Dealing with stressful situations: the four A’s
When you feel stressed, your brain doesn’t function the same way it does when you are calm and in control. Your memory may fail you, you may suffer from poor judgement, or have difficulty making decisions.
By memorising the four A’s – Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept – you will have a simple and easy to remember system to fall back on when you are in a stressful situation.
1. Avoid unnecessary stressful situations
You may be surprised by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate. You could start by creating a ‘stress journal’. Make a note every time something stresses you. After a week, review the journal and see which stressors can be avoided using strategies such as:
- Learn how to say “no”. Know your limits and stick to them.
- Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person.
- Take control of your environment. If traffic is a stressor, take a longer but less-travelled route or utilise public transport.
- Avoid hot-button topics. If you get upset over certain topics such as religion or politics, avoid those conversations by not bringing it up or excusing yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
- Reduce tasks that aren’t truly necessary or eliminate them entirely.
2. Alter the stressful situation
When you can’t avoid a stressor, can you change things and situations, so the stressor doesn’t present itself in the future? This may involve changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
Be assertive and don’t bottle up your feelings. If something or someone is creating concerns for you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you try to suppress your emotions or let things simmer, the situation will remain the same or escalate into a conflict that will only stress you more.
Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behaviour, be willing to bend a little yourself. If you’re both flexible, you’ll have a better chance of finding a workable solution that is less stressful for both of you.
Develop your time management skills. When you are pressured for time, it is difficult to stay calm and focused. Even if you manage your time well, it can be beneficial to periodically audit how you spend your time and see if there are any time wasters you can cut back on. You might find an extra 20 minutes a day that you can spend walking the dog, meditating, sleeping, chatting to a friend, or involved in some other activity that will reduce your overall stress levels.
3. Adapt to the stressful situation
When you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
- Change your perspective. View the stressful situations from a more positive outlook. For example, rather than fuming about the bus being late, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, enjoy some alone time or use the opportunity to plan your day.
- Think long-term and look at the big picture. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. If you are consistently setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection, you’ll need to map about a long-term strategy to change those habits. Ask someone you trust to be a coach or mentor and help you establish realistic goals and objectives. Work through problems logically, one at a time.
- Focus on the positives. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
4. Accept the stressor
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one or a work project or deadline. In such cases, remember you can’t control the event. Acceptance may be difficult. However, no amount of stress is going to change the situation. Re-channel your energies into things you do have control over.
- Avoid trying to control the uncontrollable. Many challenges you face in life will be beyond your control— particularly the behaviour of other people. You can’t change anyone else – only yourself. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Accept your strengths and development areas. If you are in control of yourself and accept yourself, others will be more likely to accept you. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it! If you don’t know how, ask for help and look for new ways to learn.
- Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be highly beneficial, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Think about who you are sharing with – while you may get away with sharing certain feelings in groups or on social media, other feelings should be exposed only to trusted friend or colleagues. Visiting a health professional may be the option for some people.
- Learn to forgive. We live in an imperfect world and people make mistakes. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Stress can affect your wellbeing, reduce your ability to do your job effectively, and may have detrimental effects on your emotions and behaviour. Effective coping strategies require you to change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.