When One Drop health coach, Melinda Washington, was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in her twenties, she realized stress played a more toxic role in her life than she ever thought possible. After getting her IBS diagnosis and learning how to manage her symptoms, she left her career in sales, went back to school, and became a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
What do you do as a health coach at One Drop?
I help people with chronic conditions understand their self-care needs and offer advice on how to meet their goals using proper nutrition, healthy forms of movement, and in some cases, mindfulness-based techniques. Take diabetes, for example. It’s a condition that can often lead to burnout, considering the day-to-day, even minute-to-minute, maintenance it requires for carb-counting, calculating insulin doses, measuring blood sugar, and more.
Tell us about your own IBS diagnosis.
At first, my doctors didn’t really understand the cause of my IBS. In fact, it was my own self-reflection that led me to connect the dots between stress and IBS. I thought stress was just part of success.
At the time, I worked a demanding job in sales. That adrenaline is what motivated me to be successful. It served me well, until it didn’t—until I got sick. In learning more about my condition and how to manage it, I went down a rabbit hole exploring the mind-body connection. I wanted to know: “how does something in my mind affect my body and my health?”
What did you discover?
Mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation simply means focusing your attention on your stream of consciousness and, without judgment, acknowledging the thoughts—both positive and negative—that float by. That means you can practice meditation in a variety of ways, from the traditional cross-legged-on-the-floor position, to more active mind-body practices, such as tai chi or yoga.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is essentially the practice of remaining open-minded about your thoughts and staying grounded in the present moment—a skill that you’re also employing when you meditate.
Think of meditation as something you intentionally set aside time to practice in one form or another, and mindfulness as a state of being that you can maintain throughout your day, regardless of what you’re doing or where you are.
What are the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in managing a chronic condition?
For me, they became the “keys” to managing my stress and, in turn, my IBS symptoms. I started watching and observing my thoughts, and recognizing that my thoughts lead to emotions and the emotions lead to physical responses in my body. I thought: “how can I disrupt that loop when it comes to stress and negative thoughts?”
Research has shown that, when done regularly, different forms of meditation may help lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of a heart condition, and relieve chronic back pain. Even among people with diabetes, mindfulness techniques have been linked to improvements in weight, and blood sugar control.
How does your own experience help you relate to the members you coach?
We’re often not taught to make the connection between our stress and the signs and symptoms of our own chronic condition. In my case, it was a connection I made myself through tools from a therapist to help me understand behavior in relation to my IBS symptoms.
I ask members simple questions and listen for a link between their lifestyle and expression of their symptoms that show up in diabetes. When elevated blood sugars can’t be connected to adjustment in medication or food intake, I look for other triggers.
Why do you recommend employers seek out a program like One Drop?
One Drop helps employees manage a condition, so they can show up fully at work. It’s like having your own healthcare professional on the fly.
In the One Drop app, a member’s health information is confidential. They may not feel comfortable being vulnerable or honest with someone at work. When members share how they’re feeling, they’re better able to manage blood sugar and stress, even if it’s something related to work.
Most recently, I had powerful exchanges with a director and a line worker for two different companies. They came to me for a shared goal. How they come, what they come for, and what they’re receptive to, is not so much determined by their role, but the goal. The language they use is different, but they’re ready to receive support equally. The reason they reached out is the same.
Do you have a coaching success story you’d like to share?
One Drop has a pilot program for gestational diabetes management program with a medical team at Jamaica Hospital in New York. When excess hormones block insulin, the unborn baby is in danger of receiving too much sugar. There’s a lot of urgency for the parent to improve their health.
One participant in particular comes to mind from Guyana, originally from India. She practiced meditation growing up and attended a Hindu temple. She was already drinking enough water, going for walks, and making low-carb choices. When her blood sugar was elevated, for her, it was due to stress. She was able to apply the meditation practices she grew up with to visualize holding her baby, giving her a sense of calm and hope rather than constant fear, causing blood sugar to reduce.
She was able to tap into a familiar practice and reapply it to improve her blood sugar. You could see how she became calmer and more reassured. I didn’t have to teach her—she already had an amazing tool. She had the power within herself to change her outcome.
She and the baby are doing just fine.
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