These Cognitive Behavior Therapy Tools Can Help You Manage Stress

Discover the techniques that can empower you to self-soothe and cope with pressure.

Woman sitting by the sea to manage stress

(Iryna Dincer / Shutterstock.com)

Despite life’s pressures, there are robust Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) tools we can draw upon that empower us to actively revise our approach to stress for the better. In this article, we share some key techniques to help do this effectively.

The past year hasn’t been easy for many people, as adults shifted to working from home and kids adjusted to online learning. In 2020, national stress levels spiked, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association. More than 70 percent of people reporting added stress stemming from major disruption to their usual routines, as well as helping their children adjust to virtual learning.

Although offices and schools are opening back up in some countries, the transition back to a new normal after a year of being mostly at home can feel overwhelming. The good news is that you can apply techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help manage your stress and embrace positive thinking.

CBT encourages practitioners to take an active role in changing negative beliefs and thought patterns, by replacing them with empowering thoughts. The techniques that make up the bulk of CBT are practical and easy to apply in everyday life. 

Read on to learn more about CBT strategies that can help you self soothe and manage stress.

Identifying negative thoughts

The key to stopping and rerouting negative thoughts is identifying them from the start. Just like managing an allergy, you must recognize what is causing you a negative reaction in order to learn what to avoid or change.

Elizabeth Dawber, a writer who found CBT to be helpful during a challenging period, recommends listing your thoughts on the main elements in your life to determine what triggers negative thought spirals.

“Write down your thoughts towards work (tasks, situations, time), and people (colleagues, managers, clients)...” she wrote in a Medium post. “Writing down everything can help you identify negative thoughts that you haven’t yet acknowledged...try not to censor what you think, the more honest you are the better.”

Once you recognize a common pattern, perhaps stemming from interactions with certain people or specific situations that cause you to think negatively, you can start thinking about ways to reframe or adjust your own behavior accordingly.

Reframing and dialogue

While it might sound silly, talking to yourself is a practice that can help you reason your way out of a negative thought pattern and shift your energy elsewhere.

For example, if you feel resentful that your partner doesn’t do their fair share of the housework, you should ask yourself some follow-up questions, rather than simply ruminating on that negative thought.

You could ask yourself, “What do I want from this situation?” The answer may be for your spouse to pick up more of the slack. You could then ask yourself, “Is that realistic?” It could be yes, that’s a reasonable request, and after a conversation, you and your spouse could divvy up household duties in a more equitable manner. 

But if your partner is unable to take on more of the burden — perhaps because they work longer hours, or are spending more time on childcare - you may find that what you need is more acknowledgement or appreciation from your significant other. You can then ask yourself “How do I get what I need to feel better?” The answer likely lies through taking a proactive step, such as having a conversation with your spouse about the way you’re feeling.

By reframing the situation away from anger about a spouse that’s slacking off, and instead owning your power, you can take real-time, active decisions that bring about positive change.

Activity scheduling

Between work, childcare, and managing the household, it’s easy to feel frazzled. Scheduling your activities for the day in an organized way can bring clarity and serenity to your life. Rather than walking around with a nagging feeling of anxiety about an overflowing laundry bin, you can decide that you will wash a load at 4 p.m. and set that stressful thought aside until that time.

But the good news is that activity scheduling is also for the fun stuff. The same way that you’ve identified potential triggers for stress and anxiety, you should also work to recognize which activities bring you joy. It could be anything ranging from spending time in your garden to taking a walk each evening. Psychotherapist Mark Tyrrell believes that scheduling pleasant activities are critical to mental wellness.

“The pleasurable activities are among the first to go when people are faced with adversity,” Tyrrell says. “Intentionally taking part in activities that are enjoyable helps to reduce negative thinking and promotes more positive emotions and feelings of wellbeing.”

While some of these techniques may seem like no-brainers, the truth is that when faced with stress, many people struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed. By identifying stressful thoughts, breaking them down into components that are easier to manage, and recognizing your own agency, these methods can help you shift the way that you think and behave. 

If this seems daunting, just remember the old proverb: “Even the longest journey begins with a single step.” Try implementing these core CBT techniques into your day-to-day life, and the results may surprise you.

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