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Managing stress through identifying your stressors

This post will specifically discuss managing your stress through identifying your stressors with the Mayo Clinic’s 4 A’s stress management guide.  To read a comprehensive list of ways to manage stress, click here.

I was having a discussion with one of my friends about the best way to relieve stress, when he introduced me to Mayo Clinic’s 4 A’s in stress management (avoid, alter, accept and adapt).

I think the best way to handle stress in life is to be able to manage it properly. The 4 A’s of stress management allows you to compartmentalise the stresses in your life and makes it easier for you to develop an action plan to cope with stress.

So how do you start?

1. You can start by grabbing a paper or open up the notes app on your phone; somewhere you can type or write. Now, start listing the current things in your life that stresses you out. Being able to identify the things that makes you stress, allows you to address them individually.

2. Now you can start to address them individually. For each of the stressors, you ask yourself:

  1. Is this unnecessary stress? (avoid)
  2. Am I able to change this stressor or situation? (alter)
  3. Learn acceptance: accept the things you cannot change. (accept)
  4. If I cannot change it, how can I adapt to it? (adapt)
Alright, let’s get to it!
A. Is this unnecessary stress?

Ask yourself, is the stressor something that you are able to avoid?

  • Take control of your surroundings: You are able to avoid some of your stressors by taking control of your surroundings. Let’s say the horrible Jakarta traffic, especially during peak hours. So when I have to head to Central Jakarta from Pondok Indah at 7am, I leave home a little earlier to avoid the stress of sitting in the car for hours.
  • It’s ok to say “no”: I find it incredibly hard to say “no”, both in my personal and professional life. However, saying no is important because if we constantly put ourselves aside and keep adding to the list of stressors, there is no way we can destress. We have to know our limit and stick to it. Saying “no” is better than disappointing them when you can’t deliver and I’m sure people would prefer to hang around a more relaxed version of you, in comparison to a cranky stressed out you.

Know your limit and know when it is the right time to walk away from the things that are unnecessary and overwhelms you with stress.

  • Cut toxic people out of your life: How to know if someone is toxic in your life is if this person consistently causes stress in your life. If this person brings you down or makes you feel less than, then it is time for you to either distance yourself or if possible, completely cut them out. Life is too short to keep relationships that drags you down.
  • Eliminate the things in your to do list entirely: Sometimes there are a number of stressors in our list that we are able to eliminate and drop in days that are hectic. Analyse your schedule and prioritise which tasks to do and eliminate/put aside those that are not as important.

Now, though avoiding is a convenient way to ignore the important things in your life; please don’t avoid every stressful situation as avoiding can lead to more stress and anxiety. Be wise and carefully analyse the stressor to see whether they are avoidable or not.

I definitely would not avoid a compulsory assignment that is due next week, avoiding a doctor’s visit for the abdominal pain you’ve been feeling or the scary dentist appointment you’ve been avoiding for a year now. Avoiding these may lead to more complications and stress in the future.

So analyze which of the stressors in your list that you are able to actually avoid properly.

B. Am I able to change this stressor or situation?

If you are not able to avoid the stressor or stressful situation, you ask yourself, are you able to alter this situation? What are some changes you can make to reduce the stress?

  • Better communication: A lot of the times, things don’t change because people are not willing to express their feelings. I think problems will not be solved or addressed if they are not raised first. If what is bothering you is the behaviour of someone, learn to respectfully open up a conversation with them. For example, it stresses me out that my friend keeps commenting on my weight and size, how do I address this? I talk to her that it hurts me, it is bothering me and making me feel insecure. I’ll ask her politely to stop shaming me for gaining weight or losing weight. Learn to be open to compromise. If what is stressing you out are people you work with not being able to meet deadlines, try communicating with them why they are not able to meet deadlines. Ask them whether the workload too much? What is the reasonable amount of time for you to complete the task? Why are you not replying my emails????! -- Learn to listen to their concerns, work together to compromise and develop a better plan so that deadlines can be met.
  • Action plan and time management: Come up with an action plan that you are able to follow. Say what stresses you out is your weight and body size. Come up with an action plan to combat that. How many times a week should you exercise? What should your diet consists of and should you meal prep every Sunday? Identify the stressors that requires you to commit, plan it out properly and stick to it. The key to being able to stick to it is to come up with a realistic and balanced daily schedule. Time management is key in this, set aside time to roughly schedule your life and what you want to achieve in a day. Be mindful that you do not overwork yourself and make time for leisure and time to spend with the people you love.
C. Learn acceptance: accept the things you cannot change.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable: Many things in life are beyond our control and it would just stress us out even more if we dwell in it. This includes the way people behave or react. What we can do is focus on the things that we are in control of and also the way we react to problems. I cannot change the fact that my tukang siomay who decided to move his stall away from in front of my house. I am not able to control that and it is what it is. Instead, I’ll focus on how I can find a different siomay place or maybe switch to salads (lol)!
  • Learn to forgive: This is something hard to do but imagine letting go of the burden of hatred, anger or resentment. To be able to let go of that negative energy and to move one. One important thing to note here is that, it’s not only about forgiving other people but also about forgiving yourself. We have to accept that we are humans and we are imperfect; we all make mistakes. Learn to forgive each other and yourself.
  • Rant it out: Some people find it helpful to just rant it out. Being able to talk to someone won’t necessarily solve the stressful situation or make it magically disappear but it is always nice to be heard and have someone to lean on.
  • Learn from your mistakes: Reflect on what you could have done instead, what you could have done better and make sure you don’t repeat them. We are all imperfect and make mistakes, make light of the situation and learn from it.
D. If I cannot change it, how can I adapt to it?

One other way to accept is also to adapt. There are many stressors that just requires us to change our mindset, make peace with it and adapt to it.

  • Moving on and looking at the bigger picture: Easier said than done but make effort to move on. Change your perspective, reframe your problems and don’t constantly beat yourself up with something that happened 2 years ago. The past is the past, think about the future and what you can do now. We know that when we are stressed it is hard to be hopeful but take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You know the saying “if it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes on it.” Focus instead on the things that do matter and do count.
  • Don’t set yourself up for failure: One other source of stress is setting standards that are too high. Some of us strive for perfection without realising that we are setting ourselves up for failure. We bite off more than we can chew and get stressed or disappointed when we are not able to achieve our goals. Try to set reasonable goals and standards for yourself and others.
  • Gratitude: When life gets cluttered and many things bring you down, it is hard to take a moment to be grateful and appreciative of the amazing things you may have in this life. I think one way that helped me practice gratitude daily is to list three things either mentally or on paper, that I am grateful for. Today it’s: the burger I ate, manage to wake up early, and my best friends since high school.
  • Better coping mechanisms: Adopt a better way to face these stressors. Whether is taking up a new hobby or going for that run; finding a better coping mechanism to certain stresses can boost your energy. Why not skip rope everytime you’re thinking about that ex instead of sobbing to the sad playlist? Why not set aside time to meditate everyday instead of ordering McDonalds to eat your feelings?

Stress is a part of life and to an extent, stress is good to keep you motivated and boost that fight-or-flight response when you are in an emergency situation. Just remember that too much of it can cause negative long term consequences on both your physical and mental health.

I know it might be too extra and takes time to go through this process but hey, why not give it a try?

Note: This is a slightly modified version of the 4 A’s of stress management for easier translation to Bahasa Indonesia. To read more about practicing the 4 A’s of stress management, click here.

Learn more about stress at Seribu Tujuan