Researchers have extensively explored the connection between psychological stress and the body’s physiological processes. Psychoimmunologists have focused on how stress affects the mind and body through the neuroendocrine system. A study at the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at Ohio State University College of Medicine found suppressed immune functioning in highly stressed medical students. Other research has shown that people under intense stress are more likely to contract a cold.
In other research, healthy college students who wrote about traumatic events had stronger immune functioning, visited university health clinics less frequently, and experienced greater subjective well-being compared with control subjects. Scientists suggested that it was the self-expression that caused such a marked improvement.
Based on these type of findings, researchers have looked at the effect that psychotherapy has on stress and health. In one review of several studies on stress, health, and psychotherapy, it was concluded that psychotherapy positively affected physical functioning through the reduction of stress.
Journaling is a powerful psychotherapeutic tool that has proved useful in reducing stress in a number of studies. One study had 61 patients with asthma and with rheumatoid arthritis write about either highly stressful or emotionally neutral events for 20 minutes a day on 3 consecutive days. Four months after the intervention, those in both disease categories who wrote about traumatic events were significantly improved compared with those writing about neutral events. Moreover, the asthma patients showed improved lung function and rheumatoid arthritis patients showed improved disease function.
Journaling in psychotherapy can be used in a variety of ways, usually with the therapist providing topics for the client to write about. During sessions, the client is invited to explore thoughts and ideas that came up during the journaling process.
Psychotherapy in and of itself helps with stress simply by providing a safe environment for the processing of stressful events. One of the most effective therapies for reducing stress is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
CBT focuses on teaching clients self-monitoring techniques, confidence-building, awareness of triggers and stress management strategies. Stress management therapy is a cognitive behavioral approach that teaches people to recognize and manage warning signs, cope with pain and deal with stress-generating situations to avoid the pain they produce.