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Cognitive Therapy for Stress Relief

How Does Cognitive Therapy Work for Stress Relief?


Updated April 16, 2014

Cognitive Therapy for Stress Relief

Cognitive therapy has been found to be quite effective in the treatment of many issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, and even severe stress. Whether the stress is contributing to mood disorders or is just creating unpleasant feelings that are interfering with a happy lifestyle, cognitive therapy, or a mix of cognitive and behavioral therapy, can be a very effective mode of treatment.

What Is The Idea Behind Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive therapy for stress rests on the premise that it’s not simply the events in our lives that cause us stress, it’s the way we think about them. For example, two people may be caught in traffic. While one person could view this situation as an opportunity to listen to music or get lost in thought and become (or remain) relaxed, another person may focus on the wasted time or the feeling of being trapped, and become distressed. There are hundreds of examples of how our thoughts and our negative self talk color our experiences and can lead to a triggered stress response or a calm demeanor.

Virtually all of the thought patterns that negatively impact our experiences can be categorized into one of 10 common cognitive distortions. Therapists using a cognitive approach work with clients to recognize and alter these habitually negative thought patterns. You can also work on some of them at home. See this article on cognitive restructuring for more information.

Does Cognitive Therapy Work For Stress Relief?

Many people have found a cognitive approach to be wonderfully helpful, and much quicker than most therapeutic approaches. According to the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, a leading institution for cognitive therapy, clients can see results within 3 to 4 weeks in many cases -- much faster than the years-on-the-couch rate of psychoanalytic therapy, which is what many people still think of when they think of "going to a shrink." Support for the effectiveness of this approach comes from research on optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles as well as the positive results that come from cognitive therapy for stress, or a mix between cognitive and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy has also been combined with the practice of mindfulness, creating mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which has shown promising effects as well.

How Can I Use Cognitive Therapy for My Stress?

If you’re interested in seeing a professional to help deal with stress, you may be able to find a good referral from your primary care doctor, from friends, or even online with UCompare Healtcare. When interviewing potential therapists, ask about their experience with this approach, or go to someone who specializes in cognitive therapeutic interventions. If you’re not interested in seeing a therapist at this point, but would like to use some cognitive techniques to reduce your stress levels, this resource has more information on ways to change your habitual thought patterns in the interest of stress relief.


Fava GA, Ruini C, Rafanelli C, Finos L, Conti S, Grandi S. Six-Year Outcome of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Prevention of Recurrent Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry. October 2004.

Kubany ES, Hill EE, Owens JA, Iannce-Spencer C, McCaig MA, Tremayne KJ, Williams PL. Cognitive Trauma Therapy for Battered Women with PTSD Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology February 2004.

Van Rhenen W, Blonk RW, van der Klink JJ, van Dijk FJ, Schaufeli WB. The Effect of a Cognitive and a Physical Stress-Reducing Programme on Psychological Complaints. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health March 2005.

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