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Psychological Stress Management

Updated on March 30, 2013

There are many ways that an individual can cope with chronic stress such as taking control of the stressful situation (for example, they could find out everything they can about a disease that they have been diagnosed with) or distancing themselves from it and not thinking about it.

These are good ways for someone to cope with stress but they do not completely manage the stressors or help them to overcome it.

The following hub will outline psychological methods of managing and overcoming stress.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

The following are two different therapies that are used together in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

  • The first is called cognitive therapy and is based on the idea that the thoughts that an individual has towards a situation is the key influence in how they behave towards it. Cognitive therapy therefore tries to change the individual's unwanted or maladaptive thoughts.
  • The other is called behavioural therapy and involves trying to reverse the learning process that lead to undesirable behaviours that the individual shows and produce a new set of desirable behaviours.

This woman looks like she could use some stress inoculation therapy!
This woman looks like she could use some stress inoculation therapy!

CBT - Stress Inoculation Training

Meichenbaum (1985) believed that despite the fact you cannot change the stressors in a persons life (you cannot change the fact that a stressful job is stressful) you can change the feelings and thoughts that the person feels towards this stressor. For example if you missed a deadline for some work that your boss wanted you to do instead of thinking 'my boss is going to be so angry' you could think 'my boss will be impressed at the good work that I did even if it's not all finished' and this should reduce the stress response.

Meichenbaum believed that a person could 'inoculate' themselves against stress much like a person could inoculate themselves against an infectious disease and this process had the following three main phases:

  • The conceptualisation stage - This stage involves the therapist informing and educating the client about the impact and nature of stress. The therapist then helps the client to break down their stressors and problems into smaller components that can be dealt with individually, this helps the client to see their stressors as problems to be solved rather than something that hinders their life.
  • Skills acquisition stage - In this stage a number of coping skills such as relaxation, positive thinking, attention diversion, social support etc are used and practiced in the clinic.
  • Application Phase - In this stage various techniques such as imagery, modelling and role play are used to try and get the client to apply the skills that they learned in the previous stage to, increasingly stressful, real life situations.

Would you ever consider having stress inoculation therapy?

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Is Stress Inoculation Therapy Effective?

In 1977 Meichenbaum compared the effectiveness of stress inoculation therapy (SIT) and systematic desensitisation therapy (which teaches individuals to relax in the presence of something that they find stressful or causes anxiety) on dealing with clients snake phobias.

He found that although both therapies reduced the anxiety and stress associated with the phobia SIT helped clients deal with a second phobia that hadn't been treated. This shows that not only does SIT help overcome current stressors, but can also help the individual with future stressors.

In 2004 psychologists Sheehy and Horan tested the effects of SIT on the anxiety, stress and academic performance of first year law students. The students attended four, weekly, 90 minute sessions and the findings showed that the students that participated in SIT had lower anxiety and stress levels over time compared to other students. Also, more than half of the students that took SIT and were predicted to achieve in the bottom 20% of their class actually achieved higher results than expected.

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