Whatever you want help with, the likelihood is that there are numerous factors that are keeping you stuck. Problems – or blocks – seldom exist on one level only. Helping you get to where you want to be working on all levels of the problem is far more thorough and long-lasting than conventional methods. Last time I spoke with Tricia Woolfrey about a unique strategy to reach any goal. This time I talk to Tricia, an Integrative Coach, Consultant, Therapist, Wellness Practitioner, Trainer and Author, about her unique approach to work, why it is suitable for any problem, and fighting with daily stress about the uncertain future.

Tricia, you developed your own approach in work – the Five Pillars approach. How did you come up with this?

When I work with my clients I am always looking at patterns and asking myself “what’s really going on here?” Often what the client thinks is the problem is really something else: they are responding to the symptom of the problem, or they see the problem in a restricted way. At the same time, I am looking for ways of making results more sustainable. So, it became clear that there were several factors which could explain a person’s stuckness and this is how I came up with The Five Pillars. Not only might one or more of these be the reason someone is stuck, but they are usually the path to becoming unstuck and moving forward.

What does it include?

The Five Pillars are:

  1. Psychological. This refers to our thoughts which impacts our behavioural response to stress.
  2. Emotional. This refers to our emotional reactions which either cause our problems or worsen them so a lot of the work is about understanding our emotions and how to deal with them in a constructive way.
  3. Biological. This refers to nutrition and our biochemistry. Our mental health can be affected by our physical health and vice-versa so this is a key element. Brain chemicals that affect mood can similarly be impacted by the things we do on a day to day basis. And food can be considered a positive mind-altering drug! Getting these factors more in balance can hugely impact our sense of physical and mental wellbeing so I often work on this area.
  4. Lifestyle: Our lifeload, lifestyle and the way we live our lives can be a major factor, things like work-pressures, relationship issues, our sleep patterns, habits to name a few. I nearly always spend time on this element so that new patterns and habits can replace the ones which are negatively impacting us.
  5. Spiritual. This is about having purpose and meaning. When we have a sense of purpose in our lives it is much easier to transcend any negative stress and make life decisions in line with our purpose. It is amazing the number of people who think this is not an issue but, when we work on it, they are amazed at the difference it makes to everything else.

What is unique in this approach?

The Five Pillars point towards the cause of the problem and the solution too. It helps identify what area would make the biggest difference in terms of creating the change the person wants to achieve. Sometimes we work on several areas at once. Whatever seems right for the client.

In which cases do you realise that the Five Pillars approach is perfect for the client? Can you give an example?

I’m biased because I think it is perfect no matter what. The only question is to what degree. For example, I was working with a client who suffered from stress – this is a common problem people see me for. This client said their stress was because of being given too much work to do. Conventional coaching will often then simply look at time management skills. Therapy will often simply have then talking about how it makes them feel. But my approach is very practical and solution-focused. We looked at what else could be at play and I discovered that there were a number of factors:

Psychological: As the eldest child in a large family, she had an overdeveloped sense of duty and responsibility which affected her ability to set boundaries. She was also a perfectionist. In addition, thoughts of “I can’t cope” exacerbated her stress and when we are stressed, our decision-making and effectiveness drops considerably. She also had thoughts of “This is just too much”. That may or may not be true – perception is not always reality. However,in her case it seemed to be true because a colleague had left and she was expected to take up the slack. So we worked on how to communicate with her boss about the issue, set proper boundaries created strategies for how she prioritised her time, how she approached her day and how she managed expectations. If we simply use positive thinking, it doesn’t deal with the root cause. She didn’t feel able to talk to her boss about it because she had issues around people-pleasing and perfectionism. This can be really toxic so the boundary setting and gracious assertiveness which we worked on were really important. She was surprised to find that not only did her boss realise he was asking too much of her, but decided to apportion the work more evenly in the team. This would never have happened if she didn’t learn how to ask for what she needed in an effective way.

Emotional: She was feeling very stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. This is an understandable emotional reaction to what was happening but got in the way of her being able to deal with issues effectively and enjoy life ultimately. She was also comfort-eating and had started drinking too much as a way of ‘coping’. But this is really only a way of distracting from the real issues and was affecting her productivity even more and her confidence too. So I taught her how to understand what her feelings were trying to tell her and how to respond in a way which moved her in the right direction. I call it emotional responsiveness rather than emotional reactivity. It is a game-changer.

Biological: Because her mood and energy had taken a severe downturn, a very quick look at her diet showed she was eating all the comfort foods which worsen mood, energy and levels of anxiety. Not only that but the caused the foggy thinking that had crept into her day which made work even more difficult. We can’t perform well under those circumstances and so it was becoming a vicious circle so a few easy tweaks helped. I also taught her how to increase positive neurotransmitter levels quickly and easily – this helps increase positive feelings so that she was not so burdened by worry or stress.

Lifestyle: She lived her life like everything was down to her and that meant that people relied on her more than was fair. She had no boundaries at all. She had learned to manage that stress with food and alcohol. But these weren’t helping her at the symptom level (except momentarily) or at the root level.

Spiritual: She, like many people, didn’t really think about the bigger picture of her life. And, again, like many, wondered if “this was it”. Although the spiritual dimension wasn’t contributing to her stress to any great degree, we did look at it so she was able to make regular adjustments if she got off track. It helped her realise that she was forever living the life other people expected her to live rather than life on her own terms. It was quite a revelation.

Is this approach suitable for everyone and every client’s problem?

I can’t think of a client I have ever had where looking at their problem through the lens of The Five Pillars isn’t helpful. It is really useful to ask yourself “Is this psychological, emotional, biological, about lifestyle, or a lack of purpose and meaning?” The degree of impact will vary from person to person.

What are the advantages of the approach?

You can see what the cause of the problem is rather than the symptom. What a lot of therapies do is look at the symptom. Whereas this can bring relief, it is rarely ongoing if the cause is not dealt with too. The problem just crops up again or it emerges in a different guise. For example, someone may come to me for difficulties losing weight. If I just work on their relationship with food and not the elements which are causing that (it’s never just about food), they may transfer their coping strategy to something else unhelpful like drinking too much, gambling, spending too much online, or spending too much time scrolling through social media. These may feel like they are helping but really they are different forms of distraction which doesn’t tackle the root cause of the problem. When we don’t acknowledge the problems and deal with the cause, they just get worse. My technique helps people progress in life far more easily.

How does your approach affect mental health?

The great thing about The Five Pillars is that it works really nicely with mental health. The main factors of mental health are stress and anxiety which fit neatly into the Psychological and Emotional pillars. But they may also be affected by diet (biological), lifestyle and a lack of purpose and meaning (spiritual). I use a variety of techniques to support The Five Pillars including hypnotherapy, nutrition, cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR, energy psychology, mindfulness, and more. All of these are invaluable for mental health once the cause is understood.

Now many people experience daily stress about the future due to constant uncertainty and an unstable economy. Based on your approach, how do you recommend people deal with this problem?

Obviously I am seeing people who have problems so, by definition, they will tend to be anxious or stressed. But uncertainty about the future, financial worries, the pressure of living in lockdown, working from home with limited and perhaps shared resources, as well as home-schooling have a huge impact on people, as well as their relationships as we often take things out on the people we are closest to. Some people are also worried about coming out of lockdown – home has become a refuge to them and the world seems frightening. Everyone has reacteded in their own way.

  1. The important thing is that people control the controllable: we have more control in our lives than we think. A daily routine for example has helped a lot of people. Our brain likes certainty and routine provides a level of certainty in an otherwise chaotic world. There is also comfort in the certainty that, like all things, this too shall pass;
  2. Accept reality. We tend to spend a lot of mental energy battling with what is. When we can accept the things we can’t change, we let go of a lot of unnecessary stress. There is a wonderful concept that I like: Can you do something about this situation? Yes? Then don’t worry. No? Then don’t worry. Worry is over-rated. When it comes to the pandemic. Can you do something about it? Yes: you can follow the guidelines. That’s it.
  3. Negotiate space, time and resources if more than one of you are working from home. This saves a lot of frustration and creates some of the predictability we crave;
  4. Learn how to express your needs in a collaborative way and to handle conflict constructively;
  5. Make sure you have time outside in nature and time to yourself too. A lot of people will be drinking more and eating more but it is important to find different ways of managing stress. I have a YouTube demonstration on how to use EFT which is a wonderful self-help tool for any kind of negative emotions. It is available free here. I also teach my clients mindfulness which is a wonderful practice to cultivate. Remember that it isn’t selfish, or wasting time, to take care of yourself: It’s essential.

Since the pandemic, how has the coaching sphere changed?

First and foremost it has gone online so that’s a new experience for everyone. Zoom has been a saviour! But some people aren’t able to do online because there isn’t the privacy at home. So I have developed my Walk and Talk sessions where the person goes for a walk somewhere nice and we have a telephone coaching session. That way, they have some time out in nature while having their coaching session in privacy. It’s a nice combination.

In addition, as I am a coach and a therapist, I notice that more people are needing the therapeutic aspect more. It is a very tough time for many so it’s wonderful to offer this.

How can our readers contact you and follow on social media?

I have a YouTube channel with lots of videos about how to manage stress.
Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter: @TriciaWoolfrey.