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Like it or not, in our hectic, fast-paced 21st century Western world, stress is a fact of life. Finding an effective strategy for coping with stress to protect yourself from physical and psychological harm is therefore paramount. This is where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a proven and very popular type of ‘talking’ psychotherapy, can really help.
What is Stress?
Stress can take many forms. At work, increasingly long hours, heavy workloads and tight deadlines are often just the tip of the iceberg. Job insecurity, management problems, lack of training/support, personality clashes and bullying can all take their toll on your health and wellbeing. Add to that pressures at home, family and relationship problems, physical illness, addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling) – and there’s likely to be trouble ahead.
Stress symptoms are well known; we’ve all experienced heart racing, sweating and headaches, stomach churning, worry and panic at some time or other. Of course, when you feel well generally and are able to take difficult situations in your stride, stress can be a good thing. The body releases adrenaline, the stress hormone, to get ready for a ‘fight or flight’ response, meaning you’re primed and ready to perform at your very best.
It’s when stress become the norm rather than the exception, and interferes with your ability to lead a normal life, that things can be at risk of getting out of control. Worse still, stress can manifest as more serious health conditions including insomnia, phobias, panic attacks, anger management issues, eating disorders, migraines, IBS and schizophrenia.
How can CBT help?
Cognitive behavioural therapy can be a very effective way to deal with severe stress in your life. The therapy is based on the underlying thinking that it is not so much the events that happen to you, but how you feel and think about them, and behave towards them, that will determine your stress levels.
Take the following simple example:
You see a friend walking by on the other side of the road. You wave to him but he doesn’t acknowledge you. What are your feelings? Do you think he ignored you on purpose?
Are you wondering whether you might have upset him? Are you questioning how good a friend he really is? Or is your reaction neutral – he simply didn’t see you.
Your actions will be shaped by how you perceived the situation: any negative self-talk will colour your perception of the event in your mind, which in turn may trigger a stress response.
Stress management through CBT cannot wave a magic wand to remove stressful situations from your life; however it can offer useful tools to help you alter the way you think and react. In particular, CBT can help you
- Become aware of specific situations that trigger stress reactions in you
- Recognise how your patterns of thinking and behaviour may actually make matters worse for you
- Find new perspectives – new ways of thinking and behaving that are more beneficial in dealing with stressful situations, so you can regain control
- Learn practical strategies you can employ to handle stress with greater ease and confidence
- Ultimately reduce the intensity and frequency of your stress symptoms
Unlike many other types of psychotherapy that focus on dealing with issues from your past, CBT centres on finding practical, positive strategies to address current problems. By looking at specific negative patterns of behaviour, self-defeating thinking and low self-esteem, you will learn to break the downward spiral that manifests as stress and regain a sense of calm and clarity, putting you back in charge of your life.
CBT for other Health Issues
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be immensely beneficial for the treatment of a wide range of other mental and physical health conditions including:
- Chronic Pain
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Personality Disorders
- Sexual Problems
Finding a CBT Therapist
In the first instance, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP if you think you are suffering from stress or any other health issue and wish to explore the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Your GP well may be able to refer you to an NHS practitioner and give you more specific advice relevant to your individual medical condition.
Professional therapists should be members of a professional body, such as the BACP, BABCP, the UKCP or The British Psychological Society (BPS). You can check accredited therapists on the CBT Register UK here.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is generally delivered as a short-term treatment, often for around 3 months, at which point you have the opportunity to review your progress. You will be invited to attend regular sessions – typically on a weekly basis – with your therapist. Sessions can be held on an individual basis or in a group setting. Self-help books and online resources are also available.
This article was provided by Mike James, an independent content writer working alongside a range of counselling, CBT and psychotherapy practices including Klear Minds, who were consulted over the information contained in this piece.