There are many treatments for stress – from exercise, diet and lifestyle changes, counselling to the use of herbal remedies and other medicines
With 70% of visits to the doctor thought to be triggered by or related to stress, it is hardly surprising that many people seek methods and treatments to relieve stress. From laughing yoga, to the Stress Reduction App, to the use of herbal medicines, there is an abundance of modern ways to help deal with stress and reduce stress symptoms.
This page describes the most commonly used stress treatments available. It starts first with what you can do to help yourself – a very fundamental step to be taken when trying to cope with or overcoming stress.
Stress levels differ from person to person. In addition, different people handle stress differently. It is therefore important to understand the reasons you are feeling stressed and how these differences occur.
Next, it is important that there is someone you can talk to as this may help you judge the best way forward to deal with these feelings and the stress treatment that is best for you. If you are embarrassed, or do not want to confide to a friend or member of the family, speak to your GP or a stress counselor.
The best form of stress treatment for you will depend on the reason you are feeling stressed, the stress symptoms you are experiencing and if there are any health problems present.
If for any reason you are feeling depressed or even suicidal, you must seek professional advice.
Exercise as a treatment for stress
Many people find that exercise reduces stress and you may wonder why this is so.
The body is programmed to deal with stress through the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. This means that each time we feel we are not coping, threatened or in danger, our brain triggers the release of stress chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into our blood.
This basic reaction to stress helps prepare our bodies meet the danger being faced and is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. For more information, go to our page on What is Stress?
The majority of stressful situations we find ourselves in today do not require these extra chemicals to help us ‘fight or flee’ the danger - we are normally sitting at our desk or behind the wheel of our car. However, as the body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress, these chemicals are produced no matter what the type of stress is.
Exercise is a good way of using up the stress chemicals produced by the body. This in turn helps to decrease the stress symptoms associated with the release of these chemicals – and because of this, many feel that exercise is a very important part of any stress treatment programme.
Exercise does not always mean running a marathon – going for a walk each day, even in the pouring rain in the winter, can go a long way to relieve stress. It will also give you a regular dose of natural vitamin D (natural is the best form), even on the cloudiest of days, as your body is exposed to UV light.
No matter what stress treatment you may be using, it is important to consider what can be achieved using relaxation techniques.
There are a number of ways to help you relax including yoga, massage, aromatherapy, meditation, pilates, laughing yoga, reflexology and many more tried and tested techniques.
However, learning to relax should not be confined to these disciplines with a name. Simply finding the time to relax with your favourite cup of herbal tea, reading your favourite book or a movie can do wonders for your nervous system, no matter what type of stress treatment you are using.
Counselling and support groups
Counselling is a well-established way of helping to deal with stress and is a form of stress treatment embraced by both conventional and complementary medicine. Talking about your problems may help you to find solutions by identifying the root cause of the problem. The old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ springs to mind.
Forms of counselling include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which stems from the idea that your mind often creates the problem - CBT strives to change mindset about the way you think about a situation.
Counselling treatment sessions often overlap with stress support groups. Meeting people in similar situations can help you identify the cause of the stress and decide on coping strategies. You may have to contact your local GP practice to find out where the best support group for you to attend is located.
Stress treatment using medicines
There are a number of conventional and complementary treatments that can be used to help relieve stress. They help you cope better by reducing the symptoms (such as feelings of anxiety, fear or feeling low):
- Herbal remedies are preferred treatments for stress by many as they do not have the side effects of conventional medicines. Licensed herbal products containing valerian have been used traditionally to treat stress and anxiety. Other herbs used include Avena sativa (to help reduce mild anxiety) and St. John’s wort (for low mood)
- Conventional medication is usually seen as a last resort (even by your GP) due to their potential for these treatments to cause side effects. Drugs that may be prescribed for stress include the benzodiazepine group of medicines (such as the infamous valium), assorted forms of sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. These may be used as a short-term measure in acute situations such as a sudden bereavement, but long-term treatment is generally avoided, even by the most orthodox of doctors.