When is it time to see a therapist for your stress?

Only characters in old-school sitcoms live life without stress and anxiety. For them, life is all good therapistblog.fwtimes, laughter and the occasional pratfall. Those of us living in the real world have a wider range of feelings — and stress and anxiety are very common ones. While we all have our ups and downs, it’s important to know when stress and anxiety get to the point where a mental healthcare professional may be needed.

When your stress and anxiety start to affect everyday functions in your life or when these feelings last too long, that’s a good indicator that it might be time to see a therapist for your stress. Are you having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much? Is it hard to concentrate or complete your work? Are you eating too much or too little? Are you drinking too much alcohol? Are you having trouble concentrating? Are you feeling suicidal?  These are all warning signs that you may notice or friends, family or coworkers may notice. No matter how the warning flag is raised, it’s important to take note and get help.

If you’ve never seen a mental healthcare professional, the best first step is to talk with your primary care physician or another physician you see often — cardiologist, oncologist, rheumatologist, etc. He or she can help rule out any physical causes and refer you to a qualified mental healthcare professional, as indicated. Your doctor could contact the U-M Depression Center or the PsychOncology Program to seek advice about therapists in your area or other information about depression and anxiety

Some people find relief through talk therapy. Others benefit from medication, or a combination of the two. Your doctor/therapist will do a thorough evaluation and discuss treatment options with you. If others in your family have been treated for stress or anxiety, your therapist will benefit from knowing what worked or didn’t work for him or her.

There is no shame in seeking mental healthcare help. Just as you wouldn’t ignore a physical illness, you should not ignore a mental one. We all cope with life differently, and it’s not a contest to see who copes “best.” If you need help, seek help. It’s better to seek treatment when you need it than to allow your stress and anxiety to build.

Take the next step:

Dr. Michelle Riba

Dr. Michelle Riba is the director of the PsychOncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is a clinical professor and the associate chair for Integrated Medical and Psychiatric Services in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Riba received a medical degree and psychiatry residency training at the University of Connecticut and was a faculty member there before coming to the University of Michigan in 1993. Her research interests are in the assessment and evaluation of distress in cancer patients and their families.


“21 Days to a Less Stressed You” is a three-week series on managing and minimizing stress in your life. The tips and advice included in the series, which are provided by the experts at the U-M Health System, are intended to help you combat the stress-related health issues so many of us face every day.  Subscribe to the series here – and enter to win a Brookstone Tranquil Moments Sleep Sound Machine!