Stress Therapy: A Helpful Guide

Published on: 24 Aug 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
man sitting with head in hands

While stress is a normal part of life, it can have serious, adverse effects when not properly managed. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately 73% of people say that stress has had a significant impact on their mental health, and 77% of people experience negative physical symptoms related to stress. 

Thankfully, techniques like stress counseling and therapy can help you learn to effectively cope with the stress in your life. You can’t avoid or completely eliminate stress, but through therapy, you can manage it in healthier ways, so it doesn’t grip your life and damage your relationships. Learn how, here. 

How Does Therapy Help with Stress?

Our bodies are actually designed to deal with toxic stress, but chronic or high levels can have a lasting impact on both our physical and emotional well-being. 

Extreme stress can put you at increased risk for several physical complications, including high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also affect you by interfering with your sleep, digestion, mood, and productivity.

Therapy can teach you how to manage your stress in a healthy way, effectively reducing stress symptoms. It won’t relieve stress you have in your life altogether, but therapy works because it focuses on changing how you respond to stressful situations and environments. Stress therapy can improve your health and your quality of life.

According to research, the benefits of therapy for different types of stress are many. You might see improved:

  • Sleep 
  • Mood
  • Physical health
  • Productivity 
  • Relationships
  • Digestion
  • Immune function

“Therapy can be an important coping strategy when it comes to dealing with stress. This is a safe space where stress can be addressed and processed through. A therapist can help identify triggers that lead to stress and/or make it worse.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Types of Therapy for Stress

Like most forms of treatment — for physical ailments or mental health conditions — therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. What works for one person may not be as effective for another. It’s also not a magic pill that will just erase all your problems in one shot. 

What it is, though, is a way for you to address the stress you have in your life so you can face it in a positive manner. Not every type of therapy for stress will be right for you. Certain styles might be more comfortable and a better fit, which ultimately means you’ll get more out of the process. 

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is an evidence-based form of stress reduction that uses mindfulness techniques combined with cognitive behavioral strategies to minimize feelings of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is about learning to be present in the moment instead of worrying about the past or the future (both of which you have no control over). This form of therapy might use meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and other techniques to reduce emotional stress and any other type of stress.

Studies suggest that MBSR is effective at reducing your stress level as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can give you tools so you can cope with stress in a healthy way and care for yourself in all aspects of your life. 

The traditional MBSR program is 8 weeks of group therapy, with homework given to participants to be completed in between sessions. However, elements of the technique may also be used by therapists in one-on-one sessions inside of another therapy modality.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely-used form of talk therapy that teaches you to identify and change unhealthy thought patterns. While it’s effective in treating many mental health conditions, CBT can specifically be used as a form of stress therapy.  

CBT works under the premise that though you might not be able to remove the source of your stress, you can learn to maintain a positive outlook and not let it get the best of you. CBT is an effective form of stress management that can also treat depression and anxiety and improve self-esteem.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective methods when it comes to dealing with stress. It helps to target the negative thoughts and get them to become more neutral to positive. It also helps to identify cognitive distortions, which can impact thoughts and make things seem worse than they actually are.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of CBT that helps you learn to cope with stress by using both mindfulness techniques and CBT. 

Mindfulness can allow you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, while CBT can teach you to reframe negative, unhelpful thought patterns. While CBT and mindfulness are both effective on their own, the stress management techniques can be incredibly powerful when combined, especially when being used for stress management.

Stress Therapy Take-Home Tips

Therapy for stress can be invaluable, but there are additional stress management techniques that you can also implement in your life without the help of a therapist. 

If you’ve been struggling with stress, these are some simple, proven effective, actionable tips you can try at home starting today. Making a commitment to taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do to control your stress levels. Try some or all of the following if you’re feeling stressed. 

Prioritize your health

When you’re in good health, your body will be better-equipped to respond to stress. Diet, exercise, and sleep all play an important role in managing stress. Try limiting your consumption of things that could increase your stress levels too, like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

A lack of sleep can increase your stress levels, and unfortunately, high levels of stress can make it difficult to sleep, creating a destructive cycle. Studies show that getting just 60 to 90 more minutes of sleep each night can help bring stress down to a healthy level. 

TIP: Setting a bedtime (and sticking to it!) can improve your sleep hygiene so you can get the rest you need and reduce stress.

Learn breathing exercises

When stress levels are high, breathing exercises can keep you grounded and calm you down. Deep breathing is easy, even when you’re overwhelmed, and research shows it naturally calms stress responses in the body. Focusing your attention on your breath can be a way to distract yourself from stress, too.

TIP: The next time you’re stressed, quietly try the 4-7-8 method. You can do it anywhere and you don’t need any tools or space. Best of all, nobody will know that you’re doing it, so whether you’re at work, in the car, or standing in a chaotic kitchen at home making dinner for your family, you can get relief from your stress. Simply:

  1. Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count to 4
  2. Hold your breath in for a count to 7
  3. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, making a whooshing sound, for a count to 8
  4. Repeat the cycle 4 times

Work on time management

It’s hard not to feel stressed when you don’t have time to get everything done. If you tend to put things off until the last minute, taking steps to improve your time management skills can be easy and effective. Establishing a schedule or a daily routine will help you use the time you have more effectively.

If you learn to prioritize tasks, you can take care of time-sensitive things right away. You’ll be able to plan ahead and work towards goals that you’ll be able to achieve.

TIP: Each night before bed, make a list of all the things you hope or need to accomplish the next day. Prioritize the top 3 – 5, depending on how long they’ll take, and then stick to that list the following day. 

Things to consider putting at the top of your list can include any tasks that you put off or dread and those you know will take the longest. Being able to cross these types of things off your list as early as possible can do wonders for how the rest of your day goes and how stressed you feel. 

Set aside time for yourself

Relaxation is essential to your physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately, when you’re busy, it can be hard to take time for yourself. Make a point of setting aside some me-time each day for relaxation exercises and techniques, even if it’s only 10 minutes. Self care is essential to your overall mental health and can allow you the space and time to mentally prepare for dealing with or processing your stress. 

TIP: During this time, you could go for a walk, exercise, write in a journal, or meditate. No matter how you choose to use your time, making time for yourself every day can help you increase your energy levels and minimize feelings of frustration or anxiety.

“Mindfulness meditation, walking, deep breathing exercises, listening to relaxing sounds or music, or using positive affirmations can help decrease stress levels.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMH

Be willing to say no (and not feel bad about it!)

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you have too much on your plate. Learn to be assertive and set boundaries with the people in your life. If someone asks you to take on a task that you simply don’t have time for, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and turn them down.

TIP: Setting boundaries can be hard at first, especially if you consider yourself a “people-pleaser,” but with practice, it becomes easier. If you find that you have a hard time saying no in the moment, come up with some easy, standard, quick responses that you can use immediately. 

Responding to requests with a simple “I’m sorry, I’m really maxed out right now. I’d love to help you, but I just can’t today” is straightforward and leaves no gray area for someone to argue or try to guilt you into doing something.  

Find a Therapist for Stress with Talkspace

Everyone experiences stress, but if high stress levels are interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s time to take action. A stress counseling service can provide you with tools and coping mechanisms that will help you deal with your stress the right way. Don’t let chronic stress take over your life. A therapist can give you the help and support you need.

Need help finding someone to talk to? Talkspace is the online therapy platform that makes getting therapy easy, fast, affordable, and best of all, convenient. Enjoy therapy sessions from the comfort of your own home, when and where you want them. Try Talkspace today to find out how therapy can help you take control of your stress. 

Sources:

1. Stress In America. American Psychological Association; 2007:3-7. https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/2007-stress.doc. Accessed June 30, 2022.

2. Dimsdale J. Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008;51(13):1237-1246. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.12.024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633295/. Accessed June 30, 2022.

3. Khoury B, Sharma M, Rush S, Fournier C. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res. 2015;78(6):519-528. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S002239991500080X. Accessed June 30, 2022.

4. Molla Jafar H, Salabifard S, Mousavi S, Sobhani Z. The Effectiveness of Group Training of CBT-Based Stress Management on Anxiety, Psychological Hardiness and General Self-Efficacy Among University Students. Glob J Health Sci. 2015;8(6):47. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v8n6p47. https://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/gjhs/article/view/53526. Accessed June 30, 2022.

5. Manage Stress – MyHealthfinder | health.gov. Health.gov. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/health-conditions/heart-health/manage-stress#panel-1. Published 2022. Accessed June 30, 2022.

 6. Choi D, Chun S, Lee S, Han K, Park E. Association between Sleep Duration and Perceived Stress: Salaried Worker in Circumstances of High Workload. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(4):796. doi:10.3390/ijerph15040796. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923838/. Accessed June 30, 2022.

7. Ma X, Yue Z, Gong Z et al. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/. Accessed June 30, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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