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4 stress coping strategies to Mix & Match. Bye stress!

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That situation where you were stressed out and just started yelling / crying / doing / cursing / ignoring *? We all know that wasn’t the most helpful thing to do. Or that time when you were up to your ears in stress and couldn’t think logically and couldn’t even think of getting a grip on your stress? A simple tool for situations like this would be helpful. And luckily there is one. The ‘4 A’s‘ help you determine a smart stress coping strategy in a stressful situation. The 4 A’s are a great example of powerful stress management strategies when having stress. And you mix and match, and apply. Also for preventive use.

Stress and 4 stress coping strategies

What is stress

You have stress, when your tension & focus increase by what is being asked of you. ‘Comes at you’. You make an assessment that what is being asked of you might be too much. There is a challenge in some way, a threat to your well-being. Stress also has to do with resistance. You do not accept the present circumstances but resist the facts of the moment. Stress is a physical reaction. And what makes you stressed is highly personal.

A response is required

The challenge of the moment, demands some response from you. You can keep going stolidly as you did. You can lose yourself completely in your emotions. Because that is also what stress does to you: your emotional part of your brain and of your being is at the controls. But you can also take a breath, count to ten, and then determine an effective stress coping strategy. 

And ‘stress coping strategies’ might sound really big right now. But it can be something as simple as deleting an activity from your schedule. Or asking your client if you can deliver your work an extra hour later. etc. etc. All of these types of actions – and more – are covered by the 4 A’s; 4 stress coping strategies.  

Coping with stress – the Big Guide

Hopefully this article is very helpful introducing the stress response strategies the 4 A’s into your life. I think everyone should know them. We are quite fond of stress, which is a funny thing to say. There is so much more to share about stress and how to cope with stress – the smart way. So we did. Please check out our guide Coping with Stress.

About what stress exactly is, how to know the difference between positive and negative stress, tips on how to handle stress and how to reduce stress, and so much more.

Stress coping strategies the 4 A’s 

There is a certain situation, and you experience stress. There is a certain challenge to the situation, and when you are smart, you respond in such a way, the challenge (partly) gets solved somehow.

Most of the time, the best way to respond is not: 

  • yelling 
  • crying  
  • more doing 
  • cursing 
  • ignoring

They are all examples of coping behaviour, but not very effective ones. 

The 4 A’s are all examples of smart stress coping strategies – stress management strategies as you like – to respond to the situation. 

They tell you what to do to reduce the stress, to calm down, and make everything less threatening and emotional. And yourself less tense and more effective. 

The stress coping strategies the 4 A’s, here they are: 

  • Avoid
  • Alter
  • Accept
  • Adapt

To create your ideal tailor-made stress coping strategy

You don’t necessarily have to pick one of the four stress coping strategies. But you can if you like. You can go down the list of stress coping options from above, making choices about which ones to apply and how. 

Sometimes it is just easy to skip something. To just not do it. If it gives you a lot of negative stress, and when it isn’t really worth it, why do it? 

The last 3 stress management strategies tell you how to behave in case you decide to stay or to keep on doing something. But still then there are many options to your disposal to relieve the stress burden. You either alter, accept or adapt. Of all of them. It is up to you and depends on the particular situation. And your personal situation. 

How to use the 4 A’s stress coping strategies

So in case of stress, this is what to do

  • it all – always – starts with noticing and realizing you are having stress. There are certain stress symptoms of your highly alert body you recognize. 
  • take a very small break (instead of keep on racing or non-thinking). Take a few deep breaths in and out. 
  • consider your situation: what is happening and why do you have stress?
  • think of the 4 stress coping strategies, the 4 A’s, and apply them to your specific case of stress. How can you relieve your stress (a bit)? And at the same time stick to your highest priority? There might be other ‘priorities’ that can easily be cancelled or adjusted because they are not that important. Mix and Match the 4 A’s so that in the end you have formed your perfect tailor-made stress coping strategy. Perhaps 10 Avoid, 30 Alter, 40 Accept and 20 Adapt? And how that exactly looks like? You are the only one to know.   
  • Step by step execute what you had in mind. And probably you will feel the stress slowly leave your body  

Stress coping strategy #1 – Avoid

The A of Avoid tells us that prevention is better than cure. It is better to prevent (negative) stress than to fight it once it is there. 

An important skill in Avoid is “saying no”. For many people one of the hardest things there is. Because we want so much to please. And be liked and not feel rejected! And we don’t want to miss out on anything. Yet it is necessary to learn this, for a life with a finer stress level and no health problems caused by stress. And you will get used to saying no in the long run. 

In Avoid, you avoid what you know will cause you too much negative stress. 

  • For example, I hate walking through an unfamiliar city to a new hotel in the dark. So I prefer to avoid that. 
  • I get stressed out by leaving late for an appointment or arriving late. 
  • I also get stressed from having many appointments in a row. So I just don’t do any of that. 

The better you know yourself and what your stress patterns are, the better you can apply Avoid. 

Balancing between comfort and learning

Avoid does have an interesting balance with learning and growing. Because if you always avoid everything, you learn nothing. And perhaps smaller and smaller things become stressful because you try to do little. Try to find the right balance for yourself: not too much negative and long-term stress, but personal growth in the right way for you. 

That’s what we personally think is important at The Perfect Strugglers. But of course you should develop your own vision on this. 

Avoid is about preventing stress or relieving it at the front end. Not to be confused with ignoring stress when the stress is already there. Ignoring your own sensations and emotions, is never a good coping strategy.  

Now we move on to the 3 other A’s, which come into play when there is already a situation of stress. 

Stress coping strategy #2 – Alter

The main question in Alter is: Is there an opportunity for you to relieve stress by altering the situation?

Perhaps you can lower the standards for your activities, throw the lowest priorities off your to-do list, or express to a person that you don’t like certain behaviors. 

Beware, though: these kinds of conversations can often be difficult, especially if a person feels attacked. And that will not do your stress any good. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I do want to be realistic. Addressing a person can be difficult if you are already emotional. Perhaps it is better to save that for when you are feeling calm and stable.  

A #2 Alter can be very effective. But be careful how you use this A. Try to choose your adaptations wisely, and also pay attention to the manner. Because that has quite a big effect on the result, also in terms of stress level. 

An example of the stress response strategy Alter

For example, a colleague who often smacks and burps at work drives you crazy. In fact, it causes you quite a bit of stress, day after day. It’s probably not the smartest thing to say in front of all your colleagues that you think he sounds so dirty. You’ll be putting your colleague on the spot quite a bit. And don’t forget that you’re going to get a reaction, which might even cause you more stress. It is smarter to speak to him separately at a quiet moment and explain to him what you are up against and what it does to you. In a calm and non-aggressive way. Do not lash out at him, but speak to him at a time when you are calm (enough).

This is what you can do to Alter. It is up to your colleague what he does with your request, but at least you focused on your influence.   

Another pitfall of Alter (or active coping strategy) is that you focus on what needs to be changed (because you want to change it). If it then doesn’t work out the way you would like it to, the transition to A #3 Acceptance can be a big one.  

Stress coping strategy #3 – Accept

“When you no longer are placing an impossible demand on it, every situation becomes more harmonious, more peaceful”


The first two A’s, Avoid and Alter, are your options for trying to adjust the situation in order to reduce stress. If you have done what you wanted or could to influence the situation, but there is still a source of stress left, then it is up to you to resign yourself to the A of Acceptance. Acceptance is the third A in the list. 

Acceptance does not just mean rational acceptance. It means that everything in you is moving along and diving in 100%. Not shrugging a little. Not rationally “accepting.”But going for it with your whole being, and not just a thought.  That is the ideal state of Acceptance. Then you know by now what the goal is to strive for. And the point is to be in the right direction, not to succeed immediately. 

Roughly speaking, you have three options when you find yourself in a situation that causes stress: adapt (that’s the second A Alter), leave (which you could also classify under Alter) or complete acceptance.

Complete and ideal acceptance means such surrender – the absence of inner resistance – that it seems as if you have chosen this situation yourself. And admittedly this is already a very high level of personal development. So don’t get frustrated if you haven’t succeeded in fully accepting…. It is about your process of becoming aware of how you are dealing with the situation. Whether your choice for acceptance is complete or not so complete. 

Stress coping strategy #4 – Adapt

Adapt is the 4th A. Adapt to a situation. This is the smartest thing to do. The situation is often the way it is anyway. The change that is going on is happening anyway. Don’t resist (acceptance) but even choose the opposite: make the best of it and use it to your advantage. Ask yourself the question: how do you bend it optimally? 

It is precisely resistance and thinking that you can’t handle or don’t want to handle something that are the biggest stress-causers.  

Is your cute village overrun by tourists and do you find that horrible and do you resist and get a lot of stress? >> Embrace this development, you cannot stop it and sooner or later you will capitulate. Embrace the situation by welcoming these people and perhaps organizing something for them. 

For example, you are on your way home from work and feel like getting home quickly. But there is a huge traffic jam. You can get worked up about that annoying traffic jam and use every opportunity to move up a spot. You can also accept the situation, and even make the best of it! For example, by enjoying the moment alone in which you do not have to do anything. Becoming aware of your breathing. Listening attentively to a beautiful song. Grinning because you’re all in the bizarre situation of being cooped up in cans. Or calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. You can just choose to have a wonderful time. Instead of a frustrating and impatient time. Thanks to the 4th A Adapt. “who is smart, adapts”  

An example of a day that starts with stress and how to deal with it

We have now mentioned a number of ways you can respond when stress occurs. Namely, the step-by-step plan that is always available at the first sign of stress, the coping with stress strategies, focus on breathing and the 4 A’s. Now I’ll briefly elaborate on an example in which I apply some of the tips. 

Imagine: this is a day where you feel a little rushed and stressed in the morning. First you can check for yourself: What is on the program? Can I delete things? What is really important? Can I be a bit pragmatic here and there and adjust the ‘how’ a bit?

And put those answers into practice. It will help you reduce stress.  

It also helps to sit down, take a deep breath and focus. So that the worst of the panic and turmoil goes away. And you can use the stress response positively. Because that has to be mentioned as well: a physical stress response is also something positive. As long as you bring your body to rest after a moment of stress and tension. And you could (try to) use it in a positive way. Read here more about positive and negative stress, and the difference between them.  

Then consider the other 4 A’s. Perhaps you call your friend to propose you meet each other at your home instead of in the city (Alter). You realize it will be a busy day anyway, so you start to accept that, and also start to accept the accompanying sensations of excitement and adrenaline (Accept). Tonight you will be able to rest.  

See where your influence is

Basically, the mean question in applying the 4 A’s is: what can you influence? Where lies your influence? It is it the situation, is it your mind set perhaps? The Circle of Influence is the mother of all personal leadership models. It is simple yet very powerful. It is a model that I think everyone should know. For less stress, more focus. And to be more impactful and satisfied in general. Make sure you check out this great personal leadership model, we have written a insightful blog about it.

Keep on learning the rest of your life

If this happens very frequently – the stressed feeling at the beginning of the day – you really should start to seriously consider changing things structurally. Structurally wanting something less. Or other structural adjustments (in your schedule, standards, mindset, the way of execution, your expectations etc.). There is a lot to read about this stuff on 

The lessons of Mindfulness and unlocking the power of the current moment for example.

Or how to deal with life struggles and personal struggle.

More interesting stuff for personal growth and Self Improvement.

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