3.4 Reducing Stress

Learning Objective

  1. Explain techniques that can help us better cope with stress.

We all experience stress at one time or another. However, we can take action to assess and relieve the stress in our life. First, we do some self-analysis to determine the stressors in our life and how we handle it. This emotional intelligence skill (self-awareness) allows us to see what we need to improve upon. Then, we can apply self-management tools to help us manage the stress in our lives. The benefit of this identification and management is that it allows us to relate better to others both in our work life and personal life.

Look at your habits and emotions and really think about what is causing the stress. For example, Julie may be stressed about a project due on Friday, but the real stress may be because she procrastinated in starting the project, and now there isn’t enough time to complete it. Or perhaps Gene is stressed because his personality type causes him to put too many things on his to-do list, and he isn’t able to get them done. Accepting responsibility for the role we play in our own stresses can be the first step in maintaining a life with mostly positive stress!

Next, we can look at the way we currently deal with stress. For example, when Emily is feeling stressed, she smokes a pack of cigarettes and tends to have several glasses of wine at night. When she isn’t stressed, she doesn’t smoke and may limit herself to just one or two glasses of wine every few days. Some people smoke marijuana or use other drugs to cope with the stress of everyday life. These substances seemingly help for a period of time but prevent us from actually dealing with the stress—and doesn’t help us to gain skills in self-awareness. Understanding your current coping mechanisms for stress can help you determine what works to manage stress—and what doesn’t.

Figure 3.6 The Four As for Dealing with Stress

Once we do some self-analysis, we can use a method called the four As. The four As gives us four choices for dealing with a stressor:

  1. Avoid the stressor. We can try to avoid situations that stress us out. If watching certain television programs causes stress, stop watching them! Spend time with people who help you relax. We can also look at saying no more often if we do not have the time necessary to complete everything we are doing.
  2. Alter the stressor. Another option in dealing with stress is to try to alter it, if you can’t avoid it. When changing a situation, you can be more assertive, manage time better, and communicate your own needs and wants better. For example, Karen can look at the things causing her stress, such as her home and school commitments; while she can’t change the workload, she can examine ways to avoid a heavy workload in the future. If Karen is stressed about the amount of homework she has and the fact that she needs to clean the house, asking for help from roommates, for example, can help alter the stressor. Often this involves the ability to communicate well.
  3. Adapt to the stressor. If you are unable to avoid or change the stressor, getting comfortable with the stressor is a way to handle it. Creating your own coping mechanisms for the stress and learning to handle it can be an effective way to handle the stress. For example, we can try looking at stressful situations in a positive light, consider how important the stressor is in the long run, and adjust our standards of perfectionism.
  4. Accept the stressor. Some stressors are unavoidable. We all have to go to work and manage our home life. So, learning to handle the things we cannot change by forgiving, developing tolerances, and letting going of those things we cannot control is also a way to deal with a stressor. For example, if your mother-in-law’s yearly visits and criticisms cause stress, obviously you are not able to avoid or alter the stress, but you can adapt to it and accept it. Since we cannot control another person, accepting the stressor and finding ways of dealing with it can help minimize some negative effects of the stress we may experience.

When your roommate borrowed your car without asking, you need to pick up a friend from the airport, and you have friends coming over for dinner—all on the same night, finding a way to reduce stress is important. Reducing stress for every person is going to be different. Being able to recognize what helps you personally reduce stress is an important part to a healthy work and home life. For example, exercising may be a great stress reducer for Duana, but for Lisa, finding time to exercise might cause more stress than the actual exercise helps!

Researchers have found the following activities cut stress significantly:Elizabeth Sboboda, “Feeling Frazzled? 8 Ways to Decrease Stress,” MSNBC, February 15, 2009, accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28719686/ns/health-behavior/t/feeling-frazzled-ways-decrease-stress/

Other ways to reduce stress might include the following:Jenny Kovacs Stamos, “Blissing Out,” WebMD, accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot

As this chapter has addressed, stress can be a positive motivator in our lives, but too much stress can create human relations issues, productivity, and other serious health issues. By practicing self-awareness and then self-management, we can begin to realize those things that cause us stress and deal with them in a healthier manner.

Key Takeaways

  • The four As of stress reduction can help us reduce stress. They include: avoid, alter, adapt, and accept. By using the four As to determine the best approach to deal with a certain stressor, we can begin to have a more positive outlook on the stressor and learn to handle it better.
  • There are a variety of things we can do to reduce stress. Exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, music, and social interaction can help reduce stress. Also, getting better at time management and organization can help reduce our stress.


  1. Of the ways to handle stress listed in this chapter, which ones do you already integrate in your life? Do you engage in other methods not listed here? Share your ideas for stress reduction in small groups.