Stress Management and Mitigation – The 4 A’s

Medically Reviewed By: Samantha Renner, MS, LMHC, NCC

One of the most powerful silent forces at work in our lives every single day is stress. Stress may be invisible to the naked eye, but the effects are clearly visible. Whether those are physical effects like bloodshot eyes and noticeable uncomfortableness or internal struggles with anxiety and worry, one thing is true—stress is real.

The 4 A's of Stress Management - Avoid, Alter, Accept, and Adapt

Thankfully, there are quite a few great tools, resources, strategies out there aimed at helping all of us better cope with the stress that life brings. While it may be tough to fully eradicate your stress, effectively managing the silent force can provide great dividends of peace, health, and relaxation.

The 4 As of Stress Management

Arguably the most popularly discussed method of stress management is the 4 As of stress management. While the origins of the tactic aren’t clear, the tactic has been most notably made famous by the clinical staff team over at the Mayo Clinic.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Avoid
  • Alter
  • Accept
  • Adapt

Avoid the Stressors

Sometimes the easiest way to mitigate stress is to avoid the things that cause it. While some people might give you a hard time and say you’re “taking the cowardly way out,” it’s the exact opposite. Having the ability to see and understand what makes you tick and having the power to avoid these negative things means you’ve got control over your life.

Weakness is the inability to leave or avoid a bad situation. You gain power over your stress when you can stop it in its tracks before it even happens.

What happens when the stressors in your life are people?

For many, the biggest stressors are not things or circumstances, but are people. Avoiding an event or inanimate object is easy. However, people can be unpredictable, which can add more elements to the equation.

Here’s the best advice. Do the best you can. If you can limit the number of times you see someone who stresses you out even by one or two times a month, that’s big. Over time that’s going to add up. Additionally, you may need to let that person know you need to spend time away from them. That fits more into the next of the 4 As of stress management.  

Alter the Circumstances

Sometimes you can’t avoid the stressors in your life. Maybe it’s a family member you have to see or a coworker at your job? Whatever the case may be, there are going to be instances where you can’t avoid the stressor.

When this happens, your next step in stress mitigation is altering the circumstances. How can you change the makeup of the situation to lower you stress? Are there ways to limit your interactions with someone, even if you’re in the same area? Is it time for you to build up the courage to say something to someone who stresses you out?

An awkward conversation may be the last thing on your radar. However, one day of elevated stress and awkwardness is probably worth putting an end to a continuous loop of seemingly unavoidable stress.

Accept the Reality

When the first two tenants of the 4 As of stress management fail, it’s time to transition to acceptance and coping. Ideally, the first two steps work, but that’s not always the case. Thankfully, there are still tools and resources that can help you accept and deal with the situation at hand.

First, see if you’re able to change your line of thinking and feeling to be more accepting of the situation. If that doesn’t work, you may need to reach out for a helping hand from someone else. This could be a friend or family member, a counselor, a religious figure, or even an online therapist. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, and who better to turn to than someone who knows you the best or someone who is a trained professional.

One caveat here is to be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of gossip or creating more problems. If you’re having stress problems with someone at work, talking to another coworker might not be the ideal solution.

Adapt and Overcome

If the first three tenants don’t work, then it’s time to focus on digging deep, adapting, and overcoming. Undoubtedly, this is the toughest step, but it is the one that can prove the most fruitful. Develop a way to adapt to the stressful situation or conditions. Find a technique that helps you cope when you’re in the heat of the moment. A trained professional may be the best to help you develop effective and battle-tested tactics to make this a reality.