How Talking About Your Problems Relieves Stress

November 21, 2021

When was the last time you said out loud, “I need help”?

It can be tough opening up. Most of us were taught that to express emotions is a sign of weakness. But, it’s so important to share your experiences with others as a healthy way to overcome challenges and hardships.

If you are reading this and going through symptoms of anxiety or depression, it is essential to find someone to talk to. Talking about your problems helps to clarify them, and can make an unbearable experience, a tiny bit more bearable.

But, with that said, you might not know where to start. How do you open up to others about your problems? Who can you talk to? Below you’ll find specific guidelines for framing a conversation about stress and mental health issues. You’ll also find a few suggestions about who you might turn to as a means to relieve your stress.

Talk to Someone, It Helps

Close up of two cups of coffee on desk. In background blurred couple flirting.

It turns out, talking to someone about your experience is scientifically proven to help. Several studies to date have looked at how shared emotional experiences help reduce emotional stress.

For example, one study, published in the pages of the Journal Social Psychological and Personality Science tested the stress levels of participants leading up to a simulated public speech.

In this study, researchers paired groups of participants with a partner as they waited for a stressful event (the public speech) to happen. The researchers analyzed each participant’s stress level to assess how much of a threat they experienced.

They discovered that when the participants shared their emotional experience with others, even extremely fearful participants had lower cortisol response and lower reported stress levels. Talking about their problems truly did alleviate some of the stress they faced.

Furthermore, it turns out that even talking to yourself might help reduce stress as well. A study performed in 2017 and published in Nature, investigated if quiet self-talk in the third person could help process challenging experiences and emotions.

The authors conducted the study in two phases. In the first phase, researchers subjected participants to disturbing images and then asked the participants to reflect on the image using first-person or third-person self-talk. For example, “I found that image very upsetting,” or “John found that image very upsetting.”

The second part of the study asked participants to reflect on a personal traumatic event using the same two techniques (first and third-person self-talk). In each case, researchers used brain scans to assess neurological response (neural activity via ERPs in the first study and fMRI in the second).

In both cases, third-person self-talk helped regulate emotions. According, Jason Moser an associate professor at Michigan State University and one the lead authors, “Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain.”

Ethan Kross, a University of Michigan psychology professor who led the second phase of this study, explained to MSU Today, “What’s really exciting here is that the brain data from these two complementary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation.”

Talking to someone (even yourself) helps simmer down boiling emotions. It takes the lid off the pressure cooker to alleviate the built-up steam. It enables you to clarify the issue, regulate emotions, and relieve stress. If you talk about problems, it’s scientifically proven to help.

How to Talk About Your Problems With Others

Woman alone holding a cup of hot coffee, winter season

It’s not always easy to open up, especially when we are pre-programmed to hide our issues from those around us. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression have long been stigmatized, so it can feel very unnatural to open up to others about our internal struggles.

Thankfully, the stigma around mental health is changing.

You may have already noticed how much attention mental health gets in the news, in magazines, and by outspoken celebrities these days. Know, you are not the only one out there needing someone to lean on.

But, if you’ve never spoken about these deeply personal issues (with a friend, family, or otherwise), where to begin? While saying out loud, “I need someone to talk to” or “I need help” might be a good conversation starter, what happens next?

Start by planning the conversation out. Choose a person, a time, and a place to have this frank discussion. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, opening up to others is a three-step process:

  1. The Process Talk: The first stage is to talk about talking. Tell a person you trust that you want to talk about your problems. Tell them how you want to conversation to go. For example, “I would like to talk to you about my stress. I need you to listen and to provide support. I think I will feel better if I share my experience. This is important for me.”
  2. Identification of a Specific Problem: Provide real-life examples of your problems. If you are experiencing the signs of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, what are these signs? The more details you can provide to others, the better. What does your mental health condition feel like? What are the outwardly visible symptoms?
  3. Suggestions for Ways They Can Help: The people you open up to with might not know how to help. Make this easier by detailing what you want. Do you only want someone to vent to? Do you want help? Do you want someone to help you find a counselor or therapist? Support looks different for everyone, so it’s essential to outline what you need.

Who Can You Talk To?

Loneliness can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more isolated you feel, the more you isolate yourself. Break out of this cycle by reaching out to those around you. Talk to someone to share your experiences. Relieve some of the pressure that is building up inside and talk about problems with supportive people.

Here are a few people you might consider turning towards when you need someone to lean on:

Your Partner

Communication is a crucial element within a relationship. Holding your feelings inside is bound to eat away at the love and trust between two people. If you are having trouble at work, with friends, or struggling with mental health, why not talk about it with the one you love?

If it’s too painful to share the details, at the very least, talk about it in general terms. For example, “I’m very stressed about a situation at work, but don’t feel ready to talk about it.” Your partner will better understand your experience and help reduce the burden.

Your Friends

Reach out to your circle of friends during periods of hardship. Friends can often be even more receptive than your romantic partner to hearing about your trials and tribulations. Your friends are your squad, and they have your back no matter what you are going through.

And don’t forget about your long-distance friendships. These friendships are excellent avenues for highly sensitive personal topics because they are so far removed from your day to day relationships. Long-distance friendships offer a safe space and may even have a valuable outside perspective on the situation.

Your Family

Sometimes the only person you can turn to is a member of your family. More so than your partner or friends, your family knows you inside and out. Sharing your innermost problems with them will alleviate the burden, even in a small part.

Your Colleagues

Are most of your stressors related to work? Consider your closest allies at the office. Who has your back or is in a similar situation to yours? Reach out to them over a coffee break to express your frustrations.

While sharing stressors with coworkers requires more tact than would be necessary with a friend or partner, they will have more profound insight into the work-place problem than others.

Your Journal

Getting your thoughts out on a page is the next best thing to speaking with a friend or family member. In a pinch, it releases some of the pent up frustrations, anger, or stress you are holding inside. It lets the lid off the pressure cooker to release some steam.

Journaling can also help you clarify the issue and better understand the root cause. Most importantly, a stream of consciousness doesn’t have to be pretty. You don’t have to sugar coat your emotions; it’s about getting them out on to the page.

A Counselor or Therapist

For those problems which run too deep or raw to share with others, why not seek the experience of a counselor or therapist? As an outside professional, they are unbiased and compassionate. They are trained to listen, it’s their job.

A counselor can guide you to open up about subjects you hide even from yourself. They have the skills to safely guide you through trauma, stress, and anger as a means of healing. In certain situations, a counselor may be the only safe space to open up about your experiences.

Your Doctor

Tell your doctor, “I need someone to talk to.” Physicians treat both physical and mental health concerns.

Depending on the doctor and the situation, they may ask you to complete a few mental health questionnaires or book a follow-up visit. They should also direct you towards more mental health resources, such as free or affordable counseling services, community mental health support, or crisis hotlines. You should leave the doctor’s office with a pocket full of resources to help you along the road to recovery.

A Crisis Hotline

What happens when you can’t find anybody to talk to? Your partner is away, your friends aren’t picking up, and you can’t get an appointment with your doctor until next week. Now is the time to call a crisis hotline.

There are many crisis hotlines set up around the world, including the Crisis Text Line, which is open 24/7 and available around the world:

  • United States: Text HOME to 741741
  • Canada: Text HOME to 686868
  • United Kingdom: Text HOME to 85258

When you reach out to a crisis support line, whether it’s Crisis Text Line or another service, you are speaking with a trained professional at the other end. These professionals are there to help you get through the crisis. They will stay on the line for as long as it is needed. Often, they share tips and tricks to help you cool down, to calm your anxieties, and deescalate the situation. Most importantly, these services are anonymous and confidential.

Relieve Stress by Talking About it

Scientifically, talking about stress can relieve it. As the research shows, even talking to yourself in the third person seems to lower stress levels. But just because it’s scientifically proven, doesn’t mean we naturally open up to others about our mental health concerns. It’s a very vulnerable experience.

If you are looking for someone to talk to about your stress, create a list of your closest allies. Consider who you feel comfortable speaking with about your emotional experience. Again you don’t have to share everything but find someone who is supportive and receptive. Frame the conversation beforehand, so you ensure you get the support and help you need. Finally, if you are in crisis, reach out to a crisis line.

Share This