Therapist

Does therapy help with stress

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Stress is a normal part of life — good stress and bad stress. With bad stress, you have both physical and emotional reactions to certain triggers that can cause you to worry and feel on edge. Stress can fluctuate at work or at home, while challenging situations and other changes in your life can trigger it, too.

If you’re curious about how you can manage stress through therapy, read on to learn more about what types of therapy and therapists can help.

What therapies work for stress?

While stress itself is a normal part of life, recurring stress that interferes with your daily activities and overall well-being is not. Stress can manifest itself in different ways, including excessive worrying, inability to sleep at night, and body aches.

Stress can take its toll, but therapy can help you manage it better. Some types of therapy may even equip you with strategies to cope with future stress. Below are the most commonly used therapies for stress and related mental health conditions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for short-term help

CBT is perhaps one of the most common types of therapy available, as it addresses your thought patterns and behaviors. Your therapist will help you identify your stressors, and help you come up with healthier responses to reduce the impact of your triggers.

CBT may be used on either a short-term or long-term basis. This can make it suitable for helping to treat chronic mental health conditions, as well as helping you get through traumatic events and other causes of acute stress.

You may benefit from CBT if you’re concerned about:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • phobias
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Psychodynamic therapy

Like CBT, psychodynamic therapy aims to help you identify thought patterns that may dictate behavioral responses. Psychodynamic therapy, however, is used on a more long-term basis. It may be best suited for stress caused by long-standing issues that you have been dealing with, which are intertwined with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy is similar to CBT with its focus on changes in behavior. But unlike CBT, behavioral therapy is more focused on your actions, rather than your thoughts.

According to this type of therapy, your actions are dictated by previous behaviors. By changing your behavioral responses to stress now, you can create new patterns and possibly avoid further stress.

Behavioral therapy tends to work best for long-term triggers of stress, including traumatic events, as well as conditions such as anxiety, phobias, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a technique traditionally used to treat phobias, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. You might benefit from this type of therapy if you have a mental health condition that causes you to avoid certain situations, objects, people, and places.

This type of therapy may also help address chronic stress if you practice avoidance in an effort to avoid more stress. Unfortunately, such avoidance can make stress and anxiety-related disorders worse by making you feel even more uneasy.

Exposure therapy works by allowing your therapist to help gradually expose you to the triggers that you intentionally avoid. The idea is that, over time, you will become accustomed to these fears and become less stressed about them.

Group therapy

In some cases, group therapy may be an option if you’re dealing with an extremely stressful event. Examples include a natural disaster, child loss, divorce, and more. A trained therapist leads sessions, and you may find the group setting allows you to feel empowered and less alone.

What kind of therapist is best for stress?

Trained psychologists or a psychotherapists are generally the best type of mental health professionals for stress-related therapies. Their mission is to help you identify triggers of stress while collaboratively developing a plan with you to manage them. Psychotherapists are also referred to as “talk therapists.”

When looking for a therapist, you can ask a prospective professional what modalities they specialize in. For example, many talk therapists use CBT, while others might specialize in psychodynamic therapy. Also, some psychotherapists specialize in stress and related mental health conditions such as anxiety.

While psychologists and psychotherapists tend to be the most helpful in assisting their clients with behavioral changes in response to stress, some situations may warrant other types of mental health professionals who also use talk therapy techniques. These include:

  • Psychiatrists, who can also administer mental health medications and have medical training
  • Group counselor, who specializes in working with a small group of people with similar struggles
  • Play therapists for younger children
  • School counselors, who may address stress in school-aged children, as well as college students

No matter which professional you seek stress therapies from, be sure that they are licensed in your state and have the relevant education and experience to help you.

How to get help 

If you feel that stress is starting to interfere with your daily activities, it’s time to reach out for help. The American Psychological Association is a good place to start your online search. Check out their free psychologist locator to find therapists in your state. You can also ask your family doctor for recommendations.

While many insurance companies cover mental health services, it’s important to check with your provider regarding in-network therapists. You’ll also want to check out information regarding co-payments and other fees.

There are affordable therapy options no matter your insurance coverage and budget.

Some therapists don’t take medical insurance due to privacy concerns. You may check to see if they offer sliding scale fees to help off-set your costs. Local clinics, blogs, therapy apps, and virtual sessions may also be less expensive.

It’s important to schedule an initial consultation to gauge your comfort level with your therapist. You may find that it takes a few different therapists until you’ve found the right fit.

What else helps with stress?

Aside from therapy, there are other steps you can take to reduce stress in your everyday life right now. You can start with the following:

  • Exercise regularly. Research shows that even walking for 30 minutes each day can decrease stress and boost your overall mood.
  • Schedule regular relaxation intervals. Do something that relaxes you for at least several minutes a day. Just some ideas include taking a warm bath, gentle yoga stretches, deep breathing exercises, or reading a book.
  • Prevent social isolation. While seeing friends and family for in-person activities can help, even making phone calls or talking virtually can keep you socially connected and reduce your stress.
  • Reassess your priorities. Focus on daily tasks without worrying too much over what you can’t get done. Also, say “no” to unnecessary tasks, and delegate extra work when you start to feel overwhelmed.

The above techniques can work for both chronic and acute forms of stress, and they can complement any therapies you decide to try. If you’re struggling with ongoing stress, see a mental health professional for advice.

The takeaway

Occasional stress isn’t necessarily a cause for concern if you are able to manage it on your own. But if stress interferes with your life on a regular basis and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to seek help.

Left untreated, ongoing (chronic) stress may contribute to (or worsen) certain mental health conditions, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.

Unmanaged stress can also have other consequences to your health. These may include digestive ailments, high blood pressure (hypertension), and sleep disorders. Long-term stress is also linked to metabolic disorders.

Therapy can be an invaluable tool for stress, whether you’re going through an unusually tough time or if you’ve been struggling with chronic stress. It can even address stress related to mental health conditions or chronic illnesses.

  • Stress is a normal part of life—but it can become harmful if it grows in excess, as a result of our failing to address and manage it properly.
  • Fortunately, if you are struggling with stress management, a therapist can help you: first, they’ll assist you in identifying the major stressors in your life.
  • Additionally, therapy will serve as that safe place for releasing all of your emotions: your therapist will help you to understand and address these difficult feelings.
  • Finally, a therapist can help you to determine effective coping mechanisms as well as self-care activities that will help you better manage stress.
  • These mechanisms and activities can be simple, as they often involve things like exercising, listening to music, and deep breathing.

The car isn’t starting. Work is hectic. Your husband is in a bad mood. And the kids won’t listen. You try to take a deep breath in, as every “bad” thing pushes to the forefront of your mind. But you fail to regain control—and you’re left wondering what to do, where to turn.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: stress is a normal part of all of our lives. It’s when we fail to process and manage this stress that it becomes harmful. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Alexis Elliott explains: “It is important to note that stress is a part of life. There is good stress and bad stress, but it is all around us. Stress itself can be harnessed as a useful tool for motivation, it’s not all bad. But it’s when we have an abundance of unchecked stressors in our lives and ineffective coping mechanisms to deal with it that it becomes a problem.” That’s when therapy or counseling can make a big difference. If you’re struggling with stress management, a mental health professional can help you identify your primary stressors, confront your feelings, and discover effective means for coping with stress:

1. Bring awareness to the major stressors in your life.

If you’re considering working with a counselor or therapist for stress management, you can expect them to help you identify the major stressors in your life. “Therapy can bring about awareness of what is actually causing an individual stress,” Stevon Lewis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, explains. “Oftentimes, we aren’t aware of what is creating feelings of stress and making us feel overwhelmed. Talk therapy can assist with identifying stressors and singling out which is causing you the most distress.” He gives an example: “Sometimes we are stressed because we can’t or won’t say “no”. As a result, we take on too much and neglect ourselves. Therapy can help a person work through why they feel the need to say “yes” to everything and implement more appropriate boundaries that allow for them to place some priority over their own needs.”

2. Provide a healthy outlet for releasing your emotions.

Also, therapy serves as that safe place for releasing all of your emotions, even the ones you’ve kept tucked away. “Therapy techniques give people an opportunity to deal with and offload the emotions in this proverbial bag, which ultimately decreases the stress response in the body,” says Tiffany Toombs, Mental Wellness Expert. “By facing and addressing one’s issues and finding a resolution or peace with their problems, they subsequently lower their stress levels, allow the sympathetic nervous system to relax and turn off, which decreases the concentration of the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol in the body. By switching off the sympathetic nervous system and lowering our stress levels, we have a greater capacity to face and address future stresses with ease as they come.”

3. Help you find effective coping mechanisms and self-care activities.

Finally, counselors and therapists can help you identify coping mechanisms and self-care activities that work well for you. “It is important to help clients identify coping mechanisms to implement into their everyday life that are doable for them in order to manage their stress in a healthy and effective way,” Psychotherapist Ariel Sank explains. “Self-care is an extremely important part of stress management and finding ways for clients to implement self-care into their routine will be very helpful in managing overall stress while coping mechanisms can be helpful to combat stress in the moment. Examples of this may be exercise, deep breathing techniques, listening to music, or finding activities that you enjoy and making them a priority in their daily life.”

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