3 Easy Mindfulness Exercises to De-Stress Your Clients | By Delaney Tosh CPCC, PCC

A colleague once described her experience of a stressed, overwhelmed client as being "so caught up in a noisy vortex of competing pressures, anxieties and judgments" that the coaching sessions were getting bogged down.

When our amygdala (the emotion processing and "fear centre" in the brain) becomes hyper-engaged, we lose access to the finesse of our prefrontal cortex (our "logic centre") operations. This means that when clients are "in the vortex" of fear (fight, flight or freeze mode) they are incapable of accessing their rational and creative thinking.

Vortex is an apt description for that chaotic space of being under constant stress from daily routines (parenting, commuting, bombardment of media messages, deadlines, other people, worry, shame). Physically, being 'in the vortex' may mean clients are experiencing a quicker heart rate, shallow breathing and/or muscle tension.

So, what's a coach to do when their client is 'in the vortex' of fear and not thinking straight? Mindfulness is a powerful tool to de-stress clients so that you can have a more centered and creative coaching conversation. Below I share three specific mindfulness exercises coaches can use.

Here are 3 Easy Exercises to Introduce Mindfulness and De-Stress Your Clients:

1. Take a Mindfulness Pause

When I notice my client is feeling overwhelmed or "in the vortex", I will ask permission to take a pause. Next I guide my client through a basic mindfulness practice that supports re-engagement of their prefrontal cortex (our "logic centre") enabling them better access to their inner wisdom, awareness, and creative thinking.

  • I start by asking my client what they are noticing or experiencing within their body at that moment.
  • Next, I ask them to just sit with (allow) these sensations and breathe.
  • I let them know that whenever their mind wanders into the vortex of thoughts, they simply need to return to noticing body sensations.
  • After about 30 seconds I ask them if they notice a change in their sensations. What are they experiencing now?
  • I then invite them to breathe into this new sensation and just notice their breath as it is.

This Mindfulness Pause takes less than two minutes, yet quickly creates a calmer space. Once in this calmer space, I can now ask what my client wants to focus on that would have the greatest positive impact in the situation (or in the context of their bigger goals) and continue the coaching session.

2. Meet Each Day with the Best of Who You Are

This exercise has a small piece of pre-work, done in session and is then followed by a mindfulness exercise to "meet each day with the best of who you are". Clients can then use the mindfulness practice daily or whenever they want to intentionally create their day.

Pre-work: I start by asking my clients to first describe what an ideal day might look like. Then we explore what factors get in the way of them creating their ideal day, and what would help them create it. This step also provides an opportunity to introduce mindfulness practice as a possible tool my client could incorporate as a daily practice.

Here's the Mindfulness Exercise to Meet Each Day with the Best of Who You Are:

  • Ask your client to tune into the sensation of their feet on the floor (for about 30 seconds).
  • Next ask your client to tune into the sensation of their breath (for about 30 seconds).
  • Then ask your client to answer these 3 questions:
    1. "What matters most to you today?"
    2. "What would you like to let go of today?" (What isn't serving you?)
    3. "Who do you choose to be today?" (How will you express your values?)
  • Finally, to wrap-up this exercise, ask your client to return awareness to their breath as they invite themselves into this intention for their day (for at least 30 seconds).

3. FEEL Your Breathing for 20 Counts

This is a quick tool coaches can use with clients - and clients can use for themselves - when the vortex is extreme.

People can use this easy exercise when they're feeling overwhelmed, stressed about a difficult decision, prior to meetings or difficult conversations, or following stressful incidents from which they need to cool down. Here's how:

  • Ask your client to start by sitting in a comfortable position, placing their feet on the floor.
  • Next ask your client to place one hand on their abdomen and then to place one hand over their heart.
  • Ask your client to now simply breathe - without any need to control the breath - just breathe.
  • Count the out-breaths with your client from 1 up to 20.
  • Let your clients know to simply notice when their thoughts distract them (without self-judgement or criticism), and then return their attention to their breathing.

Why this works: Feeling your chest and abdomen rise and fall under your hands signals to your brain that the threat is over, and instantly stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" part of our nervous system) which then switches off the threat response activation to bring a sense of calm.

Wrap-up:

I hope you like these three simple mindfulness exercises to de-stress your clients. Which exercises can you see yourself using with clients? What about with yourself?

Finally to wrap-up, here are some resources you can use to incorporate mindfulness with stressed-out clients:

  • Book: "Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness" (Revised Edition, 2013) by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • App: "Insight Timer" - an award winning app with many free resources and guided meditations. Available for both Apple and Android phones.
  • A more extensive list of mindfulness books, articles, Apps, tools and websites can also be found here on my Square Peg Leadership blog >>
Editor's Note: I personally use the "Insight Timer" App, and have used it to create a number of customised timed meditations for myself, as well as having a few guided meditations that I listen to.

Delaney Tosh HeadshotContributing author: Delaney Tosh, CPCC, PCC, coaches women who want to lead with confidence and be agents of change. She helps her clients embrace their unique strengths to lead from inspiration, intuition, inclusion and interrelation. Her clients have a strong streak of independence and a desire to really thrive with mental, emotional and physical resilience. Delaney has an insatiable appetite for research and is in her element when distilling that research into actionable tactics that you can find more of by signing up for her newsletter here: SquarePeg Leadership. Connect with Delaney on Linkedin here >>

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Image of Stressed Client Running Surrounded by Busy Thoughts by Creativa via Shutterstock

4 Comments

  1. Lynda Monk

    Great article! I love all the practical exercises and am going to try the "meet each day with the best of who you are" as an introduction exercise at an upcoming team building workshop I am facilitating. I often use Jennifer Britton's - Hopes, Fears, Fantasies exercise from her group coaching book for this - which is also a great way to start a training, group coaching program, workshop, etc. Thanks Delaney! Thanks Emma for creating a consistently engaging and informative newsletter. Shine on, Lynda

    Reply
  2. Ginny Winn

    Thanks so much ~ I know the resources and am a long-time mindfulness meditator - since 1986 to be exact. It always great to be reminded and these are beautiful exercises !

    Reply

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