It is common to experience stress throughout life, and many people go through phases of high or increased levels of stress. While short periods of slightly increased stress levels may be considered normal, it is important to address high levels of stress and extended periods of increased stress.
For those who need help with stressful situations or feelings, stress therapy, also known as stress management or stress management therapy, is an option. This is a group of techniques, strategies, or programs that are used to address stressful situations and your stress response to those situations.
This article will discuss stress, types of stress therapy, how to know if you need stress therapy, how you can benefit from it, and tips for finding a therapist that suits your needs.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a feeling of overwhelm or doubt related to situations or things that happen to us. It can be physical, mental, or emotional. For example, stress can feel like an upset stomach, lots of thoughts racing through the mind, or self-doubt. Many stressful events or situations involve changes or adjustments, such as moving to a new place or starting a new job.
It is important to understand that stressful situations or events are not limited to negative experiences. Stress can come from positive changes, too. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (also known as the Life Events Rating Scale) was developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, two American psychiatrists. This tool includes life events that may lead to stress, some that people generally consider to be positive and those considered negative.
Possible Causes of Stress
There are many situations or events that can cause stress. These include:
- Addition of a new family member
- Changes in personal habits, education, career, or relationship dynamics
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Changes experienced by a spouse or partner
- Conflict at work or school, or with family or friends
- Death, injury, or illness of a friend or family member
- Divorce, separation, breakup, or reconciliation of a partnership, marriage, or relationship
- Financial status change, new loan or mortgage, or mortgage or loan default
- High personal achievement
- Holidays or vacations
- Injury or recovery or physical, mental, or emotional health challenges
- Legal challenges
- Life transitions such as pregnancy or retirement
- Living condition changes or a household member moving in or out
- Recreational or social activity changes
- Responsibility changes
- Sexual challenges
- Social relationship conflict
Stress Management Therapy
Stress management therapy is the use of techniques, strategies, or programs specifically to reduce stress levels, prevent stress, or cope with situations or events that could lead to increased stress levels. Some examples include psychotherapy (talk therapy) for stress and relaxation training.
Stress therapy can be beneficial when someone is:
- Experiencing stress for a long period of time
- Experiencing high levels of stress
- Going through life changes or transitions
- Anticipating future changes or transitions
There are many benefits of stress therapy, including reducing the risks associated with stress. Negative effects of stress include physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges, and compromised quality of life. Some examples are anger, negative interactions with family, friends, or others, trouble sleeping, and an increased chance of getting sick.
Stress negatively impacts every body system, including digestion, reproduction, bones and muscles, breathing, the heart and circulation, nerves, tissues, organs, and hormones. For example, people who are stressed are likely to have high blood pressure.
Stress therapy can help to reduce stress levels, prevent and address these negative effects, boost mood, and increase your quality of life.
Benefits of stress therapy include:
- Better digestion
- Better mood
- Better sleep
- Chronic disease management
- Increased productivity
- Improved immune system function
- Improved mental and emotional health
- Improved physical health
- Improved relationship interactions
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced pain
There are different types of stress management therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) are talk therapy methods that can focus specifically on stress. Preventive stress management teaches how to recognize, prepare for, and respond to stressors, such as with coping strategies, and is provided before the stressful event takes place.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy commonly used for stress management. This method focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings or emotions, and behaviors, and how making changes to one can change the others, as well as their outcomes.
There are CBT programs and treatments specifically for stress that can help people to change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in ways that promote relaxation and reduce stress. CBT-based stress management has been found to reduce levels of stress and anxiety, improve psychological well-being, and increase confidence.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness focuses on awareness of internal thoughts and feelings, as well as external surroundings and environments. For example, it may include focusing on how the sun and breeze feel on your skin, or noticing thoughts that pop into your mind.
CBT focuses on identifying faulty thought patterns that impact emotions and behaviors. For example, it may include noticing how the thought of not being good at something can lead to a fear of trying.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a type of talk therapy that combines mindfulness practices such as meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy. This method can focus specifically on stress management.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Mindfulness-based stress reduction combines mindfulness techniques with stress management techniques to prevent and address stress. It may include meditation, relaxation, yoga, body awareness, and other techniques. MBSR has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout, and to improve quality of life.
Who Needs Stress Therapy?
Stress therapy is not only for people with a diagnosis or mental health condition. It can be beneficial for anyone dealing with high levels of stress, experiencing any level of stress for a long period of time, or going through a challenging life event or transition. Those who anticipate a future stressful life event or transition can benefit from preventive stress management therapy.
Tips to Reduce Stress
In addition to stress therapy, there are many things people can do to prevent and cope with stress. This can be anything relaxing, including taking a walk, reading a book, or taking part in a personal hobby. Lifestyle choices can also help. For example, being physically active and volunteering can reduce stress levels.
Some other practices that can help you prevent and manage stress include:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Create, communicate, and hold boundaries
- Connect with loved ones
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Follow a routine or keep a daily practice
- Help others and volunteer
- Manage your expectations for yourself
- Make time for hobbies
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Prioritize self-care
The relaxation response is the opposite of stress and happens by calming the mind and body using relaxation techniques. There are many relaxation techniques that can help to reduce—and even prevent—stress. These can be used alone, combined with other relaxation techniques, or along with stress therapy.
Examples of relaxation techniques include:
Breathing techniques can promote relaxation and reduce stress. There are many different breathing techniques that work in different ways. For example, ujjayi breathing, or ocean breathing, is a yoga breathing technique that has been shown to have a relaxing effect and reduce stress.
Breathing techniques for relaxation and stress reduction include:
- Abdominal breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing): A breathing technique that involves breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, and focusing on pulling the air into the diaphragm and expanding the abdomen
- Ujjayi breathing or ocean breathing: A yoga breathing technique that involves breathing in and out through the nose, with inhaling and exhaling of the same duration
- 4-4-4 breathing technique: A count-based breathing technique that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the air in for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, allowing the lungs to remain empty for a count of four, and then repeating the process
Finding a Therapist
The first step to getting support with stress therapy is finding a therapist or other mental health professional who practices stress therapy. Primary care providers may be able to give recommendations. Insurance companies can often provide a list of professionals who are covered by the plan.
It is a good idea to make sure the provider works with people to address stress of your specific concern before scheduling an appointment. This information may be available on the provider's website if they have one, and it is something that can be asked at the time of scheduling an appointment.
Stress is the response of the mind and body to external events, situations, and pressures that can feel overwhelming. It can be caused by life changes and transitions, both positive and negative.
Stress therapy is a group of talk therapy methods, techniques, strategies, or programs to prevent and treat stress. The benefits of stress therapy go beyond stress prevention and reduction and include improved physical, mental, and emotional health and quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction are examples of stress therapy methods.
A Word From Verywell
Stress can feel overwhelming, and it can impact every area of your life, including your relationships and your physical, mental, and emotional health. If you or someone you know is experiencing high stress levels, a long phase of increased stress, or anticipating a stressful life event or transition, help is available. Reach out to a primary care provider or mental health professional to determine if stress therapy is a good option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a stress test?
A stress test, or cardiac stress test, is a diagnostic test used to measure how the heart responds to stress. This is done in a controlled setting and uses physical exercise to simulate stress.
How long does a stress test take?
The physical activity portion of the stress test takes about 15 minutes, but the complete process can take about an hour with the initial preparation and the cardiac monitoring.
What causes stress?
Stress can be caused by a wide variety of life events and transitions, positive and negative, including relationship changes, work or employment changes, illness or death, and life challenges.
What does a stress rash look like?
Stress can lead to a stress rash or hives, which are red bumps on the skin. They vary in size and can appear anywhere on the body, but are usually on the face, neck, chest, or arms when associated with stress.