Need stress relief? Try the 4 A's

Expand your stress management tool kit 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 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.

Avoid

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 at the corporate cafeteria? Pack your lunch and eat at your desk.
  • Avoid people who bother you. If you have a co-worker who causes your jaw to tense, put physical distance between the two of you. Sit far away at meetings or walk around his or her cubicle, even if it requires some extra steps.
  • 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. 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.

Alter

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 butt of your wife's jokes at parties, ask her to leave you out of the comedy routine. In return, be willing to enjoy her other jokes and thank her for humoring you.
  • Communicate your feelings openly. Remember to use "I" statements, as in, "I feel frustrated by shorter deadlines and a heavier workload. 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, politely start the conversation with, "I've got only five minutes to cover this."
Jul. 23, 2013 See more In-depth