I usually used this handout with a guided relaxation after.
If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. 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.
Dealing with Stressful Situations: The Four A’s
|Change the situation: Avoid the stressor. Alter the stressor.||Change your reaction: Adapt to the stressor. Accept the stressor.|
1. Avoid unnecessary stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed.
Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them.
Avoid people who stress you out –Limit the amount of time you spend with people that cause you stress.
Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off.
Avoid hot-button topics –If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
Pare down your to-do list –If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.”
2. Alter the situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way.
Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same.
Be more assertive. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them.
Manage your time better. Plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself.
3. Adapt to the stressor
If 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.
Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.
Look at the big picture. Will it matter in a month, or a year?
Adjust your standards. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
Focus on the positive. 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.
4. Accept what you can’t change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable, in such cases; the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth.
Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist.
Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes.
5. Make time for fun & relaxation
You can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for healthy fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
|Go for a walk. Spend time in nature. Call a good friend. Exercise. Write in your journal. Take a long bath. Light scented candles||Play with a pet. Work in your garden. Get a massage. Curl up with a good book. Listen to music. Watch a comedy|
Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule..
Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life.
Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself.
6. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.
Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat.
Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary.
Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
I started engaging in relaxation tools as a teenage in the mid 1070’s when I first started practicing Hatha and Raja Yoga. After 38 years I can say with confidence that it works for me. Since 1983 amongst other things I have taught Hatha Yoga, and relaxation techniques.
In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may benefit health. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse.
Currently, there is some scientific evidence that relaxation techniques may be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for some disorders, including:
- Anxiety. Studies have suggested that relaxation may assist in the treatment of phobias or panic disorder. Relaxation techniques have also been used to relieve anxiety for people in stressful situations, such as when undergoing a medical procedure.
- Depression. In 2008, a major review of the evidence for relaxation in the treatment of depression found that relaxation techniques were more effective than no treatment for depression, but not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Headache. There is some evidence that biofeedback and other relaxation techniques may be helpful for relieving tension or migraine headaches. In some cases, these mind and body techniques were more effective than medications for reducing the frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches.
- Pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques may help reduce abdominal and surgery pain.
Relaxation involves practice and willingness to fully engage in the process of relaxing. Stay tuned for some great relaxing tools.
The team wrote in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience about how they studied 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety. They said these individuals had no previous meditation experience or anxiety disorders.
The participants took four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.
“Although we´ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn´t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Dr. Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.”
The researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent in the participants.
“This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” Zeidan said.
Fadel and colleagues were also able to reveal that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which are areas of the brain involved with executive-level function.
“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”
He said the results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people.
Scientists wrote in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in November 2012 about how meditation has lasting emotional benefits. They found that participating in an eight-week meditation training program could have measurable effects on how the brain functions, even when someone is not actively meditating. The team used two forms of meditation training and saw some differences in the response of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain known to be important for emotion.
We all know the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Our hearts race, our fingers sweat, and our breathing gets shallow and labored. We experience racing thoughts about a perceived threat we fear will be too much to handle. That’s because our “fight or flight” response has kicked in, resulting in sympathetic arousal and a narrowing of attention and focus on avoiding the threat. We seem to be locked in that state, unable to focus on our daily chores or longer-term goals. Below are six strategies that you can use to help relieve your everyday anxiety:
- Reevaluate the probability of the threatening event actually happening.
Anxiety makes us feel that a threat is imminent, yet most of the time what we worry most about never happens. By recording our worries—and how few actually came true—we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It’s important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.
- Use deep breathing and relaxation.
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this at first without a threat present, it can start to become automatic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.
- Become mindful of your own physical and mental reactions.
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.
- Accept fear and commit to living a life based on core values.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.