How To Get Stress Relief with Therapy?
Stress is a natural part of life and comes in many forms: emotional, mental, or physical. The occasional stressors are harmless to our health. Stressors can push us to work towards meaningful 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 a mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Everyone deals with stressful situations at some point in their lives. How we are affected by these stressors depends on how we learn to deal with them and manage our way through the tough times. However, it’s important to note that stress can also develop from within.
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 most significant source of stress in their lives. Though, anything that causes discomfort can create tension 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 significant 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 event such as: a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
As said previously, sometimes, stress comes from within. You can mentally stress yourself out 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 increased blood pressure, increased 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 adverse effects of cancer and tumor aggressiveness. Chronic stress conditions such as insomnia, slowed metabolism, muscle spasms, and cramps can occur within a matter of days from stressful situations. It is not beneficial to wait to seek help as the symptoms persist. It’s essential 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
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, visit your doctor. You will need to meet with a medical professional or a therapist, depending on your symptoms. A medical professional can rule out any other causes of your symptoms and discuss the types of stressors in your life. Feeling chronically stressed should not be left untreated, especially after stress symptoms appear.
Psychotherapy is a popular method for most emotional issues related to stress. In therapy, a person will examine the deeper issues that could contribute to their stress, such as toxic relationships, internal pressure from a negative-self talk, or unresolved conflicts. In most cases, the next stage involves developing a customized plan for addressing the problems and eliminating the stressors.
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 more significant 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- setting boundaries and focusing 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 we all have bad days where stressors make it difficult to 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 stress, and no apparent solution for eliminating the stressors creates problems for us.
Therapists and medical professionals agree that to maintain health and happiness; individuals must separate their areas of stress and learn how to use the compartmentalization tool. The question becomes how to disconnect 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:
- Focusing: Individuals that suffer from chronic stress are encouraged to become 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 people can take control of their thoughts, they can make decisions without the influence of everything stressing them out. For example, if stressed about their finances and taking care of an elderly parent, they should try to think about one of those stressors at a time. They can set aside time to work on a budget and do financial planning while focusing on that task. When thoughts about other stress areas pop up, they can gently remind themselves to deal with one thing at a time and permit themselves to think about being a caregiver later.
- Lighten the load: In today’s fast-paced society, many people get caught up in trying to “do it all.” They may feel like a failure if they can’t keep up with maintaining all the tasks they take on. For many people, the reason for their stress is that they have too much to do. If you are chronically stressed, taking a step back and assessing the areas where you can reduce the burden is essential. 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 an excellent place to start. Limit the number of new tasks or roles you volunteer to take on and ask yourself if you have the time for them before you commit to new projects.
- Avoid Multitasking: 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 makes us less efficient. By focusing 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 concentrating on one task or project at a time.
- Transition: Taking the time to transition slowly from one task to the next relieves us from focusing on our responsibilities all 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 suffering 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. 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 significantly reduce stress.
- Plan: 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 stressed. Please write it down no matter how simple, obvious or mundane the step may seem. This helps to take what seems like an insurmountable task and break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces that aren’t as daunting. An essential part of planning is to find ways to reward yourself when you reach a goal. For example, if a project is causing stress at work, write down what it is and the steps you need to take to complete it successfully. A recent study suggests that a plan and reward system may be the most effective stress-relief mechanism. Learning how to compartmentalize your stress takes work. Recognizing the destructive thought patterns and actions that contribute to stress takes practice. Many people seek professional help from trained therapists or psychiatrists to help them learn how to do this effectively. To reduce stress:
- List each part of your life that is creating stress or worry.
- For each point of tension, write a goal.
- Once you have determined the purpose, write down each step you need to take to reduce stress and achieve that goal.
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, identify the leading causes of stress in your life, and learn 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 to 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 recognize that it’s okay 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 helpful tools for a person with intense anxiety or pressure.
Psychotherapist Owen O’Kane introduced the term post-pandemic stress disorder in 2021. Although PPSD is not an independent disease today, it is a severe problem many people face, often unaware of it. The term is not yet classified as a mental disorder in the DSM. However, according to O’Kane, post-pandemic stress disorder (PPSD) differs from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder resulting from experiencing an extremely stressful event. The situation must exceed the person’s ability to adapt and cope with stress. In the case of PTSD, this is often a single sizeable event, like war, rape, abuse, or experiencing a natural disaster. In the case of PPSD, the resulting trauma is due to being affected by several smaller distressing experiences. These may include a fear of infection, exposure to quarantine and isolation, fear of job loss, lockdown, loneliness, and loss of social life.
Find a Therapist for Help with Stress
People can learn to relieve stress and live more enjoyable lives with treatment—search TherapyTribe for a psychologist or mental health counselor specializing in stress management. TherapyTribe can connect individuals with therapists online or with professionals near their homes.
- 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
- Laskawiec D, Grajek M, Szlacheta P, Korzonek-Szlacheta I. Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder as an Effect of the Epidemiological Situation Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Healthcare (Basel). 2022 May 24;10(6):975. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10060975. PMID: 35742026; PMCID: PMC9222801.