Not all stressors are created equal. Some stressors are easier to Reduce than others. There are three basic types of stressors; Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.
Level 1 stressors are those that you can anticipate and avoid. They are typically stressors that you know about in advance and have time to work on. For instance, imagine that you find it very stressful to eat by yourself in a restaurant when you travel on business. You can see this stressor coming and avoid it by either having food delivered to your room or using room service.
Level 2 stressors are those that you can anticipate but cannot avoid. An example of this kind of stressor would be having to present an award to a distinguished member of your business association at the association’s annual meeting. As President of the association this type of stressor is foreseeable, but you cannot avoid or control it. It is your job to bestow awards.
Level 3 stressors are those that you don’t see coming and you can’t avoid or control them. These are the stressors that catch you completely off guard. An example of this type of stressor is being caught in a surprise traffic jam when you have someplace important to get to. The accident that caused the jam happened a few minutes ago so you could neither foresee it happening nor avoid or control it.
The Triple A’s of Coping
I’ve developed a very simple but effective way of dealing with Reducing all three types stressors called the Triple A’s of Coping. The triple A’s are Abolish, Avoid, and Alter. Abolish means completely eliminating the stressor. Avoid refers to minimizing your exposure to stressor. Alter means somehow changing the way you are exposed to the stressor.
Stressor: Commuting to work on the highway for one hour during rush hour traffic. You’ll notice that I am very specific when I discuss what exactly about the commute is stressful.
Commuting to your job on the highway isn’t necessarily stressful for you. It is commuting during the rush hour which doubles the amount of time it takes that makes it stressful. The rush hour traffic is also stressful because of the bumper-to-bumper nature of the traffic. Try to be as specific as possible when identifying your stressors. This makes it much easier to manage them.
Abolish: You could abolish this stressor several different ways.
- Quit your job (no job, no commute).
- Leave for work earlier (same commute but you abolish the rush hour stress).
- Get a new job closer to home that doesn’t require driving on the highway.
- Work from every day home (no commute at all).
Avoid: You could avoid this stressor several different ways.
- Move closer to work (cuts your commuting time in half thereby avoiding 50% of the stress).
- Work from home every other day (cuts your exposure to the stressor in half).
- Change your work hours to the evening shift (commute at different time of day).
- Use flex hours (get to work between 7 AM – 10 AM and leave between 3 PM and 6 PM).
Alter: If you cannot abolish or avoid the stressor you can Alter your exposure to it. This does not get rid of the stressor. You are still exposed to the stressor but you are exposed to it in a slightly different way. Sometimes this is enough to defuse it as a stressor. The following strategies could be used to Alter your exposure to the stressor.
- Carpool (be a passenger in someone else’s car).
- Carpool (be a passenger in your car with someone else driving).
- Listen to comedy audios or audio books (takes your mind off of the traffic).
A word of caution about the triple As—they do not work for all types of stressors under all circumstances. They work well for environmental stressors, such as traffic, but they may not be appropriate for interpersonal stressors. For example, it may not be practical or possible to use them with an office mate you do not like being around or with a boss who works in the same office as you.
Exercise: Reducing Stressors with the Triple A’s
Purpose: The following exercise, Reducing Stressors With the Triple A’s is designed to help you discriminate between Level 1, 2, and 3 stressors and use the triple As to reduce your stress. If you have been keeping a Stressor Journal like the one we discussed in one of my earlier columns you can use it to easily identify different level stressors.
- Look through your stressor journal. If you have not been keeping a journal use your memory to think of a Level 1 Stressor that you can reduce using the Triple A Technique.
- Work through each “A” (Abolish, Avoid, Alter) by listing as many possible ideas as you can think of. Don’t worry about how crazy the idea might seem, just write it down. The more ideas you write down, the better.
- Go back and pare down the ideas for each A to four or five manageable solutions.
- Research each of your solutions. Find as much data as possible regarding how to Abolish, Avoid, or Alter the stressor.
- Decide which of the A’s works best for your particular stressor.
- Prioritize the four or five solutions you came up with for A that works best.
- Develop a timeline and action plan for implementing the solutions.
An easy way to start Reducing unwanted demands on your time is to start abolishing stressors that are linked to terms of service. For example, imagine that you’ve been the Head Coach of the XXXX Team this season and it has turned out to be a Level 1 stressor. After serving for a season you can see it coming (the team wants you to do it again next season) and you have the ability to avoid it by simply allowing your term to expire. When your term is up, go to the person in charge and say, “Thanks, I really enjoyed my service to the team but I am a bit over-extended and am not going to continue as Head Coach next season.” Stick to your guns and don’t let them change your mind. Keep abolishing, avoiding, and altering until you find your optimal level of stimulation and demand in your life.
In my next column we’ll examine how your lack of assertiveness is related to your stress. Until then remember to Stress Less and Live More.