How Therapy Can Help You Better Manage Stress

Learn how a therapist can help you set healthy boundaries, process trauma, and live a less stressful life.

Last updated: Aug 8th, 2022
How therapy can help you better manage stress

National stress levels are rising, and research shows that 55% of Americans report feeling stressed during the day. While some stress is unavoidable, high levels of worry and anxiety can negatively affect your physical and mental health.

You may wonder what you can do to reduce your stress levels. You may have even tried exercise, meditation, or other forms of self-care to help calm your body and mind. Read our tips in this guide to find out how therapy can help.

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Learn how to change negative thoughts

Stress can result from automatic beliefs we hold about ourselves or others. For example, if a coworker doesn’t greet you when you get to the office, you might assume they are upset with you. Or, if you have a headache, you might convince yourself it’s a symptom of a serious medical condition.

These negative thoughts can fester and intensify. They can make you believe that life is inherently bad or that you’re in acute danger, even when that’s not the case.

Therapy provides support for better understanding and challenging these thoughts. In addition, your therapist may teach you various cognitive restructuring techniques.

Examining the evidence

You might confuse negative opinions with facts, so a therapist might ask questions like:

  • What evidence do you have that supports that belief?
  • What evidence do you have that challenges or disputes that belief?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario? How will you cope if that scenario comes true?

Completing a cost-benefit analysis

A cost-benefit analysis allows you to review the pros and cons of maintaining a certain belief. For example, your therapist may ask you:

  • What are the upsides and downsides of holding onto this belief?
  • How might believing this idea hurt you in the long run?
  • What would it mean to let go of this belief?

Exploring the alternatives

Thoughts are subjective, and therapy can help you explore other possibilities outside your current belief. For example, if you assume nobody wants to date you because a past date didn’t call you back, your therapist might ask you these questions:

  • What would you tell your best friend if they were in this situation?
  • What’s another way to perceive this situation?

Implement more mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a powerful antidote to stress. Being present with the current moment — even when it’s uncomfortable — reduces ruminating about the past or obsessing about the future.

Many therapists implement mindfulness techniques as part of their practice. You may learn skills rooted in:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Self-compassion meditations
  • Positive visualization

Integrating these skills into your daily life can make you feel more confident and less stressed. You may also have higher levels of focus, compassion, and gratitude. In addition, mindfulness yields numerous health benefits, such as:

Build a healthier support system

We are social creatures, and our loved ones should ideally provide us with validation, encouragement, and connection. But if that’s not the case, you may need to reevaluate your current relationships.

If you frequently spend time with negative people — or with people who simply make you feel worse about yourself — these interactions will exacerbate your stress. Likewise, if your loved ones don’t take good care of themselves, you may not feel motivated to prioritize your self-care.

Therapy offers a safe place for cultivating more insight. It can also help review the undeniable intersection between your relationships and your well-being.

Reduce or eliminate maladaptive habits

Do you drink too much or overeat when you feel stressed? Do you doom scroll and spend hours reading articles that only make you feel more anxious? Do you lash out at your children or withdraw from your partner?

Nobody is perfect, but unhealthy patterns often cause more stress and other negative consequences. That said, many habits can be challenging to break.

Your therapist can help you better understand your triggers and identify new ways to cope with stress. Rather than act automatically, it’s essential to pause, assess, and choose how you want to react. Once you can master that skill, your negative habits should no longer have such a strong grip on you.

Set better boundaries

Maybe you have a hard time telling others no. Or you frequently feel uncomfortable or disrespected by certain people. But if you don’t express what you clearly need in your relationships, you might become angry and resentful.

That said, boundaries can be challenging. Many people feel afraid or guilty when they consider the idea of setting limits. They don’t want to disrupt the status quo or come across as mean.

Your therapist can help you navigate these roadblocks and help you identify small steps toward asserting yourself better. Over time, this work can translate into higher confidence and better satisfaction in your relationships.

Process trauma

Over half the population experiences trauma at some point during their lives. No matter when the trauma occurs, residual symptoms of fear, anger, numbness, or grief can certainly aggravate stress.

Furthermore, trauma goes hand-in-hand with many mental health conditions like:

All of these issues tend to correlate with higher stress levels.

If you feel stuck in the past, you’re not alone. But therapy offers a supportive environment to discuss your trauma. While you won’t forget what happened, you can learn how to accept and eventually overcome the events from your past.

Final thoughts

Stress is inevitable, but you can learn better tools and strategies for managing your feelings. If life continuously feels overwhelming, reaching out for professional support can make a valuable difference.