In this article I will discuss Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques, the link between CBT and relationships and how to use these techniques to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your relationship.
In order to tackle stress and take positive actions to overcome anxiety, you first need to understand what stress is. Read more about Anxiety and Relationships here
What is stress and how it works
Stress is a normal part of life which, in small amounts, can help you focus, stay safe and improve your performance. Stress can take many forms, including emotional, physical, psychological and financial.
In excessive amounts, stress can lead to anxiety and become a risk to our health. On the other side, if stress level is too low, people experience boredom and lack of motivation. It is important to find a balance and learn how to manage stress.
Moreover, anxiety and stress weaken the immune system and increase the risk to depression, high blood pressure, stomach problems, migraines, ulcers and heart disease.
How to recognize stress and its triggers?
In order to manage stress, you need to recognize when and why you feel stressed. Everyone is different and experience stress in a different way. Whilst some might notice physical symptoms when experiencing stress, others will experience stress at an emotional, behavioral or cognitive level.
There are 4 major categories of symptoms:
- Physical symptoms including: racing heart, headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, weight loss or gain, shoulder pain
- Emotional symptoms including: easily frustrated, anxiety and panic attacks, irritability, anger , tearfulness
- Cognitive symptoms including: worrying about things, difficult concentrating, negative self-esteem, forgetting things
- Behavioral symptoms: alcohol and drug use, procrastinating, withdrawing socially, rushing around, overeating
What causes stress?
Stress occurs when we feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of our current situation. There are 3 factors that are involved in our assessment of a stressful situation: the situation, how we perceive the situation and how we assess our resources to deal with the situation.
Some people might find exciting circumstances as a new job or moving in to their new home stressful, whilst others can find difficult situations as working on a project fun and exciting.
However, the situations people are most stressed about are related to change, uncertainty, work/unemployment and relationships.
Stress can be within your control or beyond your control. If you encounter different stressor in your life at the same time, your stress levels will significantly increase.
Understand your stressors
It is very important to take the time to write down your stressors. Think about what is causing you stress at this moment in time and try to create a structured list of your stressors or reasons for feeling anxious.
An example of a structured list could include the following main categories: Health/Bereavement, Life changes, Financial difficulties, Conflicts and Personal characteristics. You can add under each category your stressors.
Coping with stress
One of the biggest mistake people make when they experience stress is to focus their whole attention on the problem that caused them stress and forget about all the activities that keep them healthy and strong.
There are 3 types of coping strategies people use when dealing with stress:
- Problem-focused- We try to change the situation by taking action (most effective for situations we can control)
- Emotional-focused-We try to manage our feelings by distracting ourselves from the problem (most effective for situations we cannot control)
- Assessment-focused – We try to think differently about the situation (most effective for situations we cannot control)
It is important to understand that each coping strategy can be beneficial for one situation in your life and completely unhelpful in other situations. Try to identify which coping strategy is the most helpful for each stressor identified.
How do we build resilience to stress?
Resilience is the capacity to face and overcome difficult situations in our life. Also, if we learn how to be more resilient, we become stronger when facing adversity.
Resilience is built through positive relationships with those around us, through self-care and self-development, by cultivating optimism, by setting goals, by trusting our strengths and by learning how to balance our life.
When we are stressed we ignore our strengths and focus on our weaknesses. It is important to take the time to create a list with all your strengths and rate each of them on a scale of 0-10 .
Finding your balance
Balancing your life can reduce stress significantly. Create a list with the most important areas of your life and identify if you are neglecting any of it at the moment. By focusing your attention to important aspects of your life that you might have neglected, you can reduce your anxiety and stress considerably.
Neglecting self-care can increase your anxiety and ability to deal with stress. In order to build resilience you need to work on your well-being. Meditate, exercise, engage in activities that you enjoy, learn something new, eat well and care for your health and body.
How CBT works for relationships?
Relationships are a very important part of our life. They can bring us joy, but also a lot of stress and pain. If your relationship is not as you would like it to be, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you have a more positive relationship.
CBT explains how our communication styles can help us build and maintain healthy and positive relationships.
Communication is sometimes perceived as the things we say to someone. However, communication is made-up of 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% the things we actually say.
There are 3 main types of communication styles: passive, aggressive and assertive.
- Passive communication involves putting the rights and needs of others first and being unable to express own feelings, thoughts and wishes. The person who has this style of communication desires to please others and avoid confrontation. The people pleaser is often frustrated, angry, mistreated, lacks self-esteem and is vulnerable to mistreatment.
- Aggressive communication involves expressing thoughts, feelings and needs without taking in consideration others. The person who has this style of communication wants to dominate others and believes his rights are the most important. He has unstable relationships based on negative emotions, hurts people around and has difficulty building intimate relationships.
- Assertive communication is the most effective way of communication and involves expressing thoughts and feelings in an open, direct way whilst considering the feelings of others. It is a win-win communication style in which everyone’s rights are equally important. People who communicate in an assertive way gain admiration and respect from others and have high self-confidence.
Although most of the people have one main communication style, given different circumstances and people involved, their communication style might vary. Some people may be assertive in many aspects of their life, but become passive or aggressive in others.
How to become more assertive
We have already identified that assertive communication is the most effective communication style. In order to successful change your communication style you need to understand your unassertive beliefs and understand that everyone (including yourself) has the right to say no, to disagree, to get it wrong, to change their mind and be illogical in making decision.
Techniques that can help you become more assertive include:
- ‘I’ statements- These statements help you take ownership and avoid blaming others for your decisions
- State clearly what you want, even if sometimes might seem obvious
- If you find it difficult to express your thoughts and feelings, practice by repeating over and over what you want to say
- Address the problem in a respectful and direct way by presenting the situation as you see it, describing the effect it has on you and coming up with an ideal resolution for you
- Learn the skill of saying ‘no’ without feeling guilty
Skills for de-stressing relationships
The way we approach our relationship can determine if our relationship will ultimately be a source of stress or of joy. The following skills can help you improve your relationship considerably:
1. Active listening means paying attention with the intent to understand what your partner is saying or is not saying. In order to develop the skill of active listening we need to concentrate on these key elements:
- Concentrate on what is being said and let our partner know that we paid attention by paraphrasing or summarizing what was said.
- Don’t let emotions interfere with your ability to hear someone else’s point of view. It is best to postpone the conversation if you feel sad or stressed.
- Try to see your partner’s point of view. You need to make a conscious decision to understand the way your partner feels/thinks/act. Unless you consciously take the decision, you will naturally try to find negative explanations for your partner’s behavior.
2. Showing appreciation– Compliment and show gratitude
- Notice the positives in your partner and compliment him. Compliments are very important when it comes to intimate relationships. Also, it is important to receive compliments with an open heart and accept them even if you don’t believe the same way about yourself.
- Show gratitude- Let your partner know that you appreciate everything he is doing for you.
3. Forgiving– In order to maintain and nurture your relationship you need to let go of the past and forgive your partner, even if his actions have hurt you. Forgiving is the hardest skill to master. People tend to hold on to negative feelings which can severely damage their relationships.
Final tips for couples
In order to maintain the intimacy and bond of your relationship, you need to be affectionate with your partner, spend time together, have a weekly date night and have a low-stress conversation every day.
By practising the skills and techniques in this article you will improve your relationship with your partner, build self-esteem and develop the skills to face any challenges you might encounter.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to answer them.
All the best,