Mental Health

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


The 4 A’s of Stress Relief


Reduce stress with these tension-taming strategies


By Brittany Doohan


When you’re falling down the rabbit hole of stress, it can be tough to climb out. But you can restore your balance by reducing the stressors in your life, increasing your ability to cope, or both. To manage stress like a pro, master these four strategies: avoid, alter, accept and adapt.


Avoid: With a little advance planning, you can steer clear of many stressful situations.

  • Take control of your environment. Hate waiting in line at the cafeteria? Pack your lunch and eat at your desk.
  • Lighten your load by learning to say no. Your loved ones will appreciate their time with a more relaxed you! 
  • Avoid hot-button topics. If talking about politics gets you all riled up, cross it off your conversation list.
  • Ditch part of your to-do list. Prioritize your tasks by writing an A, B or C next to each one, A’s being the most important and C’s being the least. On hectic days, ditch the C’s!


Alter: Take inventory of the things that stress you out, and take action to change them.

  • Ask others to act differently. If someone is doing something that bothers you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way.
  • Learn to manage your time better. Keep a calendar and don’t overextend yourself.
  • Be more assertive. If you have a deadline and your colleague is chatting your ear off, politely tell him you have about 5 minutes to talk, but then you have to get back to work.


Adapt: If you can’t change what’s stressing you out, change yourself.

  • Shift your perspective. Rather than getting upset that you’re in traffic, look at it as an opportunity to relax and listen to your favorite radio station.
  • Adopt a mantra. Instead of becoming paralyzed by a stressful situation, repeat in your head (or outloud) an empowering statement like, “I've got this.”
  • Practice gratitude. When the going gets tough, remind yourself of all the wonderful things in your life.
  • Look at the big picture. Will what you’re stressing about now matter in a year? In 5 years?


Accept: Accept things the way they are.

  • Talk with someone. When you can’t change the stressor and you’re not sure how to cope, it can be helpful to chat with a friend to get your feelings out.
  • Find the silver lining. Look for the positive side in each stressful situation. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
  • Forgive. People make mistakes — including you. Set yourself free of negative energy, anger and resentment by forgiving and moving on. 


When you have a chronic condition or other long-term stressful situation, your feelings may be tougher to manage, even when you try these techniques. If you suspect that you might need more help dealing with your stress, talk to your doctor, who can help by referring you to a counselor or other mental health expert.   


Published on April 29, 2016. 


Brittany Doohan is a health and lifestyle writer living in San Francisco.  

Noel Hendrickson/Photodisc/ThinkStock
Reviewed by Shira Goldenholz, MD, MPH on April 27, 2016.
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