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How Is Coaching Different Than Mentoring, Consulting and Counseling?

How Is Coaching Different Than Mentoring, Consulting and Counseling?

by Jill Monaco on January 3rd, 2022

I’m often asked how life coaching is different than mentoring, consulting, and counseling, so I wanted to answer that question and shed light on how to make sure you are choosing the right person for your needs and goals. Since the life coaching profession is an unregulated field, many people may refer to themselves as coaches when in fact they are mentors, counselors, consultants or even teachers. Those are admirable roles and they serve a distinct purpose; however, I have seen way too many untrained people call themselves a “coach” and then end up with frustrated and underserved clients. Moving forward, people who have had bad experiences often struggle to then trust a trained coach.

Full disclosure: Because of the “horror” stories I’ve heard, I have become a bit of a coach “snob” . . . and I have to use a measure of self-control to keep quiet when someone says they are going to start charging people for life coaching because they think they can help them, but don’t have any training in the field and very little experience. It would be like saying you are a mental health counselor because you like to help people solve their problems. We would likely raise an eyebrow at that, right? My goal is to help you know the difference between these roles and define what a life coach does in comparison to other professional roles. Before someone chooses who they work with, they should first consider what is really wanted or needed. For example:

  • Do they need help processing something difficult from their past?
  • Do they need someone to show them how to build their business?
  • Do they need someone to teach them how to master a new skill?
  • Do they need someone to help them prepare for marriage?

If the answer to any of these questions was, “Yes,” then a coach is not the best fit, but rather a counselor, consultant, mentor or teacher.

What is a Life Coach?

Coaching is set apart by the way a life coach approaches a conversation with a client. Coaches do not necessarily teach, but help others through a process of discovery by using active listening skills, asking powerful questions, expanding thought processes, identifying limited beliefs, designing action steps, and following up. Keith Webb, a leading expert in the field of coaching puts it this way:

To most leaders, professional coaching practices are counter-intuitive. Take a look at these characteristics:

  • Coaches don’t talk, they listen.
  • Coaches don’t give information, they ask questions.
  • Coaches don’t offer ideas, they generate ideas from clients.
  • Coaches don’t share their story, they tap into the client’s experience.
  • Coaches don’t present solutions, they expand the client’s thinking.
  • Coaches don’t give recommendations, they empower clients to choose.

Why it Matters to Find a Certified or Credentialed Life Coach

The leading secular credentialing authority in the coaching profession is the International Coach Federation (ICF). They have set standards for training in what is referred to as core competencies and ethics. I went through a training program that required many hours of training, practice, and mentoring. My coaching calls were reviewed and I was mentored on how to improve. Once I completed that process and received my certification, I had to take a three-hour test and have over 100 hours of coaching clients before I could be credentialed as an ICF coach. This is a major time and financial investment as well.

Sadly, there are programs out there that promise to certify people as a “coach,” but don’t actually follow the ICF standards. I have had friends pay a lot of money to become a coach, only to find out they took classes from an organization that didn’t have good standards. Be careful of the folks who say they are credentialed from an organization that does not have any coaching affiliation at all. These organizations just decided to join the trend, without putting in the work, and then train others to do the same. Do your research.

The International Christian Coaching Institute (ICCI), of which I serve as a Board of Reference Member, is a credible faith-based organization that offers high quality training from nationally known Christian coaches, mentoring and credentialing opportunities, and mirrors the same core competencies as ICF. The most significant difference is that they celebrate and integrate biblical truth in all that they do.

Other Professional Roles Compared to Life Coaches

These definitions are quoted or adapted from my training through Creative Results Management.

  • Counselors – seeks to discover issues in the client’s past that are blocking them from success and/or the ability to function well in daily living activities. Special techniques and tools are used to understand these issues and bring healing and closure to them so the client may move forward. While coaches and counselors may use many of the same dialogue techniques, coaching begins in the present and is future oriented.
  • Mentors – have expertise in a particular area and share that learning with mentees. Mentors provide knowledge, they advise, guide, correct, and encourage in their field of expertise. A mentor works within their profession, whereas a life coach with good discovery, as well as change and communication skills, can coach anyone.
  • Consultants – are specialists who are paid for solutions. They assess and diagnose problems and propose solutions. Many times they implement the solutions as well. Coaches also focus on solutions, but draw them out of the client. Coaches help clients set goals and then support them in creating a plan of action and implementing it. Ultimately, clients gain long-term problem solving capacity.

I have heard some consultants, counselors or mentors also mix in coaching tools. Why? Because asking questions is one of the most powerful ways someone discovers what is inside of them, and studies show when you make a decision for yourself, you will be more likely to stick to it better than if someone told you what to do.

Freedom Coaching®

I coach people with traditional coaching in business, relational, and personal development goals. I love seeing people find the greatness that is already inside of them and to reach their goals! I have also created a coaching program that blends coaching and ministry tools called the Freedom Coach Model®. It’s similar to many of the bonus tools life coaches use like Strength Finders, the DISC or other self-discovery and goal setting modalities. I have certain questions I ask and I lead people through specific prayers. In this model, I lead the session, not the client. I created the Freedom Coach Model because some clients were stuck and they didn’t know why. As they shared their experiences of meeting with counselors, they said it was helpful to have someone listen, but they wanted more practical tools to move forward. They didn’t want to look back anymore, but they knew the past was contributing to their untapped potential. I join them in asking God what questions He wants to answer for them. Based on biblical truth, we search the heart of God together. Sometimes, it means walking through forgiveness, hearing what He has to say about certain lies they have believed or just sitting in His presence and receiving His love. Then we come up with goals to maintain their freedom. I have seen clients thrive as they meet their goals, enter into healthy relationships, move into promotion, and become all God created them to be.

Many of my clients wanted to go through the process again on their own, so I had the blessing of writing an Amazon #1 best-selling book, Freedom Coach Model. It has 20 different topics for you to talk to God about. I suggest questions to ask in prayer and offer a place to journal as you discover God’s heart. It can’t replace one-on-one coaching, but it has helped people worldwide encounter the love of God. I know I am biased, but I believe everyone needs a coach. I know how it has changed my life and my clients’ lives.

Jill Monaco is the founder and CEO of Jill Monaco Ministries, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has a passion to encourage people to pursue the presence of God and find freedom in Christ. She is a speaker, best-selling author, and CC credentialed coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is also certified as a Strengths Champion Coach and SYMBIS Relationship Coach. As a Bible teacher and speaker, Jill is known for captivating audiences with her high-energy, humorous approach to life’s serious issues. Her faith-filled and transparent stories encourage listeners to become all that God has created them to be. Jill has developed Freedom Coaching®, a model that blends hearing God, prayer, and coaching tools. Her first book, The Freedom Coach Model® went to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list. Jill Monaco Ministries also serves singles by publishing the online magazine, SingleMatters.com and the program, From Looking To Loving: Find the Breakthrough You Need So You Can Have The Relationship You Want.  She hosts the podcast, The Jill Monaco Show: Conversations that Inspire You to Love Well. Jill has been featured on LIFE Today with James and Betty Robison, the Boundless Podcast (Focus on the Family), and has taught webinars for singles with Christian Mingle. She has spoken on stages at Disney Night of Joy, Creation Fest, and the Experience Conference about the need for Bible translation. Her eclectic career includes 20 years as a professional stage and commercial actress, industrial film narrator, and voiceover talent. She sang backups for Perry Como’s Holiday Tour, performed in tours and theatres across the country, and is the voice on several Disney Kids audiobooks. Currently living in Chicago, IL, Jill looks forward to having her own family someday. Until then, she works very hard at earning the title of favorite aunt to her five nieces and nephews. See more at https://www.jillmonaco.com/

Want to Grow Your Practice? First Build a Relationship

Want to Grow Your Practice? First Build a Relationship

by Georgia Shaffer, MA on December 27th, 2021

In a world where people problems are prevalent, the need for relational coaching continues to grow. So how do you connect with potential clients who want to improve their relationships? And how do you reach those seeking guidance to better navigate the relational fallout that comes with daily living?

I discovered early in my career that to gain coaching clients, I first had to cultivate relationships. Whether people became acquainted with me through my writing, speaking, networking or video teaching, I realized that what I knew wasn’t as important to them as whether or not they felt we had a connection. Comments from new clients, such as, “I feel like I already know you,” helped me realize that before someone chooses to work with me, they want to know they can relate to me.

You can move from having no relationship, to being an acquaintance, to becoming their paid coach in many ways. For instance, I gained a number of clients through my teaching and on the YouTube channel. You might connect with potential clients through a blog, Facebook Live or Twitter. Pick a venue that fits your personality and skill set. Seeing you, hearing you, and reading what you write, all provide glimpses into who you are as a person and a life coach.

One action step you can take to grow your business is to create or fine tune a biweekly or monthly newsletter. Recently, I attended two conferences on opposite sides of the country. In this age of social media, the presenters at both events touted email newsletters as still being an important tool. I found that information especially interesting because I had been wondering if my email newsletter was as outdated as a cassette tape.

A newsletter is one of the top ways to engage with others because it can provide the following:

  • a structure to invite people into your life and business by subscribing to your newsletter
  • a way to consistently engage with potential clients
  • an opportunity to repeatedly affirm the value you have to offer as a life coach
  • a tool to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t

What do you put in your newsletter if you want to move people from being an acquaintance to a client? Darren Rowse, a professional blogger, speaker, and consultant, finds that he best connects when he inspires, informs, and interacts with others. Let’s take a closer look at these three factors.

Inspire

Because we first process sensory stimulation through the emotional part of our brain, people are drawn to you when they emotionally connect to you. Reading or hearing your stories, especially when you are vulnerable and honest, can motivate potential clients to want to make real changes in their relationships. People also become emotionally engaged through graphic images and photographs. Include poignant, descriptive, beautiful or inspirational photos that will inspire your readers.

Inform

What do you know that will help others? Communicating to people and providing information that will help them reach their potential is a lot different than saying you want their money. People are intuitive. Don’t underestimate their ability to determine your real motive. Seek to be identified as a competent life coach who wants to use your expertise to help others grow. That is the type of coach someone will say, “I’m willing to pay for their services.” 

What practical articles can you write? Think about relational topics that would not only help readers, but would be something they would want to share with their friends, coworkers or family. For example, as a relationship coach, you can share three techniques for helping people handle the resistance that comes with change. Whether it is their spouse, a co-worker or a close friend going through a difficult transition, they can connect with someone in a meaningful way by:

  • addressing it, rather ignoring, the issue
  • normalizing it and letting people know they are not alone
  • expressing it and allowing others to give a voice to their worries and fears

Interact

With a newsletter, for example, you could send a welcome message when someone signs up. In the following week or so, you could email them one of your frequently requested articles. In two weeks, you could send them a link to a thought-provoking blog or article someone else has written. By consistently engaging with your readers they get to know you. Share your struggles and your relational frustrations and invite others to do the same. Pick a topic, pose a question, and encourage a discussion on Facebook. Ask your readers to share what relational topics they would like to read about and then respond to suggestions.

If you want to increase the number of clients you work with, realize that developing authentic and meaningful relationships can take more than a few months. Just this week, I received an email from a man who attended one of my conferences four years ago. He had been using the coaching tools I shared, regularly visited my website, and read my newsletters and articles. He wanted me to know how much he appreciated what I had shared over the years. Then he said, “I’d love to work with you as my coach.” In four years, we had moved from having no relationship to being client and coach by consistently providing value and helping him grow.

Cultivate relationships. Don’t sell your coaching. Connect with people. Focus on delivering results. When you care and put people first, your practice will grow.

Georgia Shaffer, MA, is the Founder and Executive Director of Mourning Glory Ministries, a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation. She has authored five books, including the best-selling Taking Out Your Emotional Trash. Georgia is a sought-after speaker, has been a media guest on numerous outlets, and developed the ReBUILD After Divorce Program. For more than 25 years, she has encouraged, counseled, and coached those who are confronting troubling times. From  being a cancer survivor who was given less than a two percent chance of living, as well as someone who has personally faced the upheaval brought by divorce, single parenthood, and the loss of career and income, Georgia knows the courage, resilience, and perseverance needed to begin anew. When she is not writing, speaking, or coaching, she enjoys working in her backyard garden. It is there she loves to garden for her soul. See more at: www.georgiashaffer.com

Pursuing Excellence in Obscurity

Pursuing Excellence in Obscurity

by Dan Chrystal, MBA on December 20th, 2021

There is an inner struggle leaders may face with attaining success in the ministry. There are conflicting ideas about what a successful ministry or church may look like. Some pastors and ministry leaders have been pushed into the limelight because of the positive affect they are having. Others who have not attained that level of defined success may even get discouraged, especially when they incorporate tactics and methodology employed by these limelight ministries with little to no impact. Success is a trap. How many young actors and actresses will never make it to the $20 million movie status? How many artists will never have their works of art displayed in a museum? How many ministry leaders will never have their sermons and presentations downloaded over a million times?

Art historian and critic, Sarah Lewis, gave a TED Talk in 2014 called “Embrace the Near Win.” An author and curator based out of New York, she has written a book entitled The Rise, which “analyzes the idea of failure, focusing on case studies that reveal how setbacks can become a tool enabling us to master our destinies” (http://www.ted.com/speakers/sarah_lewis). In her presentation, she gives the illustration of an archer on a varsity archery team. She stood behind one archer as she lined her sights aiming at the 10-ring 75 yards away. The 10-ring on a target at 75 yards looks like a matchstick tip held out at arms length. She witnessed the archer hit the 7, the 9, and then the 10-ring twice. The next arrow missed the target completely. This miss did not deter the archer from placing another arrow’s nock into the string of the bow, pulling, and releasing. The archer seemed to take the miss as a challenge and practiced for three straight hours until she was completely exhausted. Even though she hit the bulls-eye twice, she did not celebrate hitting the target and stop firing arrows; nor did she crumble under the failure to hit the target after hitting the 10-ring.

This example by Sarah Lewis is a snapshot of the difference between success and mastery. Success, as Sarah explains, is hitting the 10-ring, but mastery says success is nothing if you cannot hit it again and again and again. She goes on to say success is an event, a moment in time, reaching a goal. Mastery is not a commitment to a goal, but to a constant pursuit. To achieve mastery is to understand the value of the near win. Mastery is in the reaching, not in the arriving. Mastery is sacrificing for the craft not in crafting one’s career. Lewis continues to press that success motivates, but a near win propels us into an ongoing quest. When we become more proficient at something, the more we see the imperfections, flaws, and what we have yet to accomplish and know.

Compare this example and these words to typical ministries. The ministry of the Church is NEVER done. It is not something to be considered a success – an event or a moment in time. For example, local church ministry is a commitment to a constant pursuit. We will always be achieving a “near win” no matter how many people accept Christ and are baptized. What a pastor does every week can be seen as monotonous. They can experience years of striving and after those years ask, “What difference have I really made?” There are likely near wins of the people who have been touched with the hope of the gospel, individuals who have come for counsel, and yet, did not commit their lives to Christ to be discipled. It could include teenagers or children who have come through various ministries, but never engaged in a faith community as adults.

These situations can drive a ministry leader to the point where they wonder if their life has been any value to the kingdom – whether they have ever been successful in the ministry. The local church pastor writes sermons on a weekly basis. Not every sermon will hit the mark, but when it does, it doesn’t mean you stop preaching because you had one “successful” sermon. Not every service will be life-changing for those who attend, but when you do have a transformational service, you don’t close the doors because you have attained success just that one day. When you have been successful in encouraging someone because they were in need of a loving word or expression, you don’t stop encouraging people because you have been successful with one individual.

Success is finite. Mastery is infinite. Mastery within a ministry context means we never give up on the daily dedication and commitment that is required because that seemingly never-ending tediousness may one day produce a harvest. The more you learn in ministry, the more you can lean into the Lord, see your own imperfections in the outcome of what you do, driving you to improve, tweak, and change it in order to master the process.

Progress can be stalled in ministry when we find a program or attain a level of participation that feels like a sweet spot. When we see how a particular program or style of service begins to have a “successful” feel to it, we have a tendency to continue to do things the same way over and over. Logic would encourage you to keep on using the same program or methodology expecting the same results. This would make sense if it were not for the “archer’s paradox.”

If you take a look at a high speed video of an arrow as it is being released from a bow, you may be shocked to see that the arrow bends and vacillates due to the force of the string weight pushing it, the way the arrow was seated, and the angle the string was pulled back relative to the bow. There are so many other factors involved when an arrow is released from a bow. If you had the same stance, pull, and release, there is no guarantee the arrow will hit the bullseye at the same spot over and over. This is an elementary review of the archer’s paradox.

The same applies to ministry endeavors. You can try to repeat the same style, methodology, and program, but over time, may see that the results will change depending on the many other factors involved. Those other factors are external forces often beyond our control. A significant world event, the death of a loved one, the economy, sickness, immoral conduct from a leader, or circumstances in his/her family – all of these can play a role in missing the target. It is important to recognize we need to adapt as time and context change. We need to adjust as issues arise. We need to tweak part of the ministry when we see it losing effectiveness. We need to change it when it ceases to be effective at all.

This is the definition of mastering the craft of the ministry. We are not crafting a career in ministry. We are sacrificing for the craft of the ministry. Success for churches is often categorized as the larger church in town. It can be seen as how many people heard the gospel and raised their hand in response to receive Christ. Success can be defined as how many people were fed and cared for at a community event sponsored by the church. Mastery ministry is walking with someone or a group of people as they learn how to grow closer to Christ in relationship. Mastery is continually working on building healthy relationships with those in your church and community, even through the messiness of life. Mastery is going after those people who have accepted Christ and teaching them how to grow in their faith to one day come to a point where they do the same for others.

Mastery is understanding, and regardless of how many we influence for Christ, there are always more who need to hear and receive. This is why we should never give up. This is why we should continue to sharpen our knowledge, expand our faith, hone our leadership skills, spend time in prayer, exercise the spiritual disciplines, and deepen our understanding of Scripture. We do all of this to work toward mastery, NOT success.

Leadership summits are wonderful. No matter how many you attend, you can usually go away encouraged in your faith to dream bigger, to expand your horizons, and desire to see God do amazing things. The downside of these summits is that we usually hear from the leaders who have obtained a certain status in ministry. This is not a judgment on these individuals. They have more responsibility to work toward mastery and will be held accountable for so much more. We should continue to lift them up in prayer as God uses them. What we may not be hearing or learning during these summits is the cry of the ministry leader who works tirelessly day in and day out – some working another full-time job in order to fulfill their calling. The cry that often silently arises is, “I feel like I am on an endless pursuit of obscurity?”

What do we say to the one who has been faithful to God for years in their gifts and has done everything in their ability to share the love of Christ? It’s often the ministry leader who may never see the big numbers in his or her organization or church, but continues every day and week to be an example of Christ, urging those he or she leads toward a deeper relationship with God and more meaningful relationships with each other. It’s often the ministry leader who wakes in the morning and prays for each person they influence. It’s often the ministry leader who holds morning Bible studies, encourages learning in small groups, visits those in the hospital or nursing homes, and who shares the message of the gospel with the mailman, a grocery store cashier or a neighbor in the community.

As Sarah Lewis teaches us through her talk and book, it is rare to see a “profession any longer where someone needs to continually focus with doggedness on hitting the target over and over. What it means to align your body posture for three hours in order to hit a target, pursuing a kind of excellence in obscurity.” When the archer competes, those in the crowd do not see all the arrows the archer drew back in practice and fired at the target. They do not see the frustration and fierce resolve to master their craft. They only see the competition target and the result of their efforts under the pressure of lights, an audience, and judges.

In ministry settings, we need to pursue excellence in obscurity. We are not working for a reward, notoriety, money or status. We are working for a greater purpose. Ephesians 5:1 (NLT) says, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Let us also be reminded of Philippians 2:1-8:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Lewis explains, “Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize there isn’t one. Mastery understands there is no end to what you do.” There will always be people who have not accepted Christ and need to hear of His love, mercy, and forgiveness. There will always be those who need to experience His amazing grace. Pursuing excellence in obscurity does not mean accepting a state of being where decline is acceptable. This pursuit is not about accepting that we may never hit the mark. It is about continually pursuing the mark over and over again whether we hit it or not.

Pursuing excellence in obscurity is taking on the very nature of a servant, and being obedient to God, even to the very last breath. We are, as Lewis puts it, “on a voracious unfinished path that always requires more.” We understand in the ministry that our work will never be fully completed. There is only ONE who can complete the work, and the work is not over until He says it is. We began by stating the inner struggle ministry leaders may face with attaining success. We end with the encouragement to pursue excellence in obscurity. In pursuing excellence in obscurity we place the credit and results in the hands of the One who has earned the right to receive it, Jesus. I leave you with the words of Paul from Colossians 3:16-17 (NLT), “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Dan Chrystal, MBA, is a husband, father, author, speaker, and life coach. He has over 28 years in executive leadership and relational coaching, including six years as an administrative officer of a large faith-based nonprofit organization and also served as the Director of Sponsorship and National Church Relations for Bayside Church in Roseville, CA. Dan is passionate about helping others love their neighbors as themselves, and is a dedicated life, career, and couples coach. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from Purdue Global University and is currently studying Law at Purdue Global University Law School. Dan’s ministry experience spans almost all pastoral positions. He is a committed student of “Relationship” and believes deep, meaningful relationships are God’s design for us. He is the author of Lost Art of Relationship and Discussions for Better Relationships. For more, see Dan Chrystal – Book Author – Discussions for Better Relationships | LinkedIn

Holiday Stress: Managing the Chaos

Holiday Stress: Managing the Chaos

by Dr. Eric Scalise on December 13th, 2021

The holiday season is supposed to be a time for relaxing and celebrating with friends and family. However, that’s not always the case . . . rates of depression, drinking and drugging episodes, family and relational conflicts, disappointment, loneliness, and isolation, all increase during the last few months of the year. Holiday stress is real, but the good news is that it can be managed effectively if we know what to anticipate.

Noise . . . crowds . . . the feeding frenzy over the latest toy or gadget. For many, there may be a host of unrealistic expectations that seem to torment our souls. Some of us become hopeful that the “magic” of the season will solve a myriad of problems, reconnect us to family members or heal broken hearts. Others face financial pressures, the need to find the perfect gift, or simply the craziness of trying to fit everything into a jam-packed 5-6 week schedule. In fact, nearly 45% of Americans admit they would skip Christmas altogether if they could.

Now, with the Covid pandemic still wreaking havoc upon significant segments of society, whether it be on gathering with others, making travel arrangements, wrestling with ongoing anxieties and fears, facing job loss and certain economic realities, etc., every factor feels sharper, heightened, and ever present. We were created through relationship and for relationship, and the pervasive sense of isolation thousands experience on a daily basis is proving to be overwhelming for many. If Covid was the “earthquake” that hit the world, then the coming tsunami of mental health issues must be accounted for and addressed.

What is the Impact?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Center, some of the stats are sobering:

  • 75% of people experience “extreme stress” during the holiday season
  • 69% are stressed by feeling or having a “a lack of time”
  • 69% are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money”
  • 68% feel greater fatigue
  • 53% feel stressed about too much commercialism and advertising hype
  • 52% are more irritable
  • 51% are stressed over the “pressure to give or receive gifts”
  • 44% are stressed about family gatherings
  • 37% are stressed about staying on a diet – there is an average 18% increase in eating over the holiday period
  • 36% feel greater sadness
  • 35% feel greater anger
  • 34% are stressed about making/facing travel plans
  • 26% feel more lonely

The APA also reported that holiday stress can have a bigger impact on women (44% vs. 31% for men) because they often take on multiple roles (holiday celebrations, meals, gifts, children’s activities, their own workplace responsibilities, decorating, entertaining, coordinating family time, Christmas cards, etc.). Women are also more likely to use food (41%) and/or excessive drinking (28%) in order to cope.

The overconsumption of alcohol is another major consequence of holiday related stress. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Addiction (NIAAA), alcohol is a primary factor in a significant number of highway deaths between November and January (Thanksgiving – 40% of all highway deaths; Christmas – 37% of all highway deaths; New Year’s – 58% of all highway deaths). The NIAAA also indicates that 57% of people in this country say they have seen someone drive under the influence during the holidays. An increase in DUI violations tells the story: Thanksgiving – a 30% increase; Christmas – a 33% increase; and New Year’s – a 155% increase.

On an interesting note, higher rates of suicide during the holidays are a bit of a myth. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide attempts and completions peak between April and August and actually decrease in December. However, bouts of depression are still common. The American Psychiatric Association reports an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to shorter days and less sunshine during daylight hours. Symptoms can include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep/appetite disturbances, and lethargy. Seventy-five percent of all cases are women.

Stress can manifest itself in many ways, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, a short temper, upset stomach, aching muscles (including lower back pain), loss of appetite, and a decline in productivity and work performance. Emotional stress also elevates blood pressure and heart rates, resulting in a surge of chemical reactions within the body that can create abnormal inflammatory responses. This often affects the immune system, as well as insulin levels, which disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.

If the emotional stress becomes too intense or overwhelming, underlying cardiovascular problems may surface, as well as an increased risk for acute cardiac events (primarily heart attacks). Certain stress related hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and can impact pre-existing atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries of the heart. Blood clots are formed when plaque breaks off, damaging the vessel and leading to heart attacks and strokes. According to the American Heart Association, more than 50 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure and nearly 60 million suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease, resulting in over one million deaths every year (two out of every five people who die or one every 32 seconds). Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States every year since 1900 (except 1918 during the flu pandemic) and crosses all racial, gender, socioeconomic, and age barriers.

The rise in cardiac “mortality” during the holidays is not epidemic (about 5%), but it is still considered to be statistically significant. Nevertheless, there is a 50% increase in non-fatal hearts attacks during the winter months, more than at any other 2-3 month period. Several years ago, sociology professor, David Phillips, examined over 57 million death certificates issued between 1979 and 2004 and discovered that not only do more people die during the winter months, but New Year’s Day is actually one of the deadliest days of all, with Christmas close behind.

What Are Some Good Stress Prevention Tips?

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain a healthy sense of balance during the holiday season:

  • Accept the fact right now that you simply cannot do everything and you cannot do it for everyone. Determine what are desires and preferences vs. what are true priorities.
  • Plan ahead as much as possible. Managing and scheduling your time is much better than your time controlling you.
  • Create a budget and stick to it. Don’t try to buy happiness – celebrate and enjoy it.
  • Give up the goal (or obsession) of having to be perfect and/or do everything perfectly. Life rarely works out that way.
  • Give yourself permission to set appropriate boundaries with people. Be willing to say, “No” and don’t feel guilty about it. Every time you say, “Yes,” you are saying, “No” to something else. Say, “No” to the right things.
  • Build in downtime for yourself. Read a book. Play. Relax. Go to a movie. Engage in a favorite hobby. Sit and just be still for a few minutes.
  • Share the tasks; do less, not more. Doing things together, especially when it flows out of genuine relationship, often renews the soul.
  • Don’t give up all of your normal and daily routines. Repetition and rhythm are good ways to minimize anxiety, worry, and depression.
  • Unplug from time-to-time. Be intentional about reducing the amount and use of technology, especially social media. Quiet your soul.
  • Have reasonable expectations for yourself and others. Understand that there may be some distance between the ideal and the real when it comes to family, friends, and schedules. Don’t make it your mission to “fix” people or the past. Instead, give the gift of your time and the ministry of presence.
  • If being lonely or depressed is a concern, get involved. Avoid isolation. Reach out and seek community. Spend some meaningful time offering service to others who also need a word or gesture of love and encouragement.
  • Eat and drink in moderation. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can compound other symptoms of depression.
  • Be sure to get enough sleep. This is the body and mind’s way of restoring and revitalizing itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average person loses almost a day of sleep every week.
  • Listen to your favorite music. One study out of the University of Maryland showed that music can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, especially in and around the heart.
  • Spend more time in direct sunlight during the winter months. Sunlight increases the production of serotonin, an important mood stabilizing neurotransmitter.
  • Smell the citrus. Research on depression has revealed that citrus fragrances can increase a person’s sense of well-being and alleviate the symptoms of stress because of increased norepinephrine production. Norepinephrine is another important mood-related neurotransmitter.
  • Take a brisk walk or work out on a regular basis. Moderate exercise is an effective stress reliever and has a positive effect on the brain by decreasing anxiety and improving sleep patterns.
  • Watch the caffeine intake (e.g., coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda). This is especially important after 3:00-4:00 pm because caffeine has an almost eight-hour half-life (meaning 50% of its effect is still impacting your body up to eight hours after consumption). Too much caffeine (a stimulant), when combined with increased levels of stress-related adrenaline (also a stimulant), over-amps every system in the body.
  • Meditate on your favorite Scriptures. Have some honey while you do it – food for the soul and for the body. Honey is a proven antioxidant (the darker the better), and has antibacterial properties that help the immune system while also providing a good source of energy.
  • If necessary or appropriate, seek out professional help. Untreated anxiety, depression, addiction, and other stress-related disorders can be potentially dangerous.

Finally, take a few minutes throughout the holidays to reflect on the things you are truly thankful for. Having a thankful heart can be transformative in so many ways. Create some of your own memories and traditions. Invite Christ, the true Prince of Peace, to have first place in your life and affirm once again the joy of His gift to you. Perspective is a great companion in the midst of all that seems crazy and disruptive. The holidays can become an endless pursuit of peace, joy, meaning, relationship, and so much more; yet too many of us look in all the wrong places. Jesus is the source. He told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn. 14:27). He is, as the angels proclaimed two thousand years ago, the, “good news of great joy, which will be for all people” (Lk. 2:10).

Eric Scalise, PhD, is the President of LIV Consulting, LLC. He currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart. He is also the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with 40 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, and he served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include marriage and family issues, professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. As the son of a diplomat, Dr. Scalise was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, and has also lived and traveled extensively around the world. He is a published author, adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues. Dr. Scalise and his wife Donna have been married for 40 years, have twin sons (who are combat veterans serving in the U.S. Marine Corps) and four grandchildren.

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