Your ability to manage stress is equal to the number of tools, resources, and coping methods you can tap into to navigate your stressors. This is easily done when stressors happen one at a time or when a trigger is perceived as a minor threat. Using common coping methods such as deep breathing or relaxation can be adequate in keeping the stress at a manageable level.
But when stress triggers start to pile on like an exciting game of Jenga, or the stressor is a major shift (such as loss, grief, and transition), the typical, singular coping method is not enough to keep you from approaching your stress threshold -- that imaginary line when you go from handling your stress to where you snap. When you find yourself in these kinds of stress situations, turn to AA: avert and avoid.
These are two effective coping methods to use when you feel as if you can't take one more thing on your proverbial plate. A myth in stress management is that you have to deal with everything impacting your stress levels head on. This isn't always the best route. Sometimes the intentional decision to avert a stress trigger or avoid it all together is a healthy approach for long-term sustainability in effective stress management.
Averting a stress trigger means you consciously, temporarily step back from a situation/event/mental dilemma to give your body and brain some needed rest while you take the time to plan and prepare. Imagine trying to get fit and working out at the gym nonstop, all day, every day. It's not possible to keep it up for long until your whole body breaks down and collapses.
It's the same principal happening to the internal systems of your body when you have high stress levels. Your stress cycle gets turned on by your stress triggers. And because of the number or severity of the stressor, it doesn't get shut off. It's spinning and spinning, flooding your blood with cortisol and adrenaline. Your internal systems eventually break down and collapse, leading to chronic health conditions.
Here are some key steps to avert stressors successfully:
- Averting a stressor is only temporary. Keep in mind you will be coming back to it eventually.
- There is no time frame of when you have to return to manage the stressor, just that you do.
- Be intentional on which stressor you are averting. If you can't articulate it, it won't happen.
The point of averting is to plan and prepare. Be sure to answer the following questions:
- What is it about this stressor that I can't manage right now?
- What behaviors do I need to put into place so when I return to this stressor it won't overwhelm me?
- How can I think or view this stressor differently so that I am not hurt/threatened by it?
- What tools and resources do I have to help me navigate through this stressor?
- What tools and resources can I add that will help me?
Some stressors are so damaging to our health and lifestyle that it is best to avoid them all together. Sometimes it's easy to remove a stressor from our daily routines -- for example, leaving the house 30 minutes earlier to avoid morning traffic. Other times it's very difficult -- deciding to end a relationship that has turned emotionally, physically, or mentally harmful. Remember, avoiding stress isn't the goal. Managing and navigating it is. Using avoidance on a regular basis as a coping tool will do more harm than good. Choose it wisely.
To decide if a stressor should be avoided, answer the following questions:
- What reaction to this stressor warrants me avoiding it?
- If I avoid this stressor, how will I replace it with a positive behavior?
- When I avoid this stressor, what possible ramifications will there be? How can I prepare myself for the fallout?
- Are there others who will be impacted by me avoiding this stressor? How can I prepare them?
- If this stressor does pop up again, what is my plan B? How will I navigate it in the moment?
Avert and avoid are coping methods people don't often allow themselves the luxury of using. They can be highly effective while also giving you the time necessary to build strength and make plans to navigate them.
Jen Butler, MEd, certified professional coach (CPC), board-certified coach (BCC), has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching for more than 20 years. She is available as a coach/consultant, speaker, and trainer. To learn more about her services, to sign up for her monthly "stressLESS" newsletter, or to take the Dental Stress Self-Assessment, please visit her website. Contact her at 623-776-6715 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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