview about Anxiety & Depression
Additional Trauma-Informed Books to Consider
When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Mate
The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Cultuer by Gabor Mate
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency by Robert Scaer
Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Francine Shapiro
Unlearn Your Anxiety and Depression: A Self‑Guided Process to Reprogram Your Brain by Howard Schubiner