Stress and ACT

What is stress?

Stress is a physiological and psychological response to challenging or threatening situations. It is a natural reaction that occurs when we perceive a demand or pressure that exceeds our ability to cope with it. Stress can be triggered by various factors, such as work-related pressures, relationship difficulties, financial problems, health concerns, or major life changes.

When a person experiences stress, their body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which activate the “fight-or-flight” response. This response prepares the body to react quickly to perceived threats by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. It also enhances focus and alertness to deal with the situation effectively.

While acute stress can provide a temporary boost in performance and motivation, chronic or prolonged stress can have negative effects on physical and mental health. It can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Chronic stress has been associated with an increased risk of developing various health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, immune system disorders, and mental health disorders.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can vary from person to person.

Here are some common signs and symptoms of stress:


• Headaches or migraines
• Muscle tension or pain
• Fatigue or low energy
• Sleep disturbances (insomnia, excessive sleeping, or restless sleep)
• Digestive issues (stomach-ache, nausea, diarrhoea, or constipation)
• Changes in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite)
• Increased heart rate or palpitations
• Sweating or clammy hands
• Weakened immune system (frequent colds or infections)


• Irritability, moodiness, or agitation
• Anxiety, restlessness, or feeling overwhelmed
• Depression, sadness, or apathy
• Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
• Racing thoughts or constant worrying
• Changes in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite)
• Social withdrawal or isolation
• Procrastination or lack of motivation
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
• Changes in sleep patterns or insomnia


• Memory problems or forgetfulness
• Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
• Poor judgement or decreased problem-solving abilities
• Racing thoughts or constant worrying
• Negative thinking or pessimism
• Lack of focus or mental clarity


It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be signs of other physical or mental health conditions, so it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing persistent or severe stress symptoms. They can help evaluate a situation, provide appropriate guidance, and recommend strategies for managing stress effectively.

Strategies for stress management

Managing stress is important for overall well-being. Popular strategies for stress management include:

  • relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga)
  • regular physical exercise
  • maintaining a balanced diet
  • getting adequate sleep
  • seeking social support
  • engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation

Additionally, time management, setting realistic goals, and learning effective problem-solving and coping skills can also help in reducing and managing stress levels. Therapy may also be beneficial for individuals who want to enhance their overall well-being and develop proactive strategies for stress management, it is not just for severe or crisis situations.

How can ACT therapy help individuals suffering from stress?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that can be effective in helping individuals combat stress. As ACT focuses on developing psychological flexibility, there are many ways ACT principles and techniques can be applied to combat stress:

  • Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations in the present moment. By focusing attention on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, individuals can increase their ability to effectively respond to challenges. Through mindfulness they can develop a greater ability to observe their stress-related thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled in them, which can reduce the impact of stress.
  • Acceptance: ACT encourages individuals to accept and make room for difficult thoughts and emotions associated with stress. Rather than trying to eliminate or suppress these experiences, ACT teaches individuals to acknowledge and allow them to be present. Acceptance helps individuals develop a more compassionate and non-judgmental relationship with their stress, which can lessen its impact.
  • Defusion: Defusion techniques in ACT help individuals to distance themselves from their thoughts and see them as separate from their true selves. This can be particularly helpful when stress-related thoughts are overwhelming or intrusive. Defusion exercises can help individuals disengage from unhelpful thought patterns. By learning to defuse from them, individuals can reduce their influence on feelings and behaviours.
  • Values clarification: When individuals have a clear understanding of their values, they can align their actions and behaviours accordingly. By focusing on actions that are in line with their values, individuals can cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose, which can counterbalance the impact of stress.
  • Committed action: ACT encourages individuals to take action aligned with their values, even in the presence of stress. This involves setting goals, breaking them down into manageable steps, and consistently taking action towards them. Engaging in committed action can provide a sense of control, accomplishment, and resilience in the face of stress.
  • Self-compassion: ACT emphasises self-compassion as a way to relate to oneself more kindly and supportively. Being compassionate towards oneself in times of stress can help individuals respond to their experiences with understanding and care, rather than self-criticism. Expressing gratitude for the positive aspects of life, even in the presence of stress, can shift focus away from stressors and promote a sense of well-being.

It’s important to note that ACT is a flexible therapy approach, and its implementation can vary depending on the individual and their specific needs. Working with a trained therapist who specialises in ACT can provide personalised guidance and support in applying these principles to combat stress effectively.

For individuals:

If you feel that stress is significantly impacting your life and you could benefit from professional support, reaching out to a therapist can be a valuable step towards finding relief and developing resilience. Our ACT trained therapists are here to offer support. 

For professionals:

If you would like to learn more about how ACT can support people to combat stress take a look at our upcoming workshops and free ACT resources.

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