Something stressing you out? Give it the 4-A test!

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2011-05-10 08:09:37 -0500
Started 2011-02-04 21:41:58 -0600

Running into a stressful event, or having a stressful event run into us, is part of daily life. You know, those times when your stress reaction gets triggered, and you find your emotions shifting from a place of calmness and/or happiness to one of turmoil, along with the symptoms that you personally experience when you’re stressed out.

Stress is about control. Human beings are wired to be in control, even though we are often aren’t. We assume we are control and are surprised that the evidence seems to be otherwise, or assume that if we try long and hard enough, we’ll finally get control. And while we’re in the middle of that struggle, chances are, our systems are on red alert. An open invitation to stress.

Sure, there are a lot of ways to deal with those stress symptoms. But how about avoiding the thinking that leads to stress in the first place? If you cut stress off at the source – your perceptions control of the situation – you might be able to save yourself the headache, heartache, sweaty palms, anger, fear, frustration… that go along with how you experience stress.

Ready to try some stress avoidance?

Here’s a technique for looking at those situations that combines mindfulness with analyzing your level control (or lack thereof).

Let’s say you find yourself in the middle of one of those situations that lead to stress. Like a traffic jam on a very hot day when you have to be somewhere. You’re on the highway, traffic suddenly comes to a halt, you look ahead, and all you see is the parking lot ahead of you. What happens next? Maybe you say a few choice words, pound on the steering wheel, and start imagining how awful your life is going to be for the next hour or more, how your whole day is ruined, how this shouldn’t be happening. Here come the stress symptoms.

But instead…

Start with some mindfulness. Imagine taking a step back and surveying the situation from a helicopter. What’s happening here? Well, it’s a traffic jam. The cars aren’t going to move until a fender bender a mile down the road has been handled. That guy having a temper tantrum (that would be you) isn’t doing much to impact the solution.

Now that you have a bird’s eye view of the problem, here are four questions you can ask yourself:

Adapt. Can I adapt to this situation? Call up the friend I was planning to visit and change that late lunch into an early dinner, or call my job and let them know I will be starting late and offer to work late that day?

Accept. Can I accept this situation? Open the windows, play some music, catch up on phone calls, read the newspaper?

Avoid. Can I avoid this situation? Maybe pull onto the shoulder of the road and drive a few hundred yards to the exit ramp?

Alter. Can I alter this situation? Maybe get out of my car and direct traffic to get it moving faster?

Most likely, you can do at least one of these, if not combine a couple of them. But most likely, you can’t control this situation. The traffic jam is going to be traffic jam until it isn’t one anymore.

Now, look at situations in your own life that cause you stress. Does your stress result from wanting to be in control when you aren’t and, most likely, can’t be? The next time you find yourself about to become stressed out, take a mindfulness moment, and then ask yourself where you can adapt-accept-alter-avoid.

Chances are, there is something you can do that doesn’t involve giving in to stress!

20 replies

shorty31 2011-05-10 08:09:37 -0500 Report

thank you Dr. Gary i started not to read this but i am glad i did. now you gave me some tools to use because when i get stressed i eat, cry or just get depressed. i take my frustrations out on my son and his children then i go some where and cry. i feel helpless some time because i can't do things like i use to and my family calls me lazy. they want me as i was and i'm not. so now i can deal with it better. and i did call an old friend and she's taken me out to lunch. how about that

bizzach 2011-02-22 10:49:27 -0600 Report

Thank you so much for a way to step back and deal with every day stress, sometimes i let it get the best of me and being minful is a way to step back and think about my own reation!! Thanks !

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-02-22 15:59:35 -0600 Report

You are welcome! I am glad it was helpful. Letting stress get the better of us is a natural human reaction, but it's also possible to look at things from another perspective. It's kind of like retraining ourselves, and we are always retrainable.

Have a great week!

whitetigress 2011-02-22 10:41:56 -0600 Report

Dr. Gary, I find your advice to be good as it reinforces the fact that we have choices as to how to handle or perceive a situation.

I am not into "control" though, (whether it be of myself or others). I prefer to seek "mastery".

I have found that calming activities such as meditation and tai chi helps me to remain calm in a stressful situation.

I also ask myself, "Is there anything I can do about this situation?" or "Have I done everything I can do to remedy the situation?" and go from there.

I am not doing "battle" with diabetes. I feel the more I care about myself, and am gentle with myself the less I overreact to situations.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-02-22 15:58:00 -0600 Report

Great advice, and a very interesting perspective. Kind of like being a peaceful warrior, if you are familiar with that book. Sounds like you focus on being proactive, making sure that your body and mind are not constantly on red alert so that you are less likely to overreact. I also meditate, and I find that it really helps me to maintain my perspective. So often, once we have allowed ourselves to scramble for control, we are stuck in the spiral of reacting rather than acting, and we are at that point left to dig ourselves out. Thanks for your insights!

MewElla 2011-02-22 09:15:07 -0600 Report

Letting things of things that stress me out is a definite learning curve. All of us let little things bother us and then we stress when they start to build up. Learning to adapt and let go is the best thing I can do for myself in relation to stress. At the end of the day, "that thing" probably will be forgotten and I have moved on.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-02-22 15:54:25 -0600 Report

Very good point. Sometimes I ask myself, what is this going to matter one year from now? One month? It helps me to get things into perspective. When I get caught up in the trees I forget how beautiful the forest is. Thank you!

Jameesa 2011-02-22 08:58:45 -0600 Report

Very interesting article!! We should not worry about things we have no control over. It takes time to get yourself to the point where you don't worry about everything. "Do the best you can and leave the rest to God…

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2011-02-06 01:53:55 -0600 Report

Thank you for sharing this. My life's trffic jam of the last few years is still continuing. Resulting in a taxing of my stress coping mechaisms. I needed a reminder of the how the loss of control can be more stressful in ways than the actual events.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-02-06 22:34:27 -0600 Report

You are welcome. It's always better to be proactive, and to avoid stress before it knocks you over. Taking a moment to evaluate the situation, using the 4 As, can help you do that. Glad this was helpful to you. Have a great week!