How Can CBT Help to Treat Stress?
We naturally feel a certain amount of stress when we come face to face with challenges in life. When we are feeling self-confident and in control, we can manage our way through stress triggering situations, without too much discomfort.
However, in certain situations, for example, under conditions of prolonged stress or following a traumatic incident, stress levels can intensify. This is because, physiological and psychological stress symptoms become more severe. Stress symptoms, such as, excessive worry, heart racing, churning stomach, etc. can begin to interfere with your overall well-being and start to make specific or everyday life situations difficult to cope with.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can provide you with a new perspective on your situation, enabling you to regain control, reduce the intense physiological and emotional symptoms and adopt effective strategies that will help you deal with stressful situations with more confidence and ease.
What are the Benefits of CBT Therapy for Stress?
- Discover why specific situations create a stress response in you.
- Learn how particular patterns of thinking and behaviour you hold may be keeping you stuck and preventing you from feeling better
- Discover new ways of thinking and behaving that can eliminate some stress factors from your life completely and enable you to cope better with unavoidable situations which can make you feel stress
- Develop a new understanding and increased confidence in your ability to deal with stressful situations in the future
How Does CBT for Stress Work?
CBT therapy for stress enables you to understand how certain thinking and behaviour patterns can increase stress levels. It can also help you to develop new thinking and behaviour patterns which enable you to identify stress causing triggers and increase your confidence and ability to deal with stressful situations more effectively.
After a good course of cognitive behavioural therapy for stress, you should expect to feel more at ease, in control and better able to handle life situations; both those which give rise to stress and also to actually prevent certain situations from causing you any stress at all.
What are Sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Stress Like?
In your first meeting, your CBT therapist will work with you and ask particular questions. This approach will enable you achieve more clarity regarding the challenges you are facing and help identify a plan of action which can enable you tackle stressors more effectively.
In the following sessions your cognitive behavioural therapist will help you consider situations which are triggers for stress from a new perspective. This process can enable you to understand factors which increase your stress levels from a new perspective. You will also learn different ways of thinking and behaving that will enable you to actively reduce stress and increase your capacity to cope more effectively in stress inducing situations.
Stress Issues CBT Can Help Treat
CBT can help you develop the confidence to manage a whole range of stressful situations with more ease and self-confidence. Below is a list of some of the most well known situations it can people address:
- Stress at work / career / business management
- Relationship Stress
- Stress accompanied by anxiety and/or depression
- Stress that seems pervasive in many areas of your life
- Stress that doesn’t make sense when you feel you “should feel ok”
- Stress caused by particular life changes
- Stress activated by the desire to succeed in life
- Stress caused by challenging family situations / relationships
- Stress caused by loneliness or longing for a partner/relationship
- Stress triggered from the experience of a traumatic event
- Stress caused by low-self esteem or low self-confidence
- Stress triggered by social situations / social anxiety
- Stress which arises when you need to perform or take certain actions
How Many Sessions of CBT Therapy are Needed to Treat Stress
Many people wonder how much therapy will be required to help them address stress effectively. There are a number of factors which influence the amount of CBT therapy you might find most helpful:
- How long you have been dealing with stress
- Your levels of self-confidence and self-esteem
- The intensity of the stress situation(s) you are dealing with
Six sessions is most commonly prescribed on the NHS because it is the shortest amount of time that can be provided and still shows some evidence of positive outcomes. This number of sessions can be most helpful if you are generally confident and you are facing a specific and not too complex stress situation. If the stress you are experiencing has been prolonged, your self-esteem is low or there are several other stress inducing factors you have to cope with, 6 sessions is unlikely to help you tackle it all completely.
Twelve sessions of CBT therapy is more commonly recommended when alongside the stress inducing situation you also have to deal with accompanying issues such as anxiety, low-self esteem and or depression. It may also be more helpful if you are dealing with more than one stress causing issue in your life.
24 Sessions or More
Twenty four sessions or more may be recommended when the stress you are facing has been longstanding and there are other longstanding factors affecting your wellbeing such as accompanying anxiety and depression.
The Limitations of CBT Therapy for Treating Stress
Whilst CBT therapy provides some excellent tools for understanding and coping better with stress, it is sometimes limited in its ability to achieve more than this. At KlearMinds, we have seen many people who have had CBT therapy for stress but found it hasn’t addressed the whole picture for them and symptoms return. This is generally because CBT doesn’t treat older, underlying roots, which may be limiting your capacity to manage stress effectively, on an ongoing basis. To address this therapeutic shortfall, we also provide a range of psychotherapies that can help you understand the original root of the problem, so that new coping strategies make more sense, as you address the problem from the root upwards. This approach can result in more lasting and comprehensive change, than may be achieved through cognitive behavioural therapy alone.
Learn more about our range of psychotherapy.
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Negative thoughts can create more stress in our lives. Not only can “negative affect,” or being in a bad mood, color our experience so that many of the things we experience seem more stressful and even overwhelming, but our bad mood can be contagious, and can even cause others to treat us in a less friendly way, perpetuating negativity in us and virtually everyone we encounter, to a degree.
It is easy to get trapped into the habit of thinking negatively, and changing those thought processes is a goal in cognitive therapy.
Many people have found this to be a useful tool in their stress management strategy.
Cognitive therapy has been found to be effective in the treatment of many issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, and even severe stress. Whether the stress is contributing to mood disorders or is just creating unpleasant feelings that are interfering with a happy lifestyle, cognitive therapy (or a mix of cognitive and behavioral therapy) can be a very effective mode of treatment.
The Idea Behind Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy for stress rests on the premise that it’s not simply the events in our lives that cause us stress, it’s the way we think about them.
For example, two people may be caught in traffic. One person could view this situation as an opportunity to listen to music or get lost in thought and become (or remain) relaxed. Another person may focus on the wasted time or the feeling of being trapped, and become distressed.
There are hundreds of examples of how our thoughts and our negative self-talk color our experiences. These can lead to a triggered stress response or a calm demeanor.
Virtually all of the thought patterns that negatively impact our experiences can be categorized into one of 10 common cognitive distortions. Therapists using a cognitive approach work with clients to recognize and alter these habitually negative thought patterns. You can also work on some of them at home.
Using Cognitive Therapy for Stress Relief
Many people have found a cognitive approach to be wonderfully helpful and much quicker than other therapeutic approaches.
There is no standard length or number of cognitive therapy sessions needed for the treatment of stress. It depends on what your needs are. After a few sessions, some people see improvement. Other people may need months of therapy before they feel better.
This is significantly faster than the years-on-the-couch rate of psychoanalytic therapy, which is what many people still think of when they think of “going to a shrink.”
Support for the effectiveness of this approach comes from research on optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles. It is also revealed by the positive results that come from cognitive therapy for stress, or a mix of cognitive and behavioral therapy.
Cognitive therapy has also been combined with the practice of mindfulness. This created mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which has shown promising effects as well.
Giving It a Try
When interviewing potential therapists, ask about their experience with this approach. You can also search out someone who specializes in cognitive therapeutic interventions.
If you’re not interested in seeing a therapist at this point but would like to use some cognitive techniques to reduce your stress levels, you can begin at home. There are plenty of books, online courses, and resources that can help you learn to change your thinking patterns.
A Word From Verywell
If you’re not sure if you need cognitive therapy, you might start by asking your physician. Explain your symptoms and ask whether your doctor thinks a referral to a therapist might be helpful. Seeking help can be a little scary but it might be one of the best choices you ever make.