How To Get Stress Relief with Therapy?
Stress is a natural part of life. It comes in many forms: emotional, mental, and/or physical. The occasional stressors are harmless to our health. In fact, stressors can be utilized to push us to work towards important goals, or motivate us out of a bad situation. Moderate levels of stress allow the body and mind to respond at a faster speed. However, when the stressor becomes chronic, it can cause significant mental strain and long-term health problems.
“Stress” is defined as a state of mental, emotional strain and/or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Though, it’s important to note that stress can develop from within as well. Everyone deals with stressful situations at some point in their lives, how we are affected by these stressors, all depends on how we learn to deal with them and manage our way through the tough times.
Causes of Stress
Being that every person is different, everyone perceives and manifests stress in different ways. However, according to surveys, work stress tops the list. Forty percent of U.S. workers admit to experiencing office stress, and one-quarter say work is the biggest source of stress in their lives. Though, anything that causes discomfort can create stress in our lives. Chronic stress and its symptoms arise when the stressor remains and the body doesn’t have the opportunity to repair itself.
Some common life stressors that can have a big impact on your health are:
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic events, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
As said previously, sometimes the stress comes from within. You can mentally stress yourself out just by worrying about the future too much. Some ways of thinking that can lead to stress are:
- Fear and uncertainty about the future
- Attitudes and perceptions about your life
- Unrealistic expectations of yourself
- Not adapting to change well
Symptoms of Stress
Stress appears in a variety of ways that differ from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of early stress include increases in blood pressure, an increase in breathing rate, muscle tension, and a slowing of the metabolism. As the stress continues, additional symptoms can manifest, including:
- Weight gain
- Sleep loss
- Muscle pain
- Digestive issues
- Muscle spasms
- Hair loss
- Pain in the back or chest
- Erectile dysfunction and loss of libido
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Lower immunity against diseases
- Nervous twitches
- Pins and needles
Many medical conditions such as heart disease, fibromyalgia, eczema, type 2 diabetes, and even early death have been linked to stress. While stress does not necessarily cause these conditions, it does worsen them and increases a person’s likelihood of having stress-related medical conditions. According to Medical News Today, high and untreated stress levels can increase the negative effects of cancer and tumor aggressiveness. Some conditions of chronic stress such as insomnia, slowed metabolism, muscle spasms, and cramps can occur within a matter of days from stressful situations occurrence. It is not beneficial to wait to seek help as the symptoms persist. It’s important to seek professional help as soon as it becomes clear that you are suffering physically from stress. With stress comes some emotional reactions, as well.
These emotional reactions can include:
- concentration issues
- a feeling of insecurity
Behaviors linked to stress include:
- food cravings and eating too much or too little
- sudden angry outbursts
- drug and alcohol abuse
- higher tobacco consumption
- social withdrawal
- frequent crying
- relationship problems
Seeking Help for Stress
Feeling chronically stressed should not be left untreated, especially after stress symptoms start to appear. Depending on the kind of symptoms you manifest, you will need to either meet with a medical professional and/or a therapist. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, begin by visiting your doctor. A medical professional will be able to rule out any other causes of your symptoms and can discuss the types of stressors in your life.
In most cases, the next stage involves developing a customized plan for addressing the problems and eliminating the stressors. Psychotherapy is a popular method for most emotional issues related to stress. In therapy, a person will examine the deeper issues in their lives that could be contributing to their stress, such as toxic relationships, internal pressure from negative self-talk, or unresolved conflicts.
Sometimes a medical professional must be brought in to address issues such as heart palpitations, sleeplessness, and other physical symptoms. Remember that the effects of stress are cumulative, meaning that failure to address them can create greater and deeper health problems in the long run.
How to Compartmentalize Your Thoughts to Be Less Stressed
One of the most effective ways of dealing with stress is to compartmentalize. This means learning to set boundaries and focus on one thing at a time. Compartmentalizing is when you separate one area of thought from another. One way of compartmentalizing is leaving any stress caused by work at work when you hang out with your friends. For people with chronic stress, some days can seem so overwhelming that it’s hard to cope with daily responsibilities, focus, or think clearly. Everyone experiences these intense feelings of stress from time to time and all of us have bad days where stressors make it feel difficult to just make it through the day.
With the stress of family issues, working, and the pressures of everyday life, many people can feel like they’re drowning in a sea of stress. It often feels like there is no escape from the stress and that there is no obvious solution for eliminating the stressors that are creating problems for us.
Therapists and medical professionals agree that in order to maintain health and happiness, individuals must try to separate their areas of stress and learn how to use the tool of compartmentalizing. The question becomes how to separate everything and do it effectively to reduce your stress levels, which is a process your therapist can guide you through. Some of the techniques used for learning to compartmentalize include:
People who suffer from chronic stress are encouraged to be aware of the parts of their life that are causing them stress and to think of each area as a compartment. To keep the mind from overflowing and losing focus, try not to let thoughts jump back and forth from one stressor to the next. When a person can take control of their thoughts, they can make decisions without the influence of everything that is stressing them out. For example, if a person is stressed about their finances as well as taking care of an elderly parent, they should try to think about one of those stressors at a time. They can set aside some time to work on a budget and do financial planning while just focusing on that task. When thoughts about other areas of stress pop up, they can gently remind themselves to deal with one thing at a time and give themselves permission to think about being a caregiver later.
Lighten the load
For many people, the reason for their stress is that they just have too much to do. In today’s fast-paced society many people get caught up in trying to “do it all” and they may feel like a failure if they can’t keep up with maintaining all the tasks they take on. If you are chronically stressed, it’s important to take a step back and assess the areas of your life where you can reduce the burden. Talking to coworkers and family members about adjusting the way your workload is divided, to see if there are ways to lighten your load and reduce some of the stress in your life, is a good place to start. Limit the number of new tasks or roles you volunteer to take on and ask yourself if you really have the time for them before you commit to new projects.
Sometimes it seems impossible not to multitask when your plate is filled with responsibilities. Unfortunately, multitasking is not as effective as we might think. Recent studies have shown evidence that the human brain is meant to focus on one thing at a time, and multitasking creates stress and actually makes us less efficient. By placing our attention on multiple tasks at one time, we are not seeing the benefits we want and instead can be causing more stress in our lives than if we focused on one task or project at a time.
Taking the time to transition slowly from one task to the next, gives us some relief from focusing on our responsibilities all of the time. It allows us to put behind a source of stress and enjoy the non-stressful parts of the day. Rather than letting thoughts and actions flow from one activity right into the next, recognize your thought patterns and make it a priority to take a moment before switching to a new task. People who suffer from chronic stress are encouraged to cleanse the mind in between activities by doing something simple to clear the mind like taking a walk, meditating, or drinking tea before moving on to the next thing. Taking breaks allows the body and mind to rest and gives a person a much-needed break from a stressful day. Even when very busy, a few minutes of solitude can be highly beneficial to reducing stress.
One of the best ways to begin compartmentalization is to write down a plan. As simple as this sounds, taking out a pad of paper and a pen is one of the last things we tend to do when we are stressed. To reduce stress, list each of the parts of your life that are creating stress or worry. For each point of stress, write a goal. Once you have determined the goal, write down each step that you need to take to reduce your stress and achieve that goal. No matter how simple, obvious or mundane the step may seem, write it down. This helps to take what seems like an insurmountable task and breaks it down into smaller, more manageable pieces that aren’t as daunting.
For example, if a particular project is causing stress at work, write down what it is and the steps you need to take to complete it successfully. An important part of planning is to find ways to reward yourself when you reach a goal. A recent study suggests that a plan and reward system may be the most effective stress-relief mechanism.
Learning how to compartmentalize your stress is not easy. Many people seek professional help from trained therapists or psychiatrists to help them learn how to do this effectively. It takes practice to recognize the destructive thought patterns and actions that contribute to stress.
Why Seek Therapy for Stress?
Since stress is something that everyone experiences, many people believe that they should be able to cope with it on their own, but some people need more assistance than they can provide for themselves. Professional help can be beneficial in giving you an outlet to talk about your stress, learning to identify the main causes of stress in your life, and learning how to incorporate tools for reducing stress daily.
Treatment Options for Stress Therapy
Psychotherapy – This type of therapy takes place with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another type of mental health professional. In psychotherapy, people are encouraged to discover the underlying causes of their stress so that they can learn strategies for improving their quality of life.
Behavior Therapy – There are several types of behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most beneficial ways to deal with stress. In CBT, people are taught to recognize and change negative thought patterns and apply different tools to help them improve their negative-self talk to be more positive. For relieving stress, this means people can learn to be less hard on themselves and to recognize that it’s ok to reduce some of their burdens without seeing themselves as a failure.
Alternative Therapies – In addition to traditional methods of stress therapy, there are many activities that an individual can do to alleviate their stress. Activities like exercise, yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, and social support are all useful tools to try if a person is faced with intense feelings of stress or pressure.
Find a Therapist for Help with Stress
With treatment, people can learn to relieve their stress and live more enjoyable lives. Search TherapyTribe for a psychologist or mental health counselor specializing in stress. TherapyTribe can connect individuals with therapists online or to professionals located near where they live.
- Joseph Goldberg, MD (2018, March 11). Causes of Stress. Retrieved April 1, 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/causes-of-stress#1
- Elizabeth Agnvall (2014, November). Stress! Don’t Let It Make You Sick. Retrieved April 1, 2019 from https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/stress-and-disease.html
- Christian Nordqvist (2017, November 28). Why stress happens and how to manage it. Retrieved April 1, 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855.php