The 3 A’s of Coping with Stress

Coping with stress is individual. A person’s response to stress is dependant on their personality, their history, influence by previous experience with similar situations, their perceived control over the stressor. It is based on this assessment that a person then responds to the stressor. This is why each individual may respond completely differently to the same situation. One person breaks down from the stressor while another person let’s it roll of their back. Learning how you react to stressful situations, how you cope with them, and what you can do about it is also individual. 

Here are three steps that you can work through to help you identify your response to stress:

Step 1 — Stress Journal

Keeping a stress journal may help you identify your stressors and how you respond to them. Make three columns on a piece of paper and write these headings:

  1. Stressor
  2. Response
  3. Behaviour

[I provide a free printable below.]

Under “stressor” record any event big or small where you identified a stress response in your mind or body. This could be from an activity, event, or interaction. For example: a job interview. 

Under “response” record how you felt, how your body reacted during the event. Using our job interview example above, the stress reponse may be “My heart pounded. I was anxious. My palms were sweaty.”

Under “behaviour” record your physical, emotional, and mental reactions. What happened in your body? E.g. I felt hot and flushed. What happened emotionally? E.g. I felt like crying. What was your mental reaction? E.g. My thoughts were muddled. My speech was fast and incoherent. 

Stress can also be caused by pleasant feelings. A graduation day or day a child is born are both joyful and stressful events. 

You are evaluating the stressful event, not evaluating yourself, so be frank and honest and factual when recording. You are simply making observations, not judgements. 

Complete the stress record as soon as possible after the stress event, or even during if it’s feasible. 

Also record the date of the incident. You may also track where it took place, the time of day, who you were with, etc. It’s your journal, so keep track of any information that is pertinent to you.

All of this information may help to reveal patterns over time. 

Step 2 — Assessing your coping response

stressed person

Following up on your stress journal, there are five questions to ask yourself about each situation you record. Keep these answers with your stress journal. 

  1. Choose a stressor from your journal to assess. 
  2. Ask yourself to what extent was this event meaningful to you? Was it potentially threatening meaning you had a high stress response or could you cope where you had a mild stress response? 
  3. Ask what type of resources were at your disposal for dealing with this stressful event? [Examples of resouces are below.] You do not need to answer all the questions, they are food for thought. 
  4. How did you cope with the situation? Can you determine what steps you took to cope? 
  5. Consider what consequences occured as a result of your coping strategies? Were these strategies successful? What would you do differently next time if this situation arose again? 

As you can see assesssing your stress can take a little time at first. But soon you’ll be aware as your response is happening and rest assured the process becomes faster. 

Examples of resources from question 3 above:

  • Physical resources – consider your health, stamina, energy levels, physical disabiliites, exercise routines, relaxation time, sleep quality, and diet. 
  • Mental resources – consider your communication skills or that of others involved, your personal belief system is it negative or positive, time management skills. 
  • Emotional resources – (overlaps with mental resources) – do you have low or high self-esteem, are you aggressive, assertive, passive? 
  • Spiritual resources – how does your faith or belief system contribute to your resilience? 

Step 3 — The 3 A’s of Coping with Stress (Schafer Coping Model)

Alter the Stressor

Can the stressor be changed or influenced in a way to making coping possible. This solution is amicable to all involved as the goal is not to create stress for others while relieving our own. 

Examples of altering a stressor could be:

  • Can the situation be changed?
  • Is the stressor physical? Can it be altered? 
  • Can time be organized more efficiently? 
  • Can the pace of the stressor be changed – slowed down or sped up?
  • Talk to others involved in the situation to see if their behaviour can be altered? 

Adapt to the Stressor

woman meditating

If altering is not an option, then is it possible to adapt to the stressor in a way that would reduce restress? 

Examples of adaptation could be:

  • Managing self-talk.
  • Adding in or increasing exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, healthy diet.
  • Change your behaviour in your stress response pattern. This may be work at first until a new pattern is established. 
  • Consider your available coping resources, as listed above. 
  • Avoid maladative reactions to stress. E.g. smoking, alcohol, drugs, over-eating, abusive behaviours. 

Avoid the Stressor

If the stressor can’t be altered or adapted to, then can it be avoided all together? What are the pros and cons to avoidance? This is far from the easy way out and often requires the most work to relieve the stressor. However, it is also most often life saving, especially in terms of health and disease building in the body. 

Examples of avoidance could be:

  • Changing jobs.
  • Separation or divorce.
  • Severing ties with toxic relationships.
  • Overcoming addictions.

There is nothing easy about dealing with stress. But the potential damage to your body systems deserves your time and attention to reduce it to coping levels. 

I have created a FREE printable PDF for the Stress Journal & Coping Assessment for you. 

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