The Four A’s of Stress Relief

Those suffering from depression and anxiety often possesses rigid thought processes.  Black and white. Yes and no. My way or the highway. One way or another. Typically, situations have to be presented in such a way that there are concrete categories with clear consequences. When presented, these options partially feed into this thought pattern, but offering alternatives that highlight the existence of a grey area beyond the original two choices.

This is why I am a huge fan of categorical approaches to battling cognitive distortions. That was why I was super excited when I was recently re-introduced to an approach that I forgot about. It fits nicely with another approach I follow and often I teach to my clients called the “eliminate, reduce, cope with” or ERC list. For more information on this approach, check out the link below.

Another Way to Look at Stress

The ERC list offers a great way to look at how to categorize your triggers. However, the other approach, dubbed “The four A’s of stress relief,” provides a way to cope with said triggers.

Avoid. The first “A” goes nicely with the category of eliminate. This is probably the easiest skill on the list. If we experience a stressor that brings with it displeasure, discomfort, or pain, our natural tendency as humans is to avoid. This could be as simple as removing yourself from the situation by walking away or staying away from it. Some more involved techniques include not only removing the source of the stress but also the feeling of stress. For instance, this could be boundary setting with others by saying “no” or prioritizing. Therefore, you are not taking on more than you have to.

Alter. So many people are afraid of the word “change.” However, making a change can be one of the most beneficial ways to make a situation less stressful. This involves making yourself and others aware of what change needs to made. Therefore, always take a self-inventory to see how you are feeling and the true reason for that feeling. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, communicate with others what to alter.

This alteration could also include a change in your lifestyle such as routine or environment. I know that sometimes I need to rearrange or organize my space. I have to revisit my time management skills from time to time.

Accept. In my opinion, this is toughest on the list. It falls more under the “cope with” category from the ERC list. Two of my favorite quotes regarding acceptance fit perfectly here. “Acceptance does not equal approval” and “It is what it is.” Essentially, the thoughts, feelings, and situations will cause you stress. The goal of dealing with these triggers is being able to get them to a manageable level and to see them for what they truly are. There are many ways to do this with popular methods being talking to someone, expressing it through creative means, and positive self-talk. On a deeper level, usually focusing on forgiveness and the lessons learned from the experience can help rid some of the negative energy associated with the stress.

Adapt. Similar to acceptance, adapting falls under “cope with” as well. There are just some situations that we cannot change around us, but we can adapt to it from the inside out instead. Sometimes this simply means changing your expectations or standards. Maybe you are striving for perfection where perfection is not needed, but rather aim for satisfaction. Looking at the stressor from a different perspective too can make it easier to manage by reframing the issue or looking at what brings you joy rather than negativity.

-The Caring Counselor


Need stress relief? Try the 4 A’s. (2016, April 28). Retrieved March 20, 2018, from

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