Unit 1: Mindset

The 4 A’s: Avoid, Alter, Accept or Adapt

Madeleine Hawkes, Weight Loss Expert

PGCert Obesity & Weight Management

BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Dietetics,

BSc (Hons) Psychology

Last week we looked at the difference between acute and chronic stress, how to identify when we’re stressed, and how to manage acute stress. This week we’ll look at how we can manage our stressors to alleviate chronic stress. 

If you’ve started to note down when you experience stress you’ll begin to recognise which stressors – objects, activities, situations or individuals – are affecting you the most. These will be very individual, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of what they are for you

We can proactively manage the stressors in our lives before we become overwhelmed with the help of the 4 A’s: avoid, alter, accept or adapt.

Avoid

Some stressors can be avoided by planning ahead.

  • Take control of your surroundings
  • Reduce contact with people who act as stressors
  • Learn how to set boundaries
  • Ditch the unnecessary

Alter

You can’t avoid all stressors (and nor should you) but you can change your behaviour and environment for the better.

  • Communicate your feelings openly 
  • Manage your time better
  • Explain your limits in advance

Accept

When avoiding or altering isn’t an option we must accept the stressor or adapt to it. Not all stress is bad and reframing our way of thinking about stress to view it as an acceptable emotion, or as a tool, has been shown to reduce a variety of the negative symptoms associated with it.

  • Talk through what is causing you stress
  • Practice forgiveness and self-forgiveness
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Talk positively about yourself

Adapt

Changing your expectations of yourself or those around you will reduce stressors which make you feel like you haven’t done enough.

  • Adjust your standards
  • Reframe negative thought processes
  • Remind yourself of the joys you have in life

Take Action ⚡

Start with your list of stressors, take a thick pen and cross out any that are beyond your control. Be sensible about what’s within your realm of influence and what’s beyond your capacity. 

Next, decide which stressors you can avoid. Do you really need to see that one friend who uses you as an emotional bin to offload their feelings onto? 

Which stressors can you alter? Can you reduce stress by giving yourself more time to do things eg. by waking up 15 minutes earlier?

Which ones can you accept? Accepting and making the best of a situation can help you release stress, but you have to manage this process. One way of doing this is simply by talking it through with someone you feel you can open up to.

Finally, which stressors can you adapt to? Take a moment to read through what’s left on your list. Ask yourself if adjusting your mindset would make them less stressful? For example, it would be wonderful if I could clean my desk every day… but is it necessary? This might be a non-negotiable for you, for others it won’t be worth the worry.

Final actions

Hopefully your list has shrunk quite a bit by now! Here are just a few more pointers to help you manage the stressors you’re left with. 

Look at the bigger picture! Will the stressor you’re dealing with now matter in a few months or a year? If you look at your whole life, is this an important area or a big part of your life? If not, then why is it on the list? 

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When we focus too much on one aspect of our lives and that area is threatened, we often struggle to deal with stress. Balance the aspects of your life which you hold dear and which bring you enjoyment; career, family, friendships, and personal hobbies.

Give yourself some time. When we’re stressed it often feels like we have an endless to-do list and no time. Set aside 15 minutes every day to relax and enjoy yourself without interruption – this could be on a walk or in the bath or getting ready for bed. If you have more time by all means take it! 

Hopefully this week’s guide has given you a few ways to manage a variety of stressors to help reduce your burden. Next week we’ll look at building resilience, and using those stressors we can’t avoid in a positive way so that they don’t negatively affect your life.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.