Have you ever heard of the serenity prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr? It goes like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It is a prayer that was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and many others in dealing with all circumstances of life. It is also a great way to approach stressful situations. There are some stressors that we cannot avoid, so we must adjust the way we deal with them. For other stressors that are unnecessary, we should do our best to avoid them. This is the basic idea behind the four A approach: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept.
There are many forms of stress that we let affect us even though they are easily avoidable. For me, it’s things like traffic jams and procrastination. In these situations, you can choose to either avoid or alter the stressor.
Avoid - Avoiding stress seems too easy, but the hard part is identifying what causes the stress in the first place. If you are finding it difficult to hone in on what stresses you out, keep a stress journal. Every time you are stressed, try to identify what ticked you off, how you reacted, and how it made you feel. After a few days or weeks, you will likely see a pattern. Now figure out which stressors are avoidable. For example, during rush hour I can choose a different, less-traveled route. Although it may take longer, I would avoid the situation that causes stress. Another way to avoid stress is to simply say “no.” If you find you are taking on too much, learn to say “no” to things you don’t have time for. Separate the “shoulds” from the “musts”. Finally, avoid people who stress you out (without being too rude, of course). Limit the time you spend with people who don’t make you happy and you’ll notice a huge difference in your attitude!
Alter - Some stressors are not entirely avoidable, but you can alter them so they don’t continue to stress you out in the future. One way to do this is to manage your time. If you can’t avoid your obligations (as in, they are all “musts”), schedule out your day so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Another way to alter the situation is to be assertive and express your feelings. People can’t help you change a stressful situation if they don’t know it exists. And finally, be willing to compromise. If you expect others to change their behavior, you should be prepared to do the same. It will turn out better for both of you!
For those unavoidable stressors in your life, the key is in how you cope with it. Whether you like it or not, you do have to pay your bills every month. But, they don’t always have to stress you out. For these situations, you can adapt to or accept the stressor as it is.
Adapt - To adapt to a stressful situation, it is important to adjust your focus. Look at the big picture. Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 months? 5 years? If not, let it go! If you broaden your prospective, you’ll realize how small the problem is in the grand scheme of life. Another way to adapt to a stressor is to focus on the positive. You may not have a lot of money left after you pay your bills, but at least you CAN pay them. You might have to work late every night, but you are first in line for a promotion. Try to see how the stressful situation can benefit you, either now or in the future. It will be much easier to handle it when you see a possible reward! Finally, sometimes you have to adjust your standards. I am a self-diagnosed perfectionist, which often causes me a lot of anxiety. When I start to stress about things in my life, I have to remind myself that not everything can be perfect. If you can convince yourself of that, the stress will take care of itself.
Accept - Sometimes the best we can do is to accept the situation as something out of our control. Don’t let something that’s out of your hands stress you out. The best you can do is focus on what you can control – your reaction. In addition, share your feelings with others. If you can’t control the situation, discuss with a family member or friend how it makes you feel. They may be able to offer good advice or simply act as a sounding board. Once you have vented your stress, move past it. There’s no use worrying about what can’t be changed!
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