Can Stress Counselors Help?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated June 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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It can be common to experience stressful situations and stressors in your daily life. A small amount of stress may even benefit your body and mind, as it keeps your brain sharp and provides stimulation and a challenge. However, if you are having trouble managing stressful life events or experiencing increased stress on a day-to-day basis, speaking to a stress counselor can help you protect your well-being.

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Hoping to find help with stress?

Increased or chronic stress can have a range of impacts on your life, from physical symptoms to emotional distress. Mental health professionals working as stress therapists can help you find ways of reducing stress and improving mental health conditions that may be associated with higher stress levels.  

What is stress?

Stress is the mental and physiological response to difficult situations that cause you to worry. Feeling stressed can be closely related to anxiety because the two conditions share many of the same symptoms and behaviors.

Still, stress differs from anxiety in that stress is linked to a specific external stressor. In contrast, anxiety may be a general state of worry a person experiences regardless of whether or not they are going through a stressful time in their lives. Stress can lead to anxiety, however, as well as a range of other physical and mental health effects. 

Physical symptoms of stress may include:

  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Reduced production of "feel good" endorphins, such as dopamine, and higher production of stress hormones, such as cortisol 
  • Weight gain or loss due to increased emotional eating (often referred to as "stress eating") or a lack of appetite
  • Alterations in blood sugar levels, potentially leading to obesity and related complications such as diabetes
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, particularly insomnia and other sleep difficulties
  • Irregular periods and other disruptions in the menstrual cycle
  • Difficulty with fertility and becoming pregnant
  • Developing a chronic illness

Stress can have emotional and mental effects on the system, as well. Someone experiencing chronic stress may have these symptoms:

  • Development of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, eating disorders, panic disorder, etc.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation from friends, family, and loved ones
  • Negative thought patterns and self-talk
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or like one is not "strong" enough to handle the stress
  • Irritability
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How counselors can help you manage stress

Stress counselors have a background in therapeutic techniques specifically designed to help alleviate stress's physical and mental symptoms. These self-care strategies may include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based relaxation techniques, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, also described as talk therapy, is one of the most common treatment plans for stress symptoms. CBT may be deployed to address various mental health conditions and life difficulties largely because it is one of the most reliable therapeutic practices for treating a range of mental health concerns

CBT focuses on the connections between a person's thoughts and behaviors, operating under the belief that changing thoughts can also affect behavioral change that positively impacts a person's life.

A stress counselor may use cognitive behavioral therapy to address stress through the following process:

  1. Identifying ineffective attitudes and thoughts, such as, "If I take time for myself instead of spending all my time with my children, I am a bad parent."
  2. Linking those ineffective thoughts to potentially harmful behaviors, such as spending all your time with your children or doing parenting-related tasks and never taking a minute to relax.
  3. Understanding how these behaviors may be causing stress.
  4. Changing these ineffective thoughts to more positive and helpful ones, i.e., "Taking time for myself is the equivalent of refueling my gas tank and will actually allow me to be a better parent for my kids."
  5. Translating these healthier thoughts into more beneficial behaviors, such as going to a workout class twice a week without your kids.

Such a process may result in an overall positive life change and a reduction in stress. 

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a formal program focused on developing stress management techniques through the process of mindfulness. Medical school professor Jon Kabat-Zinn developed it based on wellness strategies associated with Eastern medicine, particularly Buddhist traditions. 

The full mindfulness-based stress reduction program typically takes about eight weeks to complete. It generally requires attendance at weekly group or individual therapy sessions and an eight-hour retreat at the end of the program. MBSR programs can also be condensed into a five-day intensive program typically offered in a residential setting.

If the complete MBSR program sounds like a little too much of a time commitment, you can still experience the benefits of MBSR techniques by working with a stress counselor. A mental health professional trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction can help you learn healthy coping methods such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, body scanning, and other MBSR strategies. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction, making it one of the most effective therapeutic treatments for stress. 

A stress counselor using MBCT techniques can work with you to help you understand how to use mindfulness practices to recognize negative thoughts and feelings that may be contributing to your stress levels. They can also help you learn to separate yourself from such thoughts and feelings and understand that your emotions do not have to control your life.

You and your stress counselor will likely use MBCT to learn to process negative thoughts healthily so that they do not lead to a stress response within your body. Likewise, you can discover how to address unhealthy behaviors that you may engage in due to higher stress, such as excessive alcohol use or lashing out at friends or family members. The primary MBCT technique is mindful meditation, but you may also use other MBCT practices, such as deep breathing. 

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Hoping to find help with stress?

Finding counseling support for stress management

Seeking a licensed and accredited stress counselor who can work with you to implement one of the stress management therapy techniques listed above may be the first step to managing stress more effectively. You'll likely want a therapist with at least a master's or bachelor’s degree and potentially specific training in stress counseling. You can find such therapists working in their own practices, clinics, or hospital settings. You can also talk to your doctor or other healthcare professionals for a referral to a therapist to help you reduce stress.

Online counseling

If you are having difficulty finding a local therapist who can help you with stress management, you may consider online therapy. Online therapy can expand your options for a stress counselor, as many online therapy providers have connection to a database of thousands of trained and licensed professionals. Online therapy may also help you limit stress by being more flexible than traditional therapy options. With online therapy, you can engage in therapy from the safety and comfort of your own home.

Online therapy may be just as effective at helping people cope with their stress as traditional in-person therapy. One study found that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy helped to reduce stress symptoms for clients that utilized the service. If you are ready to take the next step in managing stress in your life, online therapy may be a great place to start.

Takeaway

Stress can result in a range of physical and mental symptoms, but treatment options are available to help you manage stress and address the impacts of chronic stress. Online therapy may expand your connection to stress management counselors and treatments such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
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