Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Sarah Webb - BABCP accredited

Crawley, Horsham and surrounding areas

07929 587036    

What is stress ?

Stress  is the word we use to describe our response when we feel we cannot cope with life’s demands. Some examples of situations and events that can cause stress are our workplace, money issues, exams, illness (ourselves or someone close), relationships and life events such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce or the death of a loved one.

What are the symptoms of stress ?

Some of the symptoms that we may experience when we are stressed are:

  • Headaches, stomach ache, muscle tension
  • Temper outbursts, irritability
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Drinking, eating or smoking too much
  • Problems with our skin, such as a rash or eczema.

How can CBT help with stress ?

Understanding the problem

To begin with I often ask my clients to keep a stress diary as this can be useful in identifying and understanding the situations that are causing the stress to occur. In many cases keeping a diary can be helpful in reducing the severity of the stress - writing things down can often bring clarity and simplification to the thoughts that were swirling around out of control in our minds.

Recognising and challenging thinking biases

What we think about a situation or an event has an impact on our levels of stress. It is important to identify unhelpful thinking patterns associated with our stress and to replace these with realistic and balanced thoughts. Using the stress diary I work with clients to look at the triggers and thoughts that occur at the times when they are stressed and then we examine the evidence that supports and does not support these thoughts.

Some examples of unhelpful thinking patterns are:

  • Blowing things out of proportion
  • Fortune telling – predicting a future disaster
  • Labelling – “I’m not good enough”
  • Filtering – seeing only the negatives and ignoring the positives
  • Mind-reading – assuming that others have negative thoughts about you
  • Black & White thinking – seeing only the extremes of good or bad, right or wrong
  • Over generalisation – jumping from one thing going wrong to everything going wrong
  • Personalisation – always thinking that it’s your fault
  • Should and must – imposing unrealistic demands or pressure on yourself.

Steps to dealing with stress

There are a number of ways we can reduce the stress in our lives.

Problem solving skills

There are some problems that seem so difficult and so insurmountable that we don’t even attempt to deal with them. The problem is left undealt with but we think about it continually and accumulate more stress and worry about it.

The crucial thing is to take make a start, no matter how small, on solving the problem. With nearly all my clients I find that when they take this first step and make a start on solving and addressing a problem then they immediately start to feel better and more in control of the situation.

If you have more than one problem, then you should try to start on the problem causing you the most stress. If this is not possible for some reason then choose the second most stressful problem; work down the list until you find a problem that you can start on – tell yourself inactivity is not an option!

During my sessions with clients I give often give guidance on problem solving skills. In essence the steps towards solving a problem are these:

  1. Write down the problem – be as specific as possible.
  2. Brainstorm solutions to the problem and write them down in a list. Add every idea that you can think of to the list – don’t worry about how unrealistic a solution might seem at this stage.
  3. Evaluate the solutions – write down the pros and cons of each solution.
  4. Choose the best solution from the list based on the their pros and cons.
  5. If necessary break the chosen solution down in to smaller steps to make it more manageable – make a plan and write it down.
  6. Try out the solution and review the outcome. If the problem has been resolved then great, if not then can you take further steps with this solution, or try another solution or combine solutions?

Don’t spend too much time trying to achieve the allusive perfect solution to a problem. The solution only needs to be “good enough” and achieving that last 5 or 10 percent of the perfect solution often takes over 80 percent of the total time spent on the task and this prevents you from moving onto your next task much sooner. If you are prone to perfectionism then ask yourself whether your perfectionism is procrastination in a different guise?

When working on a problem, watch out for brain fatigue. There is a lot of evidence to show that our productivity drops off dramatically when we work on something for longer than an hour. When this happens, try to give yourself a break by doing something else for 15 to 20 minutes.

If you cannot come up with a solution to a problem, then try letting your subconscious mind work on it. Try to switch off completely by doing something else that you find interesting and absorbing. Go to bed at a reasonable time and try to get a good night’s sleep. It’s amazing the way the brain works away on a problem, often in very creative ways, while you are asleep. Hopefully, when you wake up you will have thought of a new or improved solution that is ready and waiting to be tried. The opposite is true when you work late into the evening on a problem. Your brain becomes fatigued and your productivity and creativity drop off dramatically. You are not relaxed when you go to bed and you are more likely to sleep badly. Consequently you are tired the following day and your productivity and creativity are low and your stress levels increase.

Managing your time

Sometimes we are stressed just because we have too many things to do.

When new additional tasks are being added to your task list, think about say saying “No” and be careful about saying “Yes”. By this I mean do you need to do the task or can it be done by somebody else? Is the task a high priority task that absolutely needs to be done now or can it be done at a later date without serious impact? Consider even whether the task needs to be done at all? Sometimes, out of habit, we do the tasks that have little or no value either to ourselves, other people or our employer. Remember how satisfying it was when you decluttered your wardrobe and took all those clothes, shoes and handbags that you haven’t worn or used for years down to the charity shop (you do do this don’t you? smile icon), well lighten your load - declutter your task list in a similar way.

Try using the following steps when working on your tasks:

  1. Make a list of the tasks that you need to do.
  2. Order the items in the task list in priority order.
  3. Try to take action immediately on the highest priority task – if it’s genuinely not possible to start this task, then move down the list to the second highest priority task, and so on. Don’t procrastinate on the high priority tasks by starting the easy tasks or the tasks that you like doing.
  4. Estimate the time to complete the task – don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t finish the task in this time; the aim in making an estimate is only to keep your mind focussed on the task, that’s all.
  5. As you complete tasks on the list, cross them off – feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.

Don’t make the task list too long; a list of no more than five items is a good start. If you do have more tasks than this, then put the lower priority tasks on to a second list and park this list in a draw until you have some space on your main list for new tasks.


Leading a healthy life style can help to reduce the stress in our lives. Here are some things that you might want to consider:

  • Strike a sensible life/work balance
  • Eat regularly and eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Spend time socialising with friends and family. Try to be proactive in getting to know new people or reinvigorating contact with friends and family
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. Don’t engage in activities close to bedtime that will prevent you from getting to sleep or reduce the quality of your sleep – before bedtime avoid eating a large meal, caffeine, vigorous exercise, alcohol, or staring at a phone, tablet or computer screen.
  • Exercise regularly - consider activities such as walking, swimming, cycling or dancing amongst others
  • Do things in your leisure time that you enjoy and are absorbing
  • Bring creativity into your life - for example try a new restaurant or recipe at home, a new book author, vary your exercise routine, learn a new skill, go to the cinema or theatre
  • Volunteer your time to help others.