Chronic stress or experiencing extremely stressful life-events may lead to psychological problems such as depression, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder, which may require professional psychotherapeutic and/or pharmacotherapeutic treatments.
Research shows that cognitive-behavioral approaches are helpful to alleviate stress-related disorders. In the context of cognitive behavioral therapy, different treatment methods can be used, such as exposure-based or cognitive procedures as well as approaches that focus more on the development of values and living a value-oriented life. Let's find out more about these therapies.
This form of treatment consists of exposing the patient to the anxiety- or stress-inducing situations, in a safe environment. The exposure will allow corrective experiences, which helps reducing fear and decreasing avoidance. The treatment has been demonstrated to be helpful for a range of stress-related disorders: specific phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Exposure is often conducted with the guidance of an experienced therapist and according to a predefined protocol.
Since only a minority of patients currently receive this treatment, partly for practical reasons or because of the high cost, alternative ways of delivering these treatment are being considered. Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) exposure treatments are among the easiest to disseminate and most appealing. Studies have shown that VR/AR exposure treatments are especially promising for the treatment of phobias with comparable success rates to conventional real-life exposure treatments. Several VR/AR applications are already publicly available. See for example the VR app to reduce fear of heights.
Cognitive therapy helps people learn how to identify and modify unhelpful thought patterns that have a negative influence on emotions and behavior. People who suffer from stress or depression, for example, tend to give up hobbies, which makes them feel isolated and even more prone to experience stress. Together with a psychotherapist they work on changing these unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with different techniques including activity monitoring and planning. Cognitive therapy is often combined with tailored exposure-based approaches.
Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT is a more recent development within the cognitive-behavioral approach that focuses on accepting the current situation, along with the distressing feelings, rather than trying to control those feelings because an inability to do so can further increase distress. Additionally, it works towards creating a full and meaningful live and to accept the experiences that inevitably come with it. It has been shown to be helpful for a wide range of conditions as work-related stress as well as stress-related disorders such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
Important: If you suffer from psychologically distressing conditions such as chronic stress, depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder that do not improve on their own or with self-help programs, you should seek the help of mental health professionals (psychiatrists or psychologists). You can also call 143 or visit https://www.143.ch/.