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The 4 A’s of Stress Management

Man with six arms holding different elements representing work and stress

 If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

The 4 A’s of Stress Management.

There are many different reasons to be stressed at work and in our daily lives. Some of these reasons are within our control, and some are not.

Still, we expect to have clear and fast tools and methods to get rid of stressors and triggers, whether we have control over them or not. 

But each type of stressor and trigger requires its own strategy, although in most cases, a mix of different strategies is most effective.


The four A’s of stress management is an effective tool that shows four different ‘meta’ strategies that you can adopt, depending on the stressor that you are facing.

Two of these strategies are more appropriate when you have a stronger and more direct influence over the situation that is causing the stress. Your response will be more ‘external’, that is, focused on changing your external environment.

The other two require that you turn inward and work on something within yourself that will help you deal better with the stressful situation. I would argue that this internal work is necessary in general, and that it is key to successful long-term stress management. However, most people will tend to use these two strategies only when the first two have failed.

Matrix showing the four strategies to manage stress

1. AVOID the stressor

Avoidance can be a useful strategy, when it makes sense and does not create more harm than good. This is a sensitive topic because situation avoidance can in some cases lead to long term fear and anxiety about being exposed to these situations, which reduces your ability to manage stress. However, in some cases, avoiding the stressful situation or person can have benefits.

  • Learn how to say no to avoid stressors and triggers. For the ‘pleasers’ among you, it can be difficult to say no. You often continue to expose yourself to situations that are very stressful to you, long after you have already started to feel stressed

  • Avoid people whom you see as ‘stressors’

  • Also, plan, organise and prioritise in a way that reduces exposure to stressors and triggers


2. ALTER the situation

This is probably the main strategy that people use when dealing with stress. In this modern world of ours, we are used to wanting to change what we do not like. We try to use the Pre-Frontal Cortex part of our brain to change our relationship to stress, in the same way that we use it at work to solve problems, analyse, organise and plan. While this strategy can often lead to disappointments, it can also sometimes be useful.

  • If the stressor is a person, work on your communication and emotional intelligence skills so that you can try to alter their behaviour

  • Learn to express your needs and boundaries clearly and respectfully

  • If the stressor is a situation, what options exist (other than avoiding) that would allow to change the situation: better time management? Better planning? 


3. ACCEPT the situation

If you have less control over the situation, it sometimes makes sense to work on accepting it. This is of course dependent on many factors since, for example, it would not be wise to accept a situation that is harming you consistently. However, research into acceptance shows that learning to go into this state often ends up having the effect of reducing the impact of the stressor on the person. So you end up reducing stress by accepting it.

It is worth noting that acceptance is not a state of resignation. Rather, it is a willingness to deal with the uncomfortable so that we can learn from it. 

Acceptance also requires self-compassion to help manage the various uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that may arise as a result of accepting a difficult situation.


4. ADAPT your mindset

This is my favourite topic and the one that I focus on in my coaching and trainings. It also tends to be the least used strategy, either because people believe that we can not change our mindset or because it requires too much internal work, which can sometimes be unpleasant (or can take too long for the people who want quick solutions to every problem).

For example, in my positive stress mindset training, we work on adapting our mindset via several methods and tools that help to:

  • Understand why our current mindset is the way it is

  • Practice adapting this mindset to make it more resilient and flexible in its response to different stress situations

  • Reframe and defuse thought processes that are responsible for stress


Ideally, each person should be able to master all four strategies and to skilfully decide, based on the situation, which one is appropriate. But, as I already stated, in my experience, most people will tend to focus only on the first two, leaving them frustrated and unable to properly manage their stress when these two solutions do not work. 

Therefore, it is crucial that each person also learns to accept and adapt. And especially adapt, which I consider to be one of the most essential skills in today’s workplace.

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