Stress Management: Try the Four A's

Feb 1 12:37pm | Kristin Eggebraaten | @keggebraaten

Older Couple holding hands on a foggy hillStress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. It comes in many forms, both good and bad. Stressors can be small things like waiting in a long line or being a few minutes late to a meeting. They can also be larger things like job pressures, relationship dynamics, financial concerns and serious health conditions or surgeries like transplantation. In 2020, stress came in the unexpected form of a life altering global pandemic.

A small amount of stress can be good, motivating you to perform well and take care of your responsibilities. The stress a transplant patient and their caregivers experience can be frequent and ever-changing between the larger and smaller things. However, combining normal daily stress with the added stress of transplantation and 2020 can be enough to push you beyond your ability to cope.

Your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat (stressor), it signals your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This "fight-or-flight" response fuels you to deal with the threat. Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life and transplantation mean that some people's alarm systems aren’t able to completely shut off. By implementing stress management techniques in your life, you can learn a variety of methods to not only to reset your alarm system but also help you better cope with the stressors in your life. Without stress management, your body might always be on high alert, resulting in chronic stress.  Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems.

The first step in stress management is identifying the sources or triggers of stress in your life. Once you’ve identified your triggers of stress, you can try different stress management techniques and learn ways to best manage it.

Some methods commonly talked about include implementing an exercise routine like walking or yoga, to breathing techniques and sometimes limiting screen time. One method that might work for you is to try the 4 A’s:

AVOID

Control the things you can. If your surrounds cause you stress, change your location, your routes, your plans, and stay away from the people or situations that cause you stress. Label your to-do list with high priority markers, and ignore those things that are not high priority when you feel stress. Learn to say no. Turn down added responsibilities that will add to your already busy life.

ALTER

Respectfully ask others to change their behavior that is causing stress for you. Communicate your feelings to those around you. They may not even know that their actions are causing you to feel this way. Manage your time better by lumping tasks together or delegating to family members or friends to lighten your load. Set expectations for others up front to avoid added workload and added stress later. Tell people what you can and can’t do before you get to the point of being overloaded.

ACCEPT

If you have no choice but to accept your current situation, try to talk with someone about your frustrations and feelings. An understanding friend or a mental health professional might be able to help you work through your feelings. Forgive. Forgive your friends and family for what they said or did and free yourself from burning more negative energy over the situation. Be positive. Practicing positive self-talk can give you resilience to get through your situation.

ADAPT

Changing your standards or expectations and not thriving for perfection can lift a big burden from your day. Reframe your issue. Try to find the opportunity in your situation rather than the frustration. Journal your assets. List all the things that bring you joy in life to serve as a reminder that your joys outweigh your stressors. Look at the big picture. Will this current stress matter to you in a year? In five years? Put your thoughts into perspective so you can manage your day to day and long-term happiness.

Stressors — good and bad — are a part of every life. Practice applying these techniques to balance your stress equation. With practice, that once-hefty backpack will become your private bag of tricks. Soon, you'll be able to pull out just the tool that will keep you hiking through life at a steady clip.

Have you developed stress management techniques to help you manage your extra stress this past year? If you are comfortable, share with us below!

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