People sometimes think that therapy is only beneficial if they are in an acute crisis, feeling very depressed or anxious. Some therapies, CBT in particular, are great for building everyday coping skills, such as those used in stress management. Our level of stress can be influenced by internal or external events and while we have some control over those that are external, such as managing time better, delegating, etc. we have even more control over the internal processes. Our internal sense of stress is related to how we think about things, how we perceive and appraise them. For example, is this stressful event a crisis or an opportunity? Changing the way you think about these events can change your feelings about them, resulting in less stress overall.
Stress is a result of feeling overwhelmed, not feeling as though we have enough resources to cope with the current demands on us. Sometimes how you perceive the stress or situation can help with that. CBT can help you look at your thoughts and reframe them in a way that helps you experience less stress over events you used to find overwhelming. It can also give you the resources you need to help you feel less overwhelmed even when there are many external stressors.
Individuals with high levels of stress are more likely to make thinking errors, which psychologists call cognitive distortions (Dhanalakshmi, 2015). Common cognitive distortions made by those who are stressed are catastrophizing and shoulding, among others. Catastrophizing is best described as making mountains out of molehills, making something worse, or more significant in one’s mind than it is. Shoulding, on the other hand, is essentially blaming yourself for not be able to handle something “I should be able to cope with this.” Part of CBT is identifying these errors, challenging, and changing them. For example, instead of feeling stressed out because you are in what you feel to be a useless meeting, you may be able to reframe that as a time to practice mindfulness and rest your body. Or a time to reconnect with your coworkers. Both of those thoughts make it feel less pointless and will lower your stress level. It is all about how you think about the situation, and those thoughts are what CBT can help change.
CBT will not only focus on your thoughts, however, CBT will also teach you how to adjust your behavior to manage stress better. Relaxation or mindfulness practices can be extremely beneficial in lowering your stress level. Teaching your body how to relax on cue is extremely beneficial because the physiological state of relaxation is the exact opposite of the state of anxiety, they cannot coexist. Practicing these skills allows you to more quickly cope with the physiological effects of stress.
Research shows that engaging in CBT can improve overall well-being by addressing these cognitive errors (Lester, Mathews, Davison, Burgess, & Yiend, 2011) and that it can even be effective in as few as 6 weeks (Deckro et al., 2002). Maybe it is time to try CBT as your new approach to stress management.
Dr. Nicki Favero - Contributor
Dr. Favero is a Clinical Psychologist licensed in Virginia. She currently practices telepsychology and is an associate professor at the University of Lynchburg. Her past academic work has been focused on children, personality, and social media usage. Her clinical work has focused mainly on primary care psychology and childhood and adolescent assessment. She recently coauthored a book through Pearson and has recently begun a blog at Psychology Today.
Dhanalakshmi, D. (2015). Perceived stress, cognitive distortion, sense of coherence and health among college students. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 6(3), 287-291. Retrieved from http://library.capella.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.proquest.com%2Fdocview%2F1679425383%3Faccountid%3D2796
Deckro, G. R., Ballinger, K. M., Hoyt, M., Wilcher, M., Dusek, J., Myers, P., . . . Benson, H. (2002). The evaluation of a Mind/Body intervention to reduce psychological distress and perceived stress in college students. Journal of American College Health, 50(6), 281-287. doi:10.1080/07448480209603446
Lester, K. J., Mathews, A., Davison, P. S., Burgess, J. L., & Yiend, J. (2011). Modifying cognitive errors promotes cognitive well being: A new approach to bias modification. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42(3), 298-308. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.01.001