Need stress relief? Try the 4 A’s
Expand your stress management toolkit by mastering these four strategies for coping with stress: avoid, alter, accept and adapt.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
When we feel the effects of stress weighing us down, it’s like lugging a backpack that’s becoming heavier by the minute. Too much stress can make our journey through life difficult.
Happy events, such as a wedding, as well as unhappy events, such as overwork, can cause stress. When your stress level exceeds your ability to cope, you need to restore, reboot and recalibrate the balance by reducing the stressors or increasing your ability to cope or both. Try using one of the four A’s: avoid, alter, accept or adapt.
Believe it or not, you can simply avoid a lot of stress. Plan ahead, rearrange your surroundings and reap the benefits of a lighter load.
Take control of your surroundings. Is the traffic insane? Leave early for work or take the longer, less traveled route. Hate waiting in line for lunch at the corporate cafeteria or at the fast-food places? Pack your lunch and eat at your desk or in a break room.
Working longer hours when working at home and finding it difficult to separate work and your life? Ask your supervisor if you can set your work schedule to be the same every day, turn off the computer at the end of the workday and close your office door. Have a designated “working from home” space. Tell your friends and family members when you are “at work.”
- Learn to say no. You have a lot of responsibilities and demands on your time. At a certain point, you cross the line between being charitable and being foolish. Saying no is a complete sentence. Turn down the neighborhood sports league. Pass on coaching T-ball. Those around you will appreciate more time with a relaxed you. And you’ll have time to enjoy them, too.
- Ditch part of your list. Label your to-do list with A’s, B’s and C’s, according to importance. On hectic days, scratch the C’s from your list.
However, some problems can’t be avoided. For those situations, try another technique.
One of the most helpful things you can do during times of stress is to take inventory, then attempt to change your situation for the better.
- Respectfully ask others to change their behavior. And be willing to do the same. Small problems often create larger ones if they aren’t resolved. If you’re tired of being the target of a friend’s jokes at parties, ask him or her to leave you out of the comedy routine. In return, be willing to enjoy his or her other jokes and thank him or her for humoring you. Focus on addressing the behavior or issue that bothers you and avoid attacking the person. For example, say “I really did not appreciate what you said about me at that gathering.”
- Communicate your feelings openly. Remember to use “I” statements, as in, “I feel frustrated by shorter deadlines, a heavier workload or working long hours when I’m working from home. Is there something we can do to balance things out?”
- Manage your time better. Lump together similar tasks — group your phone calls, car errands and computer-related tasks. The reward of increased efficiency will be extra time.
- State limits in advance. Instead of stewing over a colleague’s nonstop chatter or messages, politely start the conversation with, “I’ve got only five minutes to cover this” or let them know you’re busy but will get back to them later. Or say, “I have a break for a few minutes. How can I help you?” Or set times when you won’t be checking your email. For example, let colleagues know you won’t be checking email after work hours.
Sometimes we may have no choice but to accept things the way they are. For those times try to:
- Talk with someone. You may not be able to change a frustrating situation, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t legitimate. Phone or schedule a coffee break with an understanding friend. You may feel better after talking it out.
- Forgive. It takes energy to be angry. Forgiving may take practice, but by doing so you will free yourself from burning more negative energy. Why stew in your anger when you could shrug and move on?
- Practice positive self-talk. It’s easy to lose objectivity when you’re stressed. One negative thought can lead to another, and soon you’ve created a mental avalanche. Be positive. Instead of thinking, “I am horrible with money, and I will never be able to control my finances,” try this: “I made a mistake with my money, but I’m resilient. I’ll get through it.” Or think, “OK, this happened. What can I learn from this going forward?”
- Learn from your mistakes. There is value in recognizing a “teachable moment.” You can’t change the fact that procrastination hurt your performance, but you can make sure you set aside more time in the future.
Thinking you can’t cope is one of the greatest stressors. That’s why adapting — which often involves changing your standards or expectations — can be most helpful in dealing with stress.
- Adjust your standards. Do you need to vacuum and dust twice a week? Would macaroni and cheese be an unthinkable substitute for homemade lasagna? Are your expectations unreasonable? Redefine success and stop striving for perfection, and you may operate with a little less guilt and frustration. For many tasks and chores, “good enough” is usually fine.
- Practice thought-stopping. Stop gloomy thoughts immediately. Refuse to replay a stressful situation as negative, and it may cease to be negative.
- Reframe the issue. Try looking at your situation from a new viewpoint. Instead of feeling frustrated that you’re home with a sick child, look at it as an opportunity to bond, relax and finish a load of laundry.
- Adopt a mantra. Create a saying such as, “I can handle this” or “I can do this” and mentally repeat it in tough situations.
- Create an assets column. Imagine all the things that bring you joy in life, such as vacations, children and pets. Then call on that list when you’re stressed. It will put things into perspective and serve as a reminder of life’s joys.
- Look at the big picture. Ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year or in five years?” The answer is often no. Realizing this makes a stressful situation seem less overwhelming.
Choosing the right technique
Stressors — good and bad — are a part of every life. Practice applying these techniques to balance your stress equation. With practice, that once-hefty backpack will become your private bag of tricks. Soon, you’ll be able to pull out just the tool that will keep you hiking through life at a steady clip.
July 31, 2021
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- Creagan ET (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. April 19, 2021.
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