Stress Awareness Month 2023: CBT Techniques to Manage Stress

5 April 2023

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological therapy that focuses on helping people change negative thoughts and behaviours that contribute to problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected and can influence each other.

CBT tools are effective for managing stress because they can help you identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to stress. By noticing and changing negative thoughts and behaviours, you can reduce stress levels and improve your overall mental health. CBT techniques can also help you build coping skills, and take a more active role in managing your own personal stress levels. Here are some CBT techniques to manage stress:


Tool 1: Identify and Address Negative Thoughts:

Identifying negative thoughts is an important first step in managing stress with CBT. Negative thoughts can contribute to feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress, which can make it harder to cope with difficult situations. Here’s a simplified step-by-step guide to identifying and changing negative thoughts:

  1. Start by paying attention to your thoughts throughout the day. Notice when you’re feeling stressed or anxious and try to identify the thoughts that are contributing to those feelings.
  2. Write down these thoughts in a journal or on a piece of paper.
  3. Take a closer look at each thought and ask yourself if it’s realistic. Sometimes, negative thoughts are based on assumptions or beliefs that aren’t actually true.
  4. Try to reframe each negative thought into a more positive or realistic one. For example, if you’re feeling anxious about a job interview, you might reframe the thought “I’ll never get through today” into “I’m prepared for this meeting and will do my best.”
  5. Practice these new, more positive thoughts regularly to help retrain your brain to think in a more positive and productive way.


Tool 2: Practice Reframing to Change your Perspective:

Reframing is a technique used in CBT to help people change their perspective on a situation. When we’re stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of a situation and overlook the positive. Reframing helps us look at the situation in a more positive and productive way. Here’s how to practice reframing:

  1. Identify a situation that’s causing you stress or anxiety. Write down your initial thoughts about the situation, including any negative or unhelpful thoughts.
  2. Challenge those negative thoughts by looking for evidence to support or refute them. Are there any positive aspects of the situation that you may be overlooking?
  3. Try to look at the situation from a different perspective. What are some alternative explanations for what’s happening? Is there a way to view the situation that’s more helpful or productive?
  4. Reframe the situation using positive and realistic language. For example, instead of saying “This is a terrible situation,” you could say “This is a difficult situation, but I’m capable of handling it.”
  5. Practice your new perspective regularly by writing it down, saying it out loud, or visualising it.


Tool 3: Use Problem-Solving to Identify Stress:

Problem-solving is a common CBT technique that can be particularly helpful for managing stress related to specific problems or situations. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify the problem: The first step is to identify the problem that is causing stress. This might be a specific issue at work, in a relationship, or related to a particular task or responsibility.
  2. Brainstorm possible solutions: Once the problem is identified, the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. Write down any ideas that come to mind, even if they seem impractical or unrealistic.
  3. Evaluate each solution: After generating a list of possible solutions, evaluate each one to determine its feasibility and potential effectiveness. Consider the pros and cons of each option, and think about how each solution might impact other areas of your life.
  4. Choose the best option: Based on your evaluation, choose the best solution for addressing the problem. This might involve combining elements of different solutions, or choosing a completely new approach.
  5. Take action: Finally, take action to implement the chosen solution. This might involve making specific changes to your behaviour, seeking support or resources from others, or simply shifting your perspective or attitude towards the problem.

By using problem-solving techniques like this, we can take a more active and empowered approach to managing the problems and stressors in our lives. It can help individuals feel more in control of their situation, and more confident in their ability to manage stress and overcome challenges.


Tool 4: Practice Relaxation Techniques:

Relaxation techniques are an important part of managing stress, and can help to calm the mind and reduce physical tension in the body. Here are some relaxation techniques that are commonly used in CBT to manage stress:

  1. Deep breathing: This involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to focus on your breath and let go of any thoughts or worries. You can also try counting to 4 as you inhale, holding your breath for a count of 4, and then exhaling for a count of 4.
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation: This involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. Start by tensing the muscles in your feet and then slowly working your way up to your head. Hold the tension for a few seconds, and then release it.
  3. Visualisation: This involves imagining a peaceful or calming scene, such as a favourite calming place, or beach or a mountain top. Try to use all your senses to make the visualisation feel as real as possible.
  4. Mindfulness: Try focusing on the present moment and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgement. You can practice mindfulness by using your senses to take notice of sensations around you, or by paying attention to your breath or by using a mindfulness app.
  5. Relaxation activities: Engaging in activities that you find enjoyable and relaxing, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music, can also help to reduce stress.

“Using mindfulness whenever I am feeling stressed helps me to just allow some space to breathe and focus on the present moment.”


Tool 5: Set Realistic Goals for a Sense of Achievement:

Setting realistic goals is an important CBT technique for managing stress. When we set goals that are too ambitious or unrealistic, we can become overwhelmed and stressed when we don’t achieve them. Here’s how you can set realistic goals to manage stress:

  1. Identify the larger goal: First, identify the larger goal you want to achieve. This could be a work-related project, a personal goal, or a new skill you want to learn.
  2. Break it down: Once you’ve identified the larger goal, break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This can help make the goal feel less overwhelming and more achievable. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, break it down into smaller tasks like running a certain distance each day or week.
  3. Prioritise tasks: Once you have a list of smaller tasks, prioritise them based on urgency and importance. This can help you stay focused and make the most of your time and energy.
  4. Set realistic deadlines: Setting deadlines for each task can help keep you on track and ensure that you make progress towards your goal. However, it’s important to set realistic deadlines that are achievable given your other responsibilities and priorities.
  5. Celebrate progress: Finally, celebrate your progress as you complete each task. This can help keep you motivated and build momentum towards achieving your larger goal.

Breaking larger goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks can help you build a sense of accomplishment and boost motivation by providing clear steps towards achieving larger goals. Additionally, by celebrating progress, you can stay motivated and enjoy the journey towards achieving your goals.


Tool 6: Practice Assertiveness:

Practicing assertiveness is another important CBT technique for managing stress. By practicing assertiveness, you can feel more empowered and in control of your own life. It can help reduce stress by ensuring that your needs and boundaries are respected, and by minimising the impact of external stress and demands. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify situations where assertiveness is needed: The first step is to identify situations where you need to be more assertive. This might include situations where others are making unreasonable demands on your time, or where your own needs and boundaries are being ignored.
  2. Be clear and direct: When you need to be assertive, it’s important to communicate your needs clearly and directly. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs, and be specific about what you want or need from others. Say “no” when you need to.
  3. Set boundaries: Assertiveness also involves setting and maintaining clear boundaries. Be firm and consistent in communicating your limits and expectations, and don’t be afraid to say “no” when something doesn’t align with your needs or priorities.
  4. Use assertive body language: Nonverbal cues can also communicate assertiveness. Use direct eye contact, an upright posture, and a calm and confident tone of voice to convey your message.
  5. Practice self-care: Finally, practicing self-care is an important part of being assertive. This means prioritising your own needs and taking steps to manage your stress levels, even if it means saying “no” to others.


Derbyshire Mind can help: If you are experiencing symptoms of stress and would like to receive one-to-one support, including help to build your own CBT-based stress management toolkit, why not refer yourself to our Supported Self Help Service. The six-week guided self help service is free to adults in Derby and Derbyshire. Click Here to find out more and make a self-referral.